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I am project managing on an on going bases an e-commerce site for a client. I have only one resource working on it, a sub contractor due to a lack of resources. He is working remotely.

I am having great difficulty managing him, and it is affecting my ability to deliver tasks in a timely manner. He has delivered the site, but it was after many delays.

Some of the issues that I am having:

  • Not always returning calls, text messages, emails. Sometimes this is understandable since he is working during the day, but in evenings or weekends he is not always responsive.
  • Only completing tasks according to his own time table and not when the client needs it. Simple tasks take three times as long to do.
  • Often ignoring requests I may have for work to be done, unless the situation becomes extremely critical and the client starts repeatedly asking me when x task will be done.
  • Tells me he will do work by a certain deadline, but does not meet it leading to delays.
  • If I am unsure about something technically, and need his opinion, he is not always available to answer in a timely manner.

Difficulties I am now having:

  • Client wants to improve their web site, due to my resource's general unreliability, I am unable to take any new work on. This is frustrating for us as a company since it is affecting our cash flow.
  • My credibility as a PM has dropped with the client since the project is often delayed, or I am not always able to get back to them quick enough about any queries.
  • I am often extremely stressed out because of this project, upper management is fully behind me, since we eventually delivered the build. But I am not enjoying managing it.
  • I am working on weekends, often on standby, in case of any client requests. This alleviates my stress levels, since if something goes wrong, I am not sure he is reliable.

I have escalated this to upper management requesting that we replace the resource, we are looking into doing this. However, for the time being I need my resource to do the following:

  • Bug fixes
  • Set up a staging environment for handover period

Despite several requests, he is not listening to me and is doing it in his own time.

How can I manage this situation better?

UPDATE

Since there is some confusion here about the arrangement with the subcontractor:

  • He knew before signing up that he will be working on weekends or evenings since he has a day job. At the time he signed up, he felt confident that he could deliver the project.

  • I had just joined the company then, so did not have enough time to recruit somebody.

  • I do not set his deadlines, rather I ask him when he will be able to do x task done by. He often tells me when, but then it turns into a situation where he does not end up delivering by that date causing me to start badgering him.

  • Unfortunate situation. Looks like the resource is not interested. The only way out i see as you have pointed out is a replacement - a quick skilled one and possibly on site. If the policy allows , you can even advertise this work on internet forums and get it done quickly for a small cost. freelancer is one such site. – Learner_101 May 3 '16 at 10:24
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    Is it even reasonable that you expect this person (people aren't resources) to be available 24/7? (hint, it's not). Regardless, it sounds like you're within your rights to go find a different contractor and you should do so. – RubberDuck May 3 '16 at 11:26
  • The problem is not that he is unavailable for 24/7, the problem is getting him to do work in the first place in a timely manner. If I have deadlines to meet, I shouldn't be chasing him to do work that we are paying him to do. – bobo2000 May 3 '16 at 13:59
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    I'm not quite sure the problem is solely on dev's side; out of the 5 issues you mentioned, some of them (as RubberDuck noted) may not be considered issues at all, depending on the agreements you have. I'd suggest to ensure you both are aligned with regards to 1) working hours 2) prioritization 3) difference between estimation and delivery date. Hope this helps! – Tiago Cardoso May 3 '16 at 19:28
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    How have you established what a 'timely' manner is for feature development on your code base? You say "Only completing tasks according to his own time table and not when the client needs it. Simple tasks take three times as long to do". This suggests to me customer expectations may be incorrect. You then say he misses deadlines. Do you mean your deadlines or on ones on his own timetable? – Nathan Cooper May 7 '16 at 10:04
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The situation can be better handled via SLAs set when a PO is issued for the sub-contractor. The SOW needs to be clearly defined and if the 3rd party resource does not deliver as per the SLAs, then you can clearly define the "Damages" in terms of monetary compensation or additional support/alternate resource added to the project.

As the project progresses, the SOW may get modified or extended- As PM, its your job to extend the POs and provide compensation for additional work.

I think this is a risk when 3rd party contractor is involved.Hence Peer reference and prior work history of contractor needs to be evaluated before awarding the project.

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I notice you've tagged this "risk management". I think you have at significantly increased the probability of late delivery (increased the risk) by using someone who seems to be working during the day for one party and during evenings and weekends for you. He doesn't get any time to rest. Regardless of his usual skill, ability, and motivation I would expect him to be working at far below his best. You can change this by finding a partner who is actually able to function at their best. Until you do this you will always be suffering.

That said, I think you can make things better for both of you by ensuring regularity and focus...

  • Ensure he has just one priority to deliver at any time. Always one thing on his list, no more. That's all he has to do. Do not confuse or distract him with anything else. This will be hard for you, as you will have to prioritise ruthlessly. If you change your mind then you will be distracting him and throwing time away. With one thing on his list his responsibility is clear, and there are no excuses.

  • Make his "one thing" always as small as possible. Then he will deliver it quicker and you can choose the next thing sooner. (Which might be an extension of the first thing, or something else.)

  • Agree times at which you will always speak, without fail - always a short call to catch up on progress and (crucially) how you can help him today. Make it regular (maybe daily), make it short (max 10 mins). You need to set the standard by always being on time yourself, whatever the circumstance. Do not distract him with other calls.

  • Track how many things he really does deliver per week/fortnight. This gives you a rough ability to plan ahead. But it's only rough. His estimations for delivery won't count for much, because we all estimate badly; what counts is what he actually delivers. Track that. That's the real delivery rate.

  • If you need him to advise you on certain things then you might add a regular weekly meeting in the calendar with him for this (and a fixed duration). If one week you don't need it, then cancel it - he gets to spend more time delivering your one thing. Don't give him actions from this; outside the call he needs to be working on the one priority.

With this focus he has the best chance to succeed, and you will find out at what rate he really delivers stuff when given the best environment (aside from the fact that he seems to be denied any rest). And if that reality is not good enough for you, then it's time to move on.

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I'm a very experienced contractor (35+ years) with an amazing list of clients, so I have some experience that may be useful here.

Contact: First, you should not be contacting your developer outside business hours. If I were him I'd charge you double my hourly rate every time you did so. It is completely unreasonable of you to expect any response. It is likely that a lot of the behaviour you're seeing is because of this. If your reputation is falling as a PM it's because you're not doing a good job and your reputation really should be reduced.

Estimates vs Actuals: You've said that this is the only resource on the project, and that tasks take 3 times as long to do. I'm assuming you mean that they take three times as long as his estimate? It's an estimate -- they're usually wrong, usually by a factor of 2, often more. If you're worried about it you should have had a retrospective with him (actually -- many retrospectives), to find out why this is happening. If you haven't (and you've not mentioned that you have), then the developer assumes that this is fine and will carry on -- he's being rewarded for his work as it is and has no motivation to change or or indication that you're not happy. Again, this is your problem as a manager, not his. What did you ask him to estimate? How long it will take to code? Or how long it will take to finish and ship into production? Did you ask him for a task breakdown or just take the fist number he gave you? Or, did you tell him how long he had to complete the task based on the project schedule? I'm guessing it's the latter because a stressed out workaholic (which is how you come across) is unlikely to be doing a good job.

Work Items: Ignoring requests for work. I imagine that you're giving him more than one task at a time and not prioritising the work you do give him. Again, your fault.

Deadlines: Missing a deadline or two is perfectly normal. Have you had a retrospective with him to find out why?

Technical Opinion: you're a PM -- why do you need a technical opinion? And, we've covered contact hours so I won't go into that.

Based on what you've put here, I think it's all your fault. You are a workaholic and you're forgetting that it's just a job. You're stressed and you're mismanaging the whole thing leading to having a developer that seems not to be performing, who's job is about to be lost, but who is actually just confused and dazed by your lack of management skills.

I'd recommend getting some training in software engineering management.

  • 1) Before the project begun, the contractor knew what he was signing up for. The arrangement was for him to work on the project after working hours. 2) I never hired him, so was stuck with him. 3) When he misses deadlines, it is often after promising to deliver work for that date to the point that I need to continuously chase him up by reminding him!!!! – bobo2000 May 8 '16 at 0:15
  • To add: If the subcontractor felt that he couldn't hack it, he shouldn't have taken it on. I am actually going to edit my question to make this clear. – bobo2000 May 8 '16 at 0:24
  • The agreement you have made is the epitome of 'unprofessional'. If you enter into unprofessional agreements, expect unprofessional behaviour. Still your fault. Your attitude completely dehumanises the guy you're meant to be working with. You use phrases like, 'stuck with him', and 'the contractor'. Honestly, I'm not surprised you're in this situation. I still say it's your fault. Entirely your fault. Not a single strand of blame to lay at your guy's feet. – Engineer Dollery May 8 '16 at 14:06
  • @ Engineer Dollery you honestly seem to be looking at this from one side of the coin with your 'oh poor sub contractor attitude'. Do you actually think that I enjoy taking time out of my weekend to manage the guy to ensure that he is doing the work? I can tell you that I'd rather not have the stress. 2) He was not my choice, I had very little say in the matter. When I had joined the company, I was taking over from upper management who was initially managing the project. 3) He is an adult, he knew full well what the arrangement was and agreed to moonlighting. 4) We have paid him for his work! – bobo2000 May 8 '16 at 15:55
  • Like I said -- I'm a contractor, but be honest -- you admit to working weekends and being stressed, therefore you are a workaholic stress-junkie. You describe chronic mismanagement. And, everybody needs work -- your guy probably just needed the money. You can't expect a lot from a guy you know is working two jobs and that yours is the second (and probably lower paid) one. You can't expect someone to turn down a job -- you contacted the guy, you proposed the work, and you gave him a contract (I know, not you personally, but your company) -- I bet he didn't add or change a word on the contract. – Engineer Dollery May 9 '16 at 2:31

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