4

This is a bit long, but I think it's important I give all the details.

I am an intermediate Software Engineer at my company who has been tasked with outsourcing a software development project. It's a web portal to display data/charts, notify users of events, receive acknowledgements from users, etc. It's nothing too crazy, and will be marketed to our customers. I have about 15 years of web development experience and could fairly easily do this project myself but do to my availability/be allocated to other projects my company has decided to outsource it.

To give you some background on the project, our old Director of Engineering hired a local company 2 years ago and paid them 60k to start on it, but never ended up getting around to giving them any requirements so the project never started. He has since retired and been replaced, and the project has been re-initiated. After getting our requirements together the company we initially hired said the entire job would actually cost 300k, so we looked at another option (company in India) and they quoted us at 130k. Because of the price difference stakeholders and upper management decided to go with the India company, and are just cutting their losses on the 60k to the local company.

While all of this was happening, our research department has been developing a prototype for the system. Right now it covers about 50% of the requirements (I'm not exactly sure why we don't just finish it in-house). They have their own department specific interest in this platform, even though the target users are our customers, which is the reason for the platform development and the reason this has received funding.

Now here is the issue. I've been tasked with managing this project. While trying to get requirements clearly defined and the project kicked off following our internal processes (engineering using more of a waterfall development approach), the research department (agile) has been communicating with the India based company we plan on outsourcing to almost daily. They're now coming to me saying that the company is holding resources for us and we need to start on the project asap, and they don't want this to be delayed longer than it already has (referring to the fact it started 2 years ago and never went anywhere). I told them we need to follow the process and it doesn't matter that they have resources on hold, and they should re-allocate them to another project if that's the case. Worst case when we're ready for them to start waiting an extra month for the resources until the end of the world. Meanwhile while they've been talking to the India company they've been reworking the requirements we did have, removing and changing things without even mentioning it to me.

I've also talked with our legal department and they want a thorough statement of work before they put a contract together. When research heard this, they decided to ask the India company to put one together to try and expedite things. I told they I would rather take the time to put it together internally but they went ahead anyways. What they got back wasn't a statement of work, but just a slightly more in-depth proposal.

So basically I'm being pressured by our research department to start the project without doing due diligence, getting things in order, and following our engineering department process - even though they aren't an official stakeholder. They're talking to the company we're planning on outsourcing to and saying the hold up is on the engineering end which is frustrating that company.

The concerns I have are:

  • The key stakeholder hasn't even signed off on any requirements.
  • There was no competitive bid for the contract. The India based company just happened to approach us at the right time saying they specialize in web platforms for what we're looking for.
  • I'm being torn in two different directions (research wanting things done one way, engineering another). This includes research saying to just sign the proposal and get things started, while our legal department wanting a thorough statement of work.
  • I don't have a ton of project management experience in a corporate setting (I've completed hundreds of freelancing projects on my own).

At this point I'm almost ready to just saw screw it, get the India company started on it without a solid contract and if things go south I'll just do the work myself and not tell anyone.

Can anyone give me some direction?

  • 4
    Danger bells are ringing. This is the kind of situation for which PM was created. You've got no solid sponsor, active and agressive attempts to hijack the project, and you're contemplating ignoring the advice of the legal department. I would solve the fundamental problems first. – Mark C. Wallace Feb 13 at 20:03
  • 1
    You say you have been tasked with managing the project: by whom? What influence does that person have, and do they understand the position that they have put you in, and more importantly, are they prepared to support you (REALLY support you - not just pay lip service) to sort out the issues? – Iain9688 Feb 16 at 10:23
4

Practically everything you've said is a cause for concern but the project should be salvageable.

I suggest you concentrate on two things. Firstly, as Mark also suggested, it seems from your description that you don't have clear ownership of the project. Someone will need to set priorities and be accountable for costs and that isn't your job as PM. If it's a product for customers then I would expect your director(s) of sales or product strategy to take the lead.

Secondly, do the due diligence to validate the suitability of the contractor. They should be able to demonstrate a track record of similar projects with references. Look at competitors as well for comparison. Don't waste time trying to get signed-off detailed statements of requirements. That's more often than not a sure way to stifle a project at birth.

Get the contractor to estimate the effort for an initial (small) package of work by all means but get them to commit to iterative delivery on a time-and-materials basis, with your company holding the source code. That way you can walk away at any time. Explain to the legal department that this is a service contract and you will pay as they deliver, which is much less risky than a 130K commitment.

The research department does have a point. Once you have satisfied yourself about the capability of the contractor it should be better to take an agile approach, start working down a backlog and deliver in two or three week sprints. If the contractor can't handle that then find another contractor.

2

The two answers and Mark's comment are spot on. It seems you have a good understanding of what you should do and you should follow your instincts here. That being said, the job of the PM is to get control of the chaos. It is the job. It is to bring the competing interests of various stakeholders and build a cogent interest package into which all stakeholders can buy. And then from that comes process and, hopefully, everyone will be on the same page by then.

Your challenge is if your organization or other stakeholder groups will grant you the authority you really need to reign in the chaos. I think this is where a lot of PMs struggle because it is really really hard to do, especially when you are more junior and are giving one of your first stretch assignments. So you need to get loud...not literally but you need to become and be seen as an authority and a lot of that is on you (it would be nice if you were granted it but sometimes you have to assume it).

So before you can get to the tactical that you know what has to be done, you have to claim your authority so that you can get it done. If you are unable, then you have a decision to make: continue on and likely fail or delivery poorly or walk away from the assignment.

1

[...] due to my availability/be allocated to other projects my company has decided to outsource it. [...] I've been tasked with managing this project.

Run!

You supposedly have no time programming this, but you somehow are to find the time to manage a team of random strangers. That's madness. That will never happen. Project management is a job, not something you do on the side because you don't have time to actually work on it. This project will fail spectacularly and it will be your fault. At least it will be made your fault, because you were supposed to manage it (in close to zero time apparently).

Without any winning strategy, your best move is to not play.

1

First and foremost, you need a strong statement from sufficiently high up in the company to stop unauthorised conversations - especially with third parties - while the situation is clarified. The people who are talking to the outsourcers seem to be using these conversations as a lever to allow them to do something that they want to do but which may or may not be right in the grand scheme of things. So my suggestion would be:

  • Stop all unauthorised conversations, by getting a very senior manager / director to prohibit all such contact. You can tell the third party to expect this to happen, while you work out the strategic approach.
  • Get all interested internal parties / departments together - again using senior managers to "hold the coats" if necessary - to thrash out an agreed position. Use a professional facilitator if necessary. It sounds like there is a bit of "divide and conquer" going on - this needs to be stopped and a single approach agreed and bought into.

  • Document what has been agreed and make sure that everyone accepts and approves it. This may mean getting a sponsor at the highest level to sign off against the agreement - and use that document whenever anyone tries to derail the agreed approach.

You may find that there is resistance in the short term but if you can get the necessary approvals for an agreed approach, this will diminish because people will find other battles to fight or games to play elsewhere, where it is more likely that they will "win" (whatever that means).

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service, privacy policy and cookie policy

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.