In an earlier post, I suggested that SMBs should hire only contractors with the relevant expertise. For today, let's assume that the contract has already been inked with an external vendor, and the project is now in full swing.
At this stage, what are some danger signs that you should be looking out for in order to keep your project on track?
Watch out for bait and switch
This is probably the oldest sales technique in the book. After wooing you with the incisive logic and implementation experiences of their top consultants and analysts, the vendor immediately swaps them out once the contract is signed. As such, it is not uncommon for SMBs to find themselves with a project manager of more average capabilities the morning after.
Where there is really nothing much you could do at this point, what I would watch out for would be the inclusion of too many entry-level programmers and administrators with inadequate experience. Certainly, I take care not to assume the capabilities of the project team based on my experiences with the sales team.
Fortunately, it is relatively simple to establish that the contractors working on your project are up to the task. For programming projects, a look through some of the source code files of completed modules will reveal a lot about the quality of the workers assigned to your project. For system administrators, just observe them working for a while. If they are working with a mobile constantly glued to their ears, or keep having to refer to a manual when installing Windows Server 2008, for example, chances are they could be making configuration mistakes even as they learn on the job -- at your expense.
If you are seeing lots of rudimentary mistakes being made or substandard practices being condoned, quickly demand a meeting with the vendor and highlight your concerns. Remember, it is far easier to request more competent workers near the beginning of the project, when the budget is still relatively untouched, than toward the end. Taking action too late could see you attempting to remedy a huge mess, but with scant resources or time left to fix it.
Contractor is missing deadlines
If there is one ominous danger sign, this is one of them. While there are many possible reasons for missing previously established deadlines or milestones, the fact is that none of them is good.
One question you should ask yourself is whether your contractor is busy with other jobs. Or could it be that yours simply isn't that important? When we talk about importance, we are really referring to "relative importance" here; your project could be on the backburner simply because his other clients are raising hell for each milestone missed, while your SMB is just letting them slip pass without much comment.
Do you have any anecdotes of contractors from hell, or experiences with nightmarish IT projects? Feel free to share them here, or drop me an e-mail. Look forward to hearing from you!