These are the Basics of Controlling Procurements
The “Control Procurements” process in the PMBOK® Guide (Project Management Institute, 2017, pp. 492 – 501) focuses on the responsibilities of the procuring organization.
But what if you are the “procur-ee” (my term)? What are your responsibilities to the client organization or the prime contractor in the procurement monitoring and control process?
I was in that exact position for the last 16 years of my career. I was the “single-shingle” who contracted my services to either end-user organizations (the clients) or the IT providers. Each time I signed my name to a contract, I did so with some trepidation knowing that I now had to perform. Not just to the organization’s standards, but also to the expectations I set each time for myself.
The first action I always took was to thoroughly commit to memory my obligations under the contract. Not just for my protection, but also for that of my contracting organization. My objective was to make it easy for them to monitor and control my contributions to their success.
I believe that is the bottom line for the “procur-ee” – the sub-contractor. Make it easy for the contracting organization, the buyer of your goods or services, to do business with you. Not only does it take the burden off the buyer, but it builds a trust relationship that makes for good project partnership.
And for follow-on business.
So how should the sub-contractor conduct themselves as a supplier to the main contracting organization? In my mind, there really is little difference between serving in the main IT provider role or as a sub-contractor/supplier.
Similar to what I had noted for IT providers (refer to “How to Keep Vendor Contracts Under Control”, the process aspects of monitoring and controlling the supplier’s own contract performance – managing the vendor agreements, adhering to the Statement of Work (SOW), tracking progress, and the like – are the easy part. However, it is the people aspects of this responsibility that are most effective in ensuring that the buyer/supplier relationship is carried out successfully.
While it is the prime contracting organization’s responsibility to monitor the progress and deliverables of the sub-contracted supplier, it is the obligation of the sub-contractor to monitor their own progress and deliverables to ensure they are living up to their obligations.
In that role, I found it beneficial to “manage up,” to make my contracting organization’s job of monitoring my performance easy. The following techniques were useful in my work as a sub-contractor:
- Manage solid vendor relationships. Before any of the subsequent techniques are considered, it is important that the sub-contractor’s management establish a strong working relationship with the IT provider’s management. They should become an advocate for the project. Sub-contractor staff should offer to assist in decisions regarding the project tasks they have been contracted to perform. At the same time, they should defer to the contractor organization concerning client issues. They should never overshadow the contractor organization in the client’s eyes.
- Adhere to the project plan. The sub-contractor must be aware of when and how they are expected to perform their project responsibilities. They should request the project plan – at least the part of the plan in which they will participate directly. They must stay abreast of each change order that affects their tasks, and provide their own change orders to the contracting organization in a timely fashion.
- Know the contract. The sub-contractor should know their contract so well that they are constantly one step ahead of the contracting organization in fulfilling their obligations. They should never give the contracting organization reason to “pull the contract” to remind them of a deficiency in their performance or an incomplete task.
At the same time, it is not unreasonable to remind the contracting organization of their responsibilities under the contract. It is not uncommon for their management to overlook some provision, or to attempt to change a provision for their convenience. Contracts are two-way and both sides of the agreement must be adhered to.
At one point in my solopreneur consulting career, I was serving in the Project Management Office of a large government sponsored project. A budget shortfall had developed in the state, and the department went to each of its contractors to inform them of an across-the-board percentage reduction in their fees. This affected every project and services contract the state administered.
When the procurement specialist came to inform me, I asked her to show me the contract provision that allowed the department to unilaterally reduce my compensation. She could not because there was no such provision.
“Nevertheless,” she said. “You have no choice in the matter. It will happen.”
“But I do have a choice,” I responded. “I’ll leave the project.”
Maybe I was not the best contractor-citizen at that moment, but I had other options that I was willing to exercise. I am not sure what happened after that, but a week later she let me know that my compensation would not be affected.
- Provide status reports. Whether or not these are required in the agreement, the sub-contractor should provide status reports to the contracting organization. These should be provided in sufficient time for the contracting organization to incorporate the information into their own status reports. Better still, if the sub-contractor uses the same format as the main status report, it will make it easier for the contracting organization to include it.
- Make it easy for the contracting organization to inspect the sub-contractor’s work. Except for certain proprietary items, the sub-contractor should make their work product available for inspection by the contracting organization at any time. This could be at any stage in the work performance whether a draft deliverable, or a partial hardware install, or whatever the task may be. Contracting organizations need to see for themselves that their own project performance will not be negatively affected by a sub-contractor’s timeliness or quality issues.
- Solicit feedback. As a sub-contractor, it is valuable to know how the contracting organization views their performance. An occasional, “how are we doing?” goes a long way in assuring the contracting organization that the sub-contractor intends to perform well. For longer contract durations, it is advisable to conduct such performance reviews on a regular basis.
- Submit invoices timely. Sub-contractors should make the job of the contracting organization’s accounting staff easier by submitting accurate and timely invoices. No one likes chasing down administrative items or sorting out errors.
- Handle disputes professionally. Whether a dispute arises from some aspect of the sub-contractor’s performance, the sub-contractor must handle the situation professionally, within the bounds of the contract, and with an eye to preserving the relationship.
- Monitor sub-contractor’s own risk. Sub-contractors must be accountable for their project performance. This includes maintaining their own risk register of risk events that could impact their performance. Risk events that could affect the overall project must be forwarded to the contracting organization for their review and monitoring as well.
- Document lessons learned. With each contracting experience, good or bad, the sub-contractor’s lessons learned documentation should be updated. Whether the lesson is regarding a specific contracting organization, or the task itself, it is invaluable when contracting future projects.
In my own experience as a sub-contractor, I maintained a long list of tasks I performed well, tasks that I would execute differently in a similar situation, relationships I cultivated well, relationships that I could have handled better, contracting organizations that I would seek to work with again, and those I would not. I feel these perspectives made me a more well-rounded and better performing consultant.
Even now as I write these project management articles, I look back on my time as an IT consultant with a perspective borne of experience. I now share the wisdom and perspective accumulated from these real-world bumps, bruises, and successes with fellow Project Managers.
Project Management Institute. A Guide to the Project Management Body of Knowledge (PMBOK® Guide) – Sixth Edition. Newton Square, PA: PMI Publications, 2017, Print.
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