I'm working on a contract at present where I'm essentially working as a subcontractor for a fairly big digital agency. The real end customer is a big corp.

So far, I have of course done an amazing job :)

  • The agency had a "spec" up front - basically a "sitemap" for the app. This was my "blueprint".
  • Inside the first week, I built a working prototype app complete with a new data service - which met the sitemap perfectly. Milestone formally accepted - lots of +ive feedback from the agency.
  • In the second week I built and delivered a beautiful fully working CMS for the data (really, it's beautiful - I'm stunned). Milestone formally accepted - again lots of +ive feedback from the agency.

Then the problems started... basically I needed the assets and design pack to complete the app and the project, and what the agency delivered was rubbish - unfinished photoshop files completely skipping half of the app and with every page having undecided A/B options. There's nothing decided in this design pack, so we can't even start on the next project phase.

I flagged this with them a few times... they ignored me for a week, then came back with "what are you talking about? we finished the design pack weeks ago"... I then asked them if they'd looked at what they produced... they then looked at it and admitted it needed "some work". Since then it's been more delays and nothing delivered.

The situation now is that:

  • this project is now being delayed and delayed and delayed which is causing problems all over the place (with the customer, within the agency, within my schedule)
  • I get the sense that the problems/delays are actually being blamed on "that subcontractor"
  • my only contact in the project is one person in the agency - so no-one has any visibility of what the true situation is.

I can cope with the delays and the problems, and I'm pretty sure I don't want to work with this current contact ever again. However, I'd really quite like to work for other people in this same agency in the future - and (in my dreams) I also wouldn't mind getting some contact with the end customer too.

How can I avoid a "bum rap" on this project? Any ideas?

closed as off topic by user8 Nov 9 '11 at 21:15

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  • 3
    I sympathise, but is this specific to programmers? – Kevin D Nov 9 '11 at 10:02
  • I think it seemed as relevant as the other items on this tag programmers.stackexchange.com/questions/tagged/freelancing - I deliberately came here rather than so. Please don't make me ask on Quora! – Stuart Nov 9 '11 at 10:05
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    Stuart, I'd never make anyone do that – Kevin D Nov 9 '11 at 10:06
  • :) I just looked through the pretty list down at the bottom - this is the most appropriate site I could see... but if this gets closed then I'll understand (I'll just go off and sulk) – Stuart Nov 9 '11 at 10:07
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    The Professional Matters still in commitment would be the ideal home for this. – ChrisF Nov 9 '11 at 10:42

It sounds like there has been a communication breakdown between you and your customer.

I get the sense that the problems/delays are actually being blamed on "that subcontractor"

Getting the sense ? If no one has come to you with an issue stop imagining them.

Speaking from experience as a freelancer, its your role to find the solution and work constructively with your client. Its no good blaming them, you should enable them to give them what you require.

A second approach regarding the specific problems

unfinished photoshop files completely skipping half of the app and with every page having undecided A/B options

Finish them yourself and take control of the work, making sure you implement solutions in in an easy to change manner.

  • Thanks - good advice all round, not least because worrying tends to becoming self-fulfilling. I am working real hard to make this happen - e.g. I've asked several times to get direct contact with the designers so I can work with them and get even partial designs, but I've so far gotten nowhere. I'll keep trying :) – Stuart Nov 9 '11 at 11:18
  • Oooh - and no - there hasn't been a communication breakdown as such - we've talked all the way along and we're still talking lots now... but there is a shortage of action coming out of those talks. (If this relationship were the other way round... I'd be borrowing catchphrases from Alan Sugar) – Stuart Nov 9 '11 at 11:29
  • @Stuart You should come to expect this in any contract you do where you or somebody with your company does not have complete control over ALL of the resources on the project (Eg. a situation where a deliverable is expected from the client). If they are the client, what could a project manager for the vendor or contractor possibly put any expectations or enforcements on the client? I am always wary of this kind of contract and generally avoid them if possible. – maple_shaft Nov 9 '11 at 12:41

I would suggest the following.

  1. Write a lengthy email to the design company explaining exactly which assets are not done well, which A/B options are missing, and be as detailed as possible about those requirements. Be nice, and just ask for those assets and psds with those fixes.

  2. If they do not get back to you in the next day regarding those assets, send the same email to the final client and ask them if they can help you gain those assets.

When you send the emails, CC as many people as possible that are relevant.

This should make it clear to everyone that you are not at fault, and perhaps you might even get the final client to find a better agency to get you the designs you need and it might help you build a relationship with that bigger larger corp.

If you only know of one single email address, then use some google skills to find other people at the company who you think might be relevant. LinkedIn is useful for that. Alternatively, if you are close by, you can visit the office itself with the written request if you are feeling particularly pissed :)

  • 2
    I hate it when people cc as many people as possible, smacks of insecurity and unprofessionallity if you ask me – NimChimpsky Nov 9 '11 at 11:04
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    I hate it when people do it to me because it means I'm not making them happy. But I have seen turtles jump to lightspeed because of a CC before. – Bob Nov 9 '11 at 11:13
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    +1. The email should not be too lengthy and the first sentence should clearly state that the project is stalled. – MarkJ Nov 9 '11 at 11:22
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    Going over the clients head, the person who is paying you, and straight to the final client is something I would never do, unless I expected to get hired directly by the final client and never work for the digital agency again. – NimChimpsky Nov 9 '11 at 11:22
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    Thanks. I've done the "be nice" bit - now in the waiting... I admit there's a temptation to feel "pissed", but I'll try to avoid that animal instinct if I can. I'd rather not get drawn into "games" or "politics" if possible, let alone start them - in my dreams, I just want to write the code, do a great job and get hired back for future jobs at twice the rate. Causing noise probably won't achieve any of that... – Stuart Nov 9 '11 at 11:24

It doesn't sound like your contact will be on your side, my feeling is going to the end customer with anything at this point would not be the correct course of action. The way I see it the only viable option is to gather what documentation you have of how things played out and keep it. If it comes to it you then have evidence to defend yourself with.

When and how you use that evidence is another question, you could possibly go over the head of your contact in the agency and talk to his/her boss.

  • 1
    Thanks - gathering that evidence is a good move - I'll make sure everything is coming to email as well as going through their project tracking system. – Stuart Nov 9 '11 at 11:25

This happens a lot on contract jobs, especially when there's a disconnect between the actual end client and IT/IS management. From the sound of things, yes, you probably are being setup as the fall guy for a project failure. I've been there more than once myself.

The first thing to do is find out why the project is at risk if you can. Sometimes the answer might be surprising and it might not blowback on you.

For example, I found out, on two separate occasions, management wanted the project to fail. One was due to internal political reasons (one manager sabotaging another) and the other was to put on a show for regulatory compliance since a project "failure" would delay implementation and penalties while lobbyists worked their magic in the halls of government.

When you understand the reason why, then you can plan your next step. It may be to find a new job or to make a lateral move. For now, just quietly do the work you've been assigned and don't make any unnecessary waves. However, you should strongly defend yourself if you see anyone lying about you or trying to sabotage you.

  • Thanks. I don't think anyone wants this project to fail (yet). But the guys in the middle seem to want to do the minimum amount of work. I don't know if that's through greed, laziness, or - more likely - just through accidental reasons. They do seem too busy for their own good and I guess they're stretched trying to keep lots of projects going. things go wrong - it happens. Thanks again for your advice. – Stuart Nov 9 '11 at 12:53
  • @jfrankcarr I think it is a stretch to assume that the OP is being set up for failure. These kinds of things just happen in massive buearacratic organizations. I am in a similar situation to Stuart at the moment where this 6 month project is late by a year and a HALF because of failure on their part to step in when they are needed. I have had a VP at this well known Fortune 500 company call me and personally apologize and admitting to me that they essentially suck and are understaffed, and even fronted us half of the money they owed us that was due on completion of the project. – maple_shaft Nov 9 '11 at 13:31
  • @maple_shaft - It does depend a lot on the organization. I've had the misfortune for working in a few toxic, no-win, situations. I've also been in a couple where a bad middle manager was fired and the development team pulled things together and brought the once failing project to completion. – jfrankcarr Nov 9 '11 at 15:14
  • @jfrankcarr Acheivement Unlocked: We don't need no stinkin' manager :) – maple_shaft Nov 9 '11 at 15:44

This is SUCH a common problem but the reality of being the contractor or vendor.

My advice to you is not to worry too much about blame. The worst that could happen is that you still get paid at the end of the project and you don't use them for a testimonial. Blame gets you nowhere in business and is more of a political action than a business action. Good business people ignore it, and focus on the problem and the best way to approach it with limited information.

Be professional, courteous and go above and beyond what you were called to do. If the design pack is incomplete then make every attempt to fill in the gaps and present this to the client for approval. Typically it works to word it such as,

I noticed that X didn't account for the Y situation in the design pack. I thought it might be a good idea to try something like this. Let me know what you think.

Finally, make sure that you maintain a complete record of all correspondence with the clients, including email and meeting minutes. Avoid informal phone conversations unless you can record them. Having this information at your disposal can help defend you if somebody is looking to make you the fallout boy.

Good luck.

  • Thanks... good advice all-round. One small problem is that I'm on fixed price and the client negotiated away my margin at the start of this project, so while I can fill in some gaps, I have to be firm that I can't just keep throwing time at this. (No need to reply to this here - I don't want this question turning into a debate forum - I just genuinely wanted to collect ideas/notes about what to do!) – Stuart Nov 9 '11 at 12:49
  • I'm on fixed price and the client negotiated away my margin at the start of this project You goofed. These kinds of joint effort projects are exactly why a margin is so important. I would have walked away. – maple_shaft Nov 9 '11 at 13:19
  • :) When I said "margin" I didn't mean I'm making a loss - I just mean that I can't throw in extras now. I guess I meant "contingency". But I take your point anyways - I did slightly goof - and there's still plenty of time for this to be a happy ending (I hope!) – Stuart Nov 9 '11 at 13:36

You need to check your contractual obligations in regards to delays are you financially responsible if they occur? make sure the shit doesn't fall on your head and you're ok!

  • You're re-stating the question as answer: "How do I make sure that X doesn't happen?" "make sure X doesn't happen". That is a tautology - technically true, but pointless. – Piskvor Nov 9 '11 at 11:02
  • I'm not sure that's entirely fair, Piskvor - Pepe does at least tell me to make sure I check the contract - that's something I don't mention in my question (I'm obsessed with my reputation...) - thanks for answering @Pepe - I'll check the t's&c's – Stuart Nov 9 '11 at 11:27
  • There are alot of instances of companies going bust owing to a lack of awareness of any obligations in regards to delays. For instance, a company can go bust if they are contractually obliged to incur the cost of any delays. So say if a subcontractor falls over, said company incurs any additional costs; if of course the company had specified its contract with the subcontractor to the same terms of the contract held with the companies customer then it would be on better ground and could at least claim back some costs through the courts. – Pepe Nov 9 '11 at 14:28

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