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Firing floundering contractor

I hired a remote contractor for a smallish(~ five week) project two weeks ago. From the second day I had a bad feeling. I asked several times for a plan, a rough design doc, something that provides me with some comfort that they're on top of it and I got nothing. Now we're two weeks into it and it's very clear to me that they're a pretty junior team with zero process and are just trying to get through it. Was able to get a code drop today (to help them debug a simple problem) and there's probably a week's worth of coding but maybe 2 days' worth if they used very common third-party libraries.

Will they be able to get through this project in 3 weeks? It's possible, but probably not. And if they do, my experience tells me it will be full of compromises and a bloated copy and paste code base.

I have been in these types of situations before and they don't get better. But I convince myself that they will, only to regret it later. So I know the right thing to do is stop the project right now and start again with a competent developer. I found one, interviewed him today, feel very confident, he can start on Monday and it'll cost me 50% more than I was paying.

The current project has a single milestone at the end. I agreed to that because I had concerns about them from the beginning and it was ok for me if they assumed all the risk. So technically they haven't missed any milestone and technically they could complete this project.

Part of me just wants to walk due to the poor communication and progress. Part of me feels like they deserve some compensation because I'm the one that is walking... prematurely from their perspective.

Any thoughts on this?


27 Replies

Michael Barnathan
3
0
Michael Barnathan Entrepreneur • Advisor
Co-Founder of The Mountaintop Program, Google Alum
I don't know of any rules of thumb or precedents here, but I think the fairest thing to do is to compensate them pro-rata for the part of the work they've already completed and move on as soon as possible.
Marcus Matos
0
0
Marcus Matos Entrepreneur
Software Development & Information Technology Professional
What does your contract say?

If you don't have a contract, either of you can walk away without concern (even if it is a little dirty - but so is hiring someone without a contract/written expectations).

In my experience - trust your gut. Your business and livelihood are at stake and sometimes you just need to plow forward. If it turns out that your initial hiring choice was wrong, it's not fair to anyone to get stuck in the "sunken cost" mindset. It'd most likely be best for you to find someone who can complete the project to your satisfaction, and release them so they can find work that's more to their level.
Marcus Matos
1
0
Marcus Matos Entrepreneur
Software Development & Information Technology Professional
BTW, I think I do agree with Michael - some pro-rated compensation might be good so that everyone can walk away feeling decent about the situation.
Ted Rogers
1
0
Ted Rogers Entrepreneur
Mobile Architect + Developer
Speaking as a contractor, I think you should compensate them for the work that they have completed. You will need to work with them to figure out what percentage of the final milestone has been completed and cut your losses ASAP. My guess is that if you are unhappy, they are unhappy as well, and hopefully will work with you to come up with a fair settlement.
Stan SF
0
0
Stan SF Entrepreneur
Manager
Michael - you have to ask yourself if you're in this for newbie developers to "cut their teeth" or if you're in this to win. Personally, I've even clawed back funds when a contractor over promised and under delivered. As a consultant in my day job, I know better than to over promise and under deliver...so I say cut them off and move on. The very experience of you deciding move on will be a crucial lesson unto itself. Sent from my mobile device Stan
John Duffield
0
0
John Duffield Entrepreneur
Sr. Manager, Interactive Program Management at SapientNitro
Tough situation.
Good feedback so far.
Have you considered being completely honest with them and laying out your concerns in a phone call or meeting?
If you let it go and do nothing, you will likely get a bad outcome (as your gut feeling is based on experience)... of you cut it off now they'll be wondering why.
How about having a heart-to-heart with the lead project manager and convey your concerns, all of the ones you've listed here (not using 3rd party libraries etc). Mention specifically what you expect from them, amend the contract to cover agreed points etc and roll with it Even consider an additional incentive or slight bonus if they turn things around.
You never know, they may really really value your feedback and opinion... they could totally turn around and impress you and it could be the beginning of a great relationship moving forward.
Or, you'll realize after meeting about your feelings that you were right all along and there is no hope of salvaging it.
I tend to look for the positive in situations as much as possible, one of my downfalls... however its easy to do that from an outside perspective.
Best of luck.
Blake Caldwell
1
0
Blake Caldwell Entrepreneur
CEO, CTO of Sky MacKai LLC
To finish the other side of what Marcus brought up...if you DO have a contract and it states they need to provide something in 3 weeks and they actually meet all the specification you request, then you are bound to live up to that contract. However, it doesn't mean that you cannot amend the contract. Approach them and tell them you want them to halt work, say you are not happy with the product they've produced this far and want to compensate them for the work they've done. If you do not have very specific design specs and you think they'll be able to say they accomplished it, then you should pay them 2/3rds of the work they've done. If you have specific requirements that you think they'll fail on, then you might be able to negotiate it to a lower value.

You have to think about it like this, even if they provide ugly stitched work, if they meet the guidelines of the contract then they've done what you've asked of them and they are due their money...regardless of what you were hoping for. You will have to chalk it up as a learning lesson on the importance of contract specifications.

In regards to the negotiation, they probably still have the right to say no and provide you with a working product for the full value, but just make the point that they are struggling to meet the deadline and if they fail you will pay them nothing.

P.S. I am not a contract lawyer, but I have done a lot of contract work, so this is information from my experience.
P.P.S. Don't leave yourself open to a lawsuit...not worth it.
Kate Hiscox
0
0
Kate Hiscox Entrepreneur • Advisor
Boss at Venzee
Don't bite off more than you can chew. This applies to them. Why should you have to pay for that learning experience? Sent from my iPhone
Michael Barnathan
0
0
Michael Barnathan Entrepreneur • Advisor
Co-Founder of The Mountaintop Program, Google Alum
Stan: Absolutely cut them as quickly as possible - you DO NOT want to keep them onboard if they're not delivering, as it will only make the situation worse as they fall further and further behind. But they've already done some work, and even if that's of substandard quality, they're due payment for what they *were* able to deliver unless you explicitly negotiated otherwise in the beginning. You can't claw back funds whenever you feel that something doesn't meet spec - that's like retroactively clawing back an employee's salary from date of hire when you have to fire them.

Aside from the general fairness aspect of it and the potential for a misrepresentation lawsuit (if they argue that you never had any intention of paying them for their work when you signed the contract), you don't want your business to leave a trail of angry people in its wake, as that will certainly come back to haunt you (for instance, during due diligence when seeking a funding round or acquisition).
Jenda Michl
0
0
Jenda Michl Entrepreneur
Owner at Vertu Studio and Founder of UndergroundArchitecture
Hi, sorry about the difficult times. My suggestion would be to let them know immediately that you are stopping the project and why. Also state your dilemma about walking away vs paying them something. Follow that with an offer of the ballpark you're thinking of throwing them and ask what they think would be fair. This strategy hopefully diverts their attention from getting fired to getting paid, and lets the discussion be settled in that arena. If they come back with class and a reasonable #, pay them that. If they come back aggressively or otherwise negatively, you can inform them that their reaction/behavior changed your mind about being what you feel is generous, and you've decided simply to walk. Good luck! Jenda Michl Principal, Vertu Studio Inc [removed to protect privacy] vertustudio.com facebook.com/vertustudio flexsitbench.com linkedin.com/in/jendamichl
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