Firing floundering contractor

Michael Brill Technology startup exec focused on AI-driven products

January 24th, 2014

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?

Michael Barnathan Adaptable, efficient, and motivated

January 24th, 2014

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.

John Wallace President at Apps Incorporated

January 24th, 2014

Stop work immediately. Pay them for the hours they've worked. And move on. Paying them is the right thing.

Marcus Matos Software Development & Information Technology Professional

January 24th, 2014

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

January 24th, 2014

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.

Michael Brill Technology startup exec focused on AI-driven products

January 25th, 2014

OK, communication sent and response this morning. They are disappointed and would like to be able to continue the project, but also couldn't force me to work with them. They didn't really want the 25% because I didn't get any value and said I can keep the source code.

I will destroy the source code, send the 25% anyway along with a few suggestions on how they can improve client service so this sort of thing is unlikely to happen again.

Thanks again everyone... i probably would have still been fretting about this today without your feedback.


Blake Caldwell

January 24th, 2014

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.

Michael Brill Technology startup exec focused on AI-driven products

February 5th, 2014

Just wanted to provide resolution to this... We're 1.5 weeks into a 4 week project and I reckon we're 70% complete. The replacement contractor has been flying - very impressive. Again, thank you to everyone with feedback about moving on. 

Austin Cornelio Co-Founder & Frontend Engineering Consultant

January 24th, 2014

A difficult and uncomfortable situation for sure. I would first try and negotiate a fair payment for hours worked, etc. Sounds like its probably a small amount so just pay it and move on. To me the key is protecting your own reputation while preventing any unwanted drama which would corrupt the project and cause more complicated and expensive problems.

In addition to what @Rob Gropper said about the IP. That's extremely important.

Next time trust your gut, If you knew there were red flags you probably should not have signed these guys on in the first place.

Best of luck.

John Duffield

January 24th, 2014

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.

Rob G

January 27th, 2014

Michael, sounds like a good outcome.  might not hurt to get the agreement in writing/email...