7 Tips to get the Biggest Bang for your Buck from your Contractors

by Jennifer Bridges, PMP (formerly, Jennifer Whitt)

Have you ever experienced a project environment where the contractors are Them and you are Us? Or, have contractors on your project been treated like rock stars, where they get all the attention and everything they do is right, yet people wonder, “What are they thinking?” I have been on both sides of this coin, and have seven tips to help you get the biggest bang for your buck from contractors.

The concept of contractor needs clarification because there are a lot of misunderstandings about what contractors are. A project environment generally consists of employees and/or contractors.  There are specific legal requirements that have to be met by either category, things contractors can and cannot do legally. There are specific accounting measures that are taken with contractors as well; how and with what frequency they are paid is different from the employee. There are also constraints placed on contractors due to human resource policies, such as what they can and cannot participate in, and what training they can or cannot receive. Outside of these differences, there are simple things that need to be remembered in order to avoid the Us versus Them dynamic on your project, and likewise avoid the rock star syndrome.

  1. Determine Needs. Know why you are even engaging contractors. Are you hiring talent or  labor? If you are hiring talent, you want people who specialize, resources with specific experience or expertise. Talent brings a specific value to your project versus hired labor. When hiring labor, it’s usually because you need more people to do more work at a decreased rate. Hired hands are for hourly work, turning it out, producing task and deliverables. Knowing what you are hiring for sets contractors up for success in your project.
  2. Document Contract/Statement of Work. Once you’ve determined who you are hiring for what, document a contract. It’s very critical to get a signed and approved contract, also known as a statement of work, that identifies all the specifics of the project and the scope of work they are being brought on board for. The contract contains start and end dates, pay rate and frequency, their specific roles and responsibilities, what organization/person/group are they working with and who specifically they report to. More importantly, the contract specifies expectations. That is a loaded one; if left off, without the person knowing what expectations you hold for them on the project, then things will certainly go awry.
  3. Solicit Input & Outsider Perspective. After documenting the contract or statement of work, then it’s important to solicit your contractor’s input. Remember, they have been hired for specific reasons and are part of your team and project; it’s not Us vs. Them, it’s We. Whether talent or strictly labor, someone who is not in the environment all the time brings a different value-added perspective.
  4. Provide Support. Provide what your contractor needs to get set up. Show them around. Find out if they need help. Take it upon yourself to know what they need and when they need it.
  5. Foster Team Work. The contractor is not the enemy. I’ve been in the Us versus Them environments where contractors are treated like the enemy, and have to stay in their camp. That’s just not a good environment to set up for any project, and will only lead to a lot of tension.
  6. Maintain Focus. It’s important for you to hold up your deal on the project. What often happens after bringing new people on board is that we think, “Alright, we have additional resources so we’ll get them to do everything.” So in addition to the specific deliverables they were brought in to do, once you find out what they can do it’s tempting to assign them to other projects and roles. Essentially, you diffuse their focus and now they can’t complete what you brought them in to do. Maintain your focus. If you find a better project, fit or role for them, and if it’s okay with them and they agree, then stop the process and renegotiate the contract or statement of work so they can truly be assigned to and paid from the appropriate project.
  7. Set Up for Success. It’s important to ask, “How can I support you? Let me help you help me.” If you help others to help you, everybody is set up for success.

These are seven of the most important tips that have given me the biggest bang for my buck when working with contractors, and I hope they work for you too.

If you found these tips from Jennifer Bridges, PMP (formerly, Jennifer Whitt) of value and are a PMP looking to earn PMI PDUs, you might be interested in her self-paced, downloadable courses at PDUs2Go.com.


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