7 tips for dealing with contractors

Here are a few valuable things I’ve learned about dealing with contractors.

  1. If it takes more than ten words to describe it, take a picture. This applies most to me when I have lists of changes for my contractors to make. I find that if it takes more than ten words to point out the particular area to work on, or describe what exactly to do with it, it’s ALWAYS, ALWAYS, ALWAYS easier to simply take a screenshot of it and paint over it. In this manner, I can boil thirty big words down to one big red arrow. 🙂 It saves time on your end, it’s easier to understand on their end, and everybody wins.

  2. Issue shorter contracts. This varies wildly from company to company, but in my experience in working with individual contractors, shorter contracts equals being paid more frequently. I always renew contracts unless I state as far in advance as possible that my needs are ending. I find it tends to motivate the contractors more if they have smaller, more easily digestible chunks of work that come in at a steady clip rather than big fat contracts that take forever to finish. They ALWAYS slow down on big contracts, so I give them short ones so the end is always within reach. It’s never failed me. 🙂

  3. If you doubt their ability, find someone else. Several times I’ve fallen into a trap where I’m not entirely sure someone can do the job I need to do, but I hire them to do it anyway. I’ve always regretted it. I’m a firm believer in giving someone ONE solid, firm, impossible to misunderstand chance to turn themselves around. If they can’t keep it together then, tell them why and cut them loose. If they were up to the task, they would have done it right the first time. If it took the threat of dismissal to make them perform, what good are they? You can’t rely on always holding them out over a fire to motivate them. Use the time you’d have spent ‘motivating’ them on finding people that function properly.

  4. Write everything down. There are many reasons for this, the simplest being you forgetting something you said that you needed to remember, and the more serious of which being contractual disputes. I ran into a nasty one of the latter recently where one of my artists was claiming I asked him to do work that I didn’t put in the contract, and naturally he wanted to be paid for it. Fortunately, I managed to set the record straight by finding an email I’d sent him asking him to do the work and telling him I’d pay him more for it, and the followup email of him agreeing to the higher pay.

  5. Never badmouth a contractor. I’ve never done this and I never intend to. No matter how bad someone may be or act, these are still real people with real lives, just like you. It never pays to burn bridges, even ones that there seems to be no risk in burning. If you run off at the mouth about someone you don’t like and affect their job, that could affect their own ability to put food in their kids’ mouths. Yes, that’s their responsibility and not yours, but why spread bad blood? It’s a bad strategy because it closes off options, no matter which way you cut it. Do unto others…

  6. Be careful about promises. I’m a man of my word and I take what I say very seriously, and I want to be a good and reliable boss to my contractors. That being said, I have to be very careful about the things I promise them because development realities are constantly changing, and that’s out of my control. Our budget could be cut tomorrow, we could change an entire feature set, the project could be canned, or we could simply reallocate our other resources to handle needs as they come up. I call it Expectation Management. If you set clear, realistic, conservative expectations, and be damned careful about the promises you make, you’ll be perceived as a better boss than if you promised them the stars and could only give them the moon.

  7. Always appreciate. Even if someone’s doing a bad job, find that cloud’s silver lining. Be positive and supportive. You won’t gain anything by tearing your people down. If you can find the good in what they do, and talk positively about ways to improve it (but being firm about your expectations) and you’ll get better results than if you rob them of their will to try.

Learning these things has helped me be a more effective manager and improved my ability to deal with people. 🙂

Anyone else have any tips? What about from a contractor’s standpoint?

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