Signing a contract with a provider and then finding that deliverables are not met or terms are not fulfilled is an all too common occurrence. There are some steps you can take in advance to prevent this, and some things you must understand to successfully navigate what happens next.

The false contract

Let’s get this out of the way first. Dishonest people exist in every industry and ours is no different. There have been many cases of providers who sign contracts, ask for money up front to start the work, and then disappear. In order to protect yourself, it is important, when working with an outsource provider, to have work done first with payment issued upon each deliverable.

Understand that if the provider is real, they will want to mitigate their risk as well and not do too much work up front without pay, so set short-term milestones – perhaps one screen application at a time in the beginning. Once you see they are performing as promised and once a relationship is established, you can increase the deliverables and payments accordingly.

There are, of course, many conditions you want to build into your contract as well to clarify what is required, how it will be delivered and how the process should work.

Early signs of trouble

When you hire someone to develop your vision, you should expect that there will be a lot of communication between you and the provider along the way. Whether it is asking questions, clarifying details, or demonstrating achievements, there should be regular interaction.

If a provider is not asking questions, it is possible they are either not working on your project, perhaps in favor of another, or they are making decisions for you. Either situation is not ideal. The provider who works for weeks at a time without question, who is MIA for weeks before providing you with a deliverable, could have misunderstood and misinterpreted your direction, and the result can be costly to you and to them.

You must also keep in mind that, for many reasons, it is possible that you can lose your provider at any time. So regular contact, and access to their daily source code, is critical to you being able to continue moving forward if something happens.

When milestones are not met

Milestones may be missed for many reasons. Sometimes, the fault rests partly on you for underestimating the development required or giving unclear specifications. Sometimes, the fault is on the shoulders of the provider, who may have simply overestimated their capabilities. In either case, it is important to understand why the milestone has not been met so you know best how to resolve the issue and how to proceed.

Keeping in mind that it may cost you more in time and money to switch to another provider, can you move ahead with the current contract?

If the milestones and deliverables were too ambitious because of an overestimation on your part, a simple reevaluation of milestones and timelines may be sufficient. Remember that forcing a project that should cost $50,000 into a $10,000 budget will only result in a final product that will not stand up. If you are unsure, a technical audit can give you a better idea of what you should realistically expect to spend and perhaps an additional investment to set more realistic guidelines is all that is required. It is important to understand what the provider is challenged with and why.

If the provider is genuine in their interest but lacks some of the skill required, a technical mentor may be worth investing in. Not only can this person help see the project completed, but they can help develop and support the skill of the provider, making both your project and the provider the better for it. Helping bring a provider to the next level, especially if it is someone you have trust in and enjoy working with, can help secure a good long-term partner.

What the provider can do

There are many things a provider can do to show good faith. If they truly believe they can finish the project, they may be willing to sacrifice some of their own time to attain the milestones set so the contract can continue.

Generally, a provider is unwilling to fail. However, if for whatever reason, they believe they are unable to complete the agreement, they can still help manage the transition to another provider by allowing one of their staff to become part of the future team for a while to guide and advise them.

Good faith

If the contract has been entered into in good faith and deliverables are not being met, you must ask why and then ask why again. To each answer to your questions, ask why until the situation is completely clear. Only then can you best decide what to do next.

Use a spreadsheet to outline what went right, what went wrong and the root causes. List possible solutions with pros and cons for each. This will form the basis for your decision matrix and lessons learned for this and future projects.

If you and your provider are both open-minded and willing to work together to come to a solution, if both of you have entered into the agreement in good faith, there is a good chance your project can move forward, if not as initially expected, then under more realistic expectations and conditions that are better aligned for both sides.

Have you had experience with a contract that was not fulfilled? What did you do to resolve the situation?