Management of Third Parties

I recently attended this great course in Sydney.  Rob Posener of PMComplete Pty Ltd. runs this one-day course, a couple of times a year, under the auspices of the Sydney chapter of PMI.  It is about the management of customers, vendors, and subcontractors.  I recommend it most highly.  It is well worth the money.


Learning #1 – Is there such a thing as truly fixed-price?

My first learning came from a PM sitting next to me.  He was customer of software vendors, and he made the statement that, in his experience  there is no such thing as a fixed-price contract. 

He has come to expect either a flood of rather-more-expensive change requests in the fourth quarter of the project, or else some approach along the lines of, “mate, you have to give us something to keep us going…” or worse a threat, “you stop paying, we stop work!”

The wise PM in this position, when accepting a fixed-price quote, knows that, although theoretically he now has a handle on his risk, in actual fact he does not, and provisions for additional contingency budget accordingly.


Learning #2 – SCAMPI Assessments for CMMi

For some reason I had thought that you could only publish your number, and that it was only a formal evaluation, if you paid lots of money for the full A-class assessment.  This is not so.  Self-assessments are free, and just as useful.  I intend to be carrying some of these out in the future, as a driver for focussing the organisation on organisational maturity.  I just found out this hugely useful fact over lunch!


Learning #3 – Games Customers Play

This excerpt from the course material was a joy to read.  It reminded me so much of a certain Sydney-based CTO of recent acquaintance.  The excerpt is copyrighted to PMComplete.

“Some of the games that clients play include:

  1. I’m the client.
  2. Cheap shots and barbs:
  • You lack a sense of urgency.
  • You do not take end-to-end ownership.
  • You are not putting your best people on the project.
  • You are being negative.
  • You are not acting like one team.
  • You are creating a “them” and “us” situation.
  • You are acting unprofessionally.
  • You system is counterintuitive.
  • You should be using RAD.
  • Your credibility will suffer.
  • You are acting inflexibly.
  • You are very hard to do business with.
  • You are a roadblock.

3. Wanting to micro-manage the subcontractor’s, vendor’s and supplier’s aspects of the project.


  • Wanting to eliminate all contingency from the work plan.
  • Wanting to see the subcontractor’s vendor’s and supplier’s detailed schedule in softcopy.


  • Wanting you to eliminate all contingency from the financial management plan.


  • Wanting to control who is assigned to work on which tasks.
  • Deciding if the vendor can use subcontractors.
  • Wanting to review detailed timesheets.
  • Wanting to interview subcontractor’s, vendor’s and supplier’s staff before they can be assigned to the project.

     Technical Performance

  • Wanting you to eliminate all contingency from the requirements.

4. Screwing estimates, prices and fees down.

5. Approving and paying invoices late.

6. Always blaming the subcontractors, vendors and suppliers.

7. Taking the approach that, ‘supplier baiting is one of life’s few remaining pleasures.’

8. Not trusting the other party (and telling them so).

9. Not meeting their responsibilities:

  • Requirements specification not available on time.
  • Asking to do work in parallel (eg, requirements not complete, but asking that  you start design/ coding anyway).

10. Remember, the client may ask you to do them a favour, but when the project gets into trouble they will forget that you did this for them.  Most projects get into trouble this way: The project manager being a nice guy, and then the project goes off the rails.”

(end quote)

I swear, some of the people I’ve had to deal with must have had that list pinned up next to their desks while they were making the conference-calls.  And why do they do it?  Because it works. 

What’s wrong with working hard and telling the truth?  Isn’t that a good way to run a project?  Sigh!


The great value of this was to see written down all the things that I always suspected.  There are lots of differing views out there as to what good project management is.  If the customer is being like this, then is bending over backwards for the customer the best response?  I think not.  You need to find customers that have a compatible way of doing business with your company.  And nice if you are in the financial position to be able to do so.  Otherwise it can be really hard yakka…


PMComplete also runs some form of career mentoring for project managers.  I think that I might take advantage of that in the future. I think that I am nearly ready…

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