BLUF:  Need guidance on how to handle an engineering firm that may be clueless to fix a major problem and probably have been misleading me about what they have been doing to resolve it.

I joined a small product firm in early March (left a good job to come her) to run product development.  The 3 major projects being worked-on by an engineering firm are behind schedule/over budget.  Today I find out that they are just starting work on solutions to a show-stopping problem that they said they started 3 weeks ago. 

The CEO and the president are extremely unhappy with the situation.  While I am not being held responsible for the problem, I will be judged on how I handle it.

Thanks you.


stenya's picture
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From your description, it sounds like the engineering firm is a vendor, not part of your current organization - correct? If that's the case, I would start with the contract or statement of work that your organization has with them. What have they agreed to do for you, and how are they not living up to that agreement with this behavior?

Learn everything you can about the service they've agreed to provide, the turnaround times they've agreed to, the communication plan between your two firms, the standard reporting you can expect, the milestones for delivery and payment, the quality level expected, the escalation path when things go wrong, etc. Until you understand what they're accountable for, it'll be tricky to hold them accountable... so it may be best to go back to basics. Since it sounds like you're dependent on them for several major initiatives, I would suggest a "curious" approach rather than a "bring the hammer down" approach - you're still new to the organization, so it's reasonable for you to ask questions about the expectations you have at this point. Also, if there isn't a locked-down scope, milestone plan, and quality standards in place, I think that's your first order of business, to ensure there's no vagueness going forward. And again, all of this can be broached in a spirit of curiosity and collaboration... you're going to have a relationship with these folks for a long time, so be nice until it's time to NOT be nice. :-)

Good luck! 

donm's picture
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I'm on the other side of the coin. We have a project that's far behind the original schedule. The customer is blaming us, but the problem is on their end. We get continual scope changes and additions/deletions from the original plan. It might sound like a simple fix, but when you have design, drafting, procurement, assembly, and testing for even the smallest change, things don't move quickly.

Assuming the vendor is actually at fault, I would suggest you put a presence in their shop or factory to track daily tasks. You are being lied to, and the only way to get around that is to collect the information yourself.