Subcontractors – A Clear and Present Danger to Projects

Many projects are managed by skilled PM Teams. They steer their projects through the vicissitudes of the project world and despite all odds come out on top. This blog addresses projects less fortunate. Projects that get gubbed.

Gubbed: Glaswegian for ‘punched in the gub (mouth)’

Being Gubbed
Mike Tyson knows all about being gubbed

Delving into the lesser discussed aspects of projects I had a rethink about subcontractors.

It’s a dull and dreich subject matter. An afterthought, a need-to-get-one-on-board, a pain in the back-facing nether regions.

But since clients, contractors and even subcontractors can’t afford to carry the full spread of project capabilities they have to rely on a lower order of contractor to make up the gap.

So, what could possibly go wrong?

Number 1? You often don’t get to pick the subcontractor.

As must be obvious, I work in the Middle East. That’s where clients have a ‘preferred contractors’ list. But even in locations where there isn’t a preferred list there can be pressure to use certain sub-contractors.

As a professional organisation you’ll no doubt do due diligence on the list of subcontractors you’re presented with. You’ll may conclude that none of them could fit a nut on a bolt but you’re stuck with what you’ve got. You could bring the matter up with the client if you feel the need for a pointless gesture at this juncture.

In any case get it written down that the project end-date and budget is at risk.  When you’ve written it down follow this link for the next step Subcontractor Impact on End-Date – Filing Procedure

Now you’ve watched that instructive video, here’s step 3.

Revisit the project schedule. Any float you had just went down the plughole. Isolate the activities you intend to subcontract and apply a multiplier to the duration. Start and 2 and work your way up.

For all activities described as ‘start-up’ (eg establish a camp) try a multiplier around 10 – and that’s after you move their ‘start on site date’ a considerable way forward.

I’m not painting a good picture here am I boys and girls? So let’s go through the round window today and we’ll draw up a list of what could be expected.

Establishing the Subcontract

Your pro-forma subcontract contract is of little use to people who own such companies. Their mixture of ‘bamboozle a Philadelphia Lawyer’ and ‘flutter Mother Theresa eyes’ trumps a mere contract that your lawyers have stuffed with ridiculous phrases like ‘start date’, ‘scope of work’, ‘penalties’.

Requesting a Schedule

Well it’s at least worth a try. What else are you doing with your day?

Explaining What a Mobilisation Plan Is

Hire someone who speaks the local lingo and send him to the meeting while you try and find a good coffee shop.

Starting Work On Site

For this you need a comfy chair in an office with a good view of the road leading to your site. Stare up the road, go home at 6 o’clock, awake, go to work. Repeat.

Hauling the MD/ Owner/ PM in for a Bollocking

You need to explain the following to yourself in case they ever turn up. “The subcontractor doesn’t work for you. Their connection is with the client”.

While you’re waiting for them you can practice new skills. Plaiting fog, jelly-to-wall nailing…and so on. I usually curate my collection of rocking-horse bum-holes to keep me out of mischief.

Explaining to the Client Why the Work Hasn’t Started On Site Because the Subcontractor They Coerced You Into Using Hasn’t Turned Up

Explaining it will take as long as you took to read that sentence. The rest of the 1 hour meeting will be taken up by the Client loudly explaining in words of one syllable that the subcontractor works for you and it’s your job to manage them. You big macho person you.

Withholding Payment for Non-Performance of Work

Or, as it’s called in the Middle East, finding out the strength of the connection your subcontractor has with your client. Your mobile phone is about to ring any second now.

Being Gubbed

…and at that point the project is gubbed.



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