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2 Simple Strategies for Effectively Managing Contractors on Complex Projects

Apr 03, 2017
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I’ve spent the past seven years working in both state and federal agencies that handle transportation services and infrastructure. To say that my time has been characterized by temporary periods of stress-filled insanity would be an understatement. We’ve experienced so many challenges with the lack of a strong tax base, especially coming out of the Great Recession, that we find ourselves increasingly relying on outside contractors to complete even the most basic tasks.

Creating a Flow to Your Week

Keeping up with all of the moving parts can be incredibly challenging. Some contractors are incredibly easy to work with, while others cause my day to explode into a series of mini-fires that need to be put out. To divine some order out of the chaos, I started to plan out my week ahead of time, organizing similar tasks into adjacent periods of time.

For example, I try to approve invoices from the previous week on Monday and Tuesday. I look for progress reports from our different teams on the projects we’re completing by scheduling progress check-ups on Wednesday of each week. Then, Thursday and Friday are free to focus on emerging projects, or any other tasks that might spill over into my “buffer”.

Of course, this is all great in theory, but in practice it tends to get messy. I don’t expect a perfect schedule, so I do my best with what I have. Every week I try to reflect on the prior week and find areas where I could have managed our overall time a little more effectively. I always find room for improvement and embrace the opportunity to work on it in the week ahead.

Batching tasks together brings a little bit of order to the madness that is government contract management.

Streamlining Invoicing

As I gained more experience and earned a few promotions, I soon began working on more technical projects. For example, on projects where I was simply overseeing the development and maintenance of roadways, I was soon taking on the role of working with the field engineers and city planners to help guide our efforts and reduce redundancy. Working with the more academic side of the projects represented a new challenge, and opportunity for my personal career.

To help make sure I could quickly review invoices from multiple contractors, I started researching the best online invoicing solutions. I looked at some of the templates I liked. While we had uniform systems for contractors to submit billable hours, the supporting documentation was oftentimes very different. Even two contractors working on the same task, on the same project would turn in different invoice packages.

Once I became comfortable with a certain layout, I created an advisory document and sent it out to all of the contractors working with my team. I laid out how I wanted them to fill out the forms and submit supporting documentation. With some of the contractors, it was like pulling teeth. While I was understanding of the fact that I was asking them to do things a little bit differently, I persistently sent back notes when things weren’t formatted properly.

Eventually I was able to get to the point that more than seventy percent of the payment requests reaching my desk followed my preferred format. This meant that seventy percent of my paperwork followed similar patterns and allowed me to work more quickly. The contractors that followed my guidelines noticed a faster processing of payments to their accounts.

The simple act of bunching similar tasks into a weekly schedule, and optimizing the payment request guidelines for our department made my workdays significantly more manageable. It may seem simple, but when you get a 10% improvement in something that you spend 90% of your day working on, there is a huge return-on-investment; both in terms of personal sanity and organizational efficiency.

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