I am working on a project with a partner company (X) for another client (Y). The team at X works with us on some aspects of the project and is the primary interface with the client Y. So, in a way, the partner company X is our intermediate client.

The team at X has raised unnecessary concerns about the project being not on schedule on several occasions. One day they say everything is fine and great, and a few days later I get a call asking why this work is not yet done. I spend significant amount of time on phone calls and emails convincing them that the project is in fact on schedule.

They even ask about tasks which were not in the plan. I keep a good trail of emails and documents, so I can usually make it clear that these tasks were not agreed upon. However, this has started to get annoying, as I end up spending my personal time resolving these nonexistent concerns.

Forwarding old emails, pulling out the project plans and progress time adds up to a lot of unproductive time. Is it right for me to indicate that I would bill all this unproductive time?

My concern is they may, in turn, charge Y for this time, and I just think it is unfair to Y.

This question is not a duplicate of the suggested question (Are constant changes to a projects requirements a sufficient reason for terminating a contract?) because I am not looking to terminate the project, just to send a strong message that solving these imaginary problems is highly unproductive and costing us financially and morally.

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    Do you bill them hourly? If so, it seems appropriate to bill them for any time spent on the project. If this is a pre-specified lump sum contract, it's unlikely you can unilaterally add charges to the project that they didn't agree to originally, unless you can really show this is outside the scope of the contract. – Nuclear Hoagie Oct 13 '17 at 16:48
  • @NuclearWang Yes my company bills them hourly which I think are directly billed to the end client. My primary role is only project management and hence my initial estimate of time was much less. Now with these developments, I have to spend lot more time than my initial estimate – PagMax Oct 14 '17 at 4:58

Is it right for me to indicate that I would bill all this unproductive time ...

Not only is it right, but also necessary.

However, you should handle it with some tact. These are some options:

  • Let your manager deal with it (If you are a freelance contractor, go to the next point.)

    Express your concerns to your manager, and let them communicate it to X's management. It is a manager's job to handle such issues, and they can (usually) communicate it without straining relationships. That way, any potential fallout won't be blamed on you. Besides, settling the matter yourself can catch your manager by surprise, and then both managers will be after your head.

  • Politely raise the issue with the client's management

    Setup a short meeting with the client's management, politely tell them the issue, and ask to discuss solutions which reduce such incidents. Don't make it sound like a complaint, focus on how the project is getting affected because of the time spent on such additional status updates. Do this face to face or over the phone. Doing it over email can make a genuine attempt to solve the problem sound like a complaint.

  • Inform the client management that additional status updates are billable

    I empathise with your frustration, but you should stay professional. Blindsiding the client (or billing retrospectively), no matter how justified it sounds, should be avoided. If the above discussion fails to find a better solution, you can inform them that additional status updates will be billable henceforth.

    Their project management is sloppy or incompetent if they don't even know their own project plan without asking you. They get away with it now because you are giving them your personal time for free. Once they realize it is going to cost them, they would be compelled to consider if they can get the required updates from their own systems before asking you.

    If you do have to bill them, just add the time to "customer support" (or whatever expense head your project normally uses) in the weekly/monthly invoice. Provide the details only when asked. Don't make a song and dance about this unproductive time, just do it and bill them.

My concern is they may, in turn, charge Y for this time, and I just think it is unfair to Y.

Your concern for the end customer is commendable. However, where X gets their money from and where Y spends their money is their problem, not yours. Someone in Y's management or expense auditing will raise that issue when it bothers them.

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    I suspect this would receive a failing grade in a business class. You should probably not provoke your clients with passive agressive billing statements. – IDrinkandIKnowThings Oct 13 '17 at 17:33
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    @IDrinkandIKnowThings The "details" are a bit of a tongue in cheek joke, because I wanted to shoehorn the Office Space reference there somehow. In reality, you could club it together with all the other time spent responding to emails/phone calls in the monthly/weekly invoice, and provide details only if requested (Hence, the note at the end to stick to the usual billing template, and not make a special invoice for just this one problem). I will wait for a few downvotes to flow in, then update the answer. – Masked Man Oct 13 '17 at 17:38
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    Sometimes it's tongue in cheek, sometimes bite your tongue. - One place that I worked had one customer who is a nuisance (I say is because I saw him years after leaving the company and my opinion didn't change, also that term is overly polite). I put up a sign that I calculated would be an inch or two shorter than him (and the owner, but that's another story). The sign said "Employees Only". He enters my work area (with his needy unwelcome face) and suggests that the sign wouldn't apply to him. I explained that he was the only one whom had inquired about it, who did he think it applied to. – Rob Oct 13 '17 at 20:46
  • I get the idea and it makes sense. I think I will try that. – PagMax Oct 14 '17 at 4:54
  • @PagMax I am glad I could be of help. I have now updated and expanded the answer to make it more serious and (hopefully) more helpful. – Masked Man Oct 14 '17 at 6:47

Any time you are working on the project is time that you are working on the project.

If you are billed by an hourly rate then any time you spend either working with them or communicating with them falls into that hourly rate. I think it's likely unfair for you to bill them for the time you've already spent but in the future make it clear that if they need to speak with you it will be billable working time.

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    Just inform them and hope nothing in your contract prevents it. On second thought might want to review the contract and see first. VoTedFoR – Neo Oct 13 '17 at 16:56

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