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I'm the tech lead of a project that involves 4 companies. In the interest of anonymity, let's call them A (my company), B, C and D. A and B are fairly large companies, but C and D are giants.

So far, companies A, B and C have worked pretty well. Not everything went according to plan, of course, but the teams from A, B and C help each other whenever there's a problem and progress is pretty good.

Company D, on the other hand, has proven quite problematic:

  • until we realized and stopped them (they were in charge of project management), they kept silently shifting the goalposts for company A, hence putting us in permanent failure position, also delaying the project by at least 6 months;
  • whenever we have agreed on something, they keep trying to renegotiate it;
  • so far, every time we asked D to do something, I ended up doing it;
  • so far, they haven't delivered on their main contribution, which is running 5 months late (they estimated it would take them about 3 weeks);
  • their tech team basically ignores most of our questions;
  • on the rare occasion in which the they do answer questions, the process is interesting – "Hey, I answered orally your technical questions to one of your managers I met by accident, I'm sure you got the answer";
  • company A spent several months attempting to solve an open problem, until company D claimed "you can stop searching, we found a solution" – except they wouldn't tell us how, and it took them 5 weeks to share the solution, 4 weeks to promise that they would benchmark the solution, until I finally took matters in my hand, wrote that test and determined that their solution was actually (slightly) worse than ours, but by then it was too late, because they had spent the last 9 weeks adapting their entire project to their solution, before testing;
  • a few days ago, I was blocked by a bug in their code, and their team's answer to the bug report was "We're doing it right, we're not interested in fixing the bugs, look, you have bugs in your code, too" (or we could, I don't know, all fix our bugs?);
  • ...

Now, we can't fire any of the companies as partners. But by now, we have 4 managers whose main role in the project is watching over company D and keep them on track, plus me. In most meetings, I feel that I spend my time asking company D to please do what they promised to do, and please stop trying to expand the scope.

That's not sustainable.

Is there any right way to handle this problem?

edit Still going on. "D: Hey, this consensus didn't involve me. – Well, I'm sorry you don't talk to each other at D, but your tech lead said your team was good with this."

  • I'm afraid there is no "right way". Only "best for you". For example I would talk with B and C to do things as best as you can and take them as far as you can without D and then just eat ice cream and watch as D is failing. – SZCZERZO KŁY May 9 at 9:16
  • Can't do that. If D fails, the entire project fails. – Yoric May 9 at 9:29
  • again, "best for you". For me if a project fail because someone is not doing they part and actively interrupting my work then the project need to fail. Either PM from A, B, C should go in and take away as they can from D or work together to find and remove people responsible for the problems. – SZCZERZO KŁY May 9 at 9:48
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    I’d talk to C, which is the other “giant”, and they should be able to put on pressure at a higher level. – gnasher729 May 9 at 12:05
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    If your team is capable of providing solutions better than D, then do you really need D? Could you just reduce D's involvement to absolutely unavoidable minimum then? (Or better boot them altogether?) – Igor G Jun 10 at 11:31
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This problem sounds bigger than you. This sounds like a Team or Department with serious issues. Personally I would raise it with your boss and get him to contact someone higher up at company D. also make sure you have evidence of this stored somewhere that no one from company D can access because if the team really is this bad then they WILL lie.

if the problem still persists after getting or manager to talk with them and show the evidence then get their help to keep taking it further up the chain.

Also might be a good idea to get evidence and opinions from people at B and C and get the management at B and C on your side. it will be much easier to limmit D's input/decision making/etc if you have the others on side.

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    Yup, if this project can take four companies and at least half a year's delay then it is time to involve people at the upper crust/CEO level. – Borgh May 9 at 11:07
  • I don't think that B and C are really aware of what's going on, but my hierarchy is well aware of the problem. As far as I can tell, they're on my side, but if the project ends up killed by this nonsense, that's not going to look too great for me. – Yoric Jun 10 at 9:27
  • @Yoric if you have repeatedly told your boss that company D has kept delaying this project and have some proof then no reasonable company would hold you responsable for its failure, they should see that these problems are out of your control and you have informed someone higher up of your issues. if anything this will come down on someone much higher than you for not trying to sort this issue out earlier as they are the ones with some power to actually do something. a manager should be there to solve the problems that are stopping you from working – Woodie 2714 Jun 12 at 11:25

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