Many people are not sure what they should be doing when they are asked to manage an outsourcing relationship. Part of the uncertainty is because some of the project roles are reversed when you outsource work to a third-party. On a normal internal project, the Project Manager assigns the work and manages issues, scope, risk, quality, etc. The Project Manager makes sure work is done on time and the project is progressing as it should. He or she is held accountable for the success of the project. Other people perform a quality assurance role to make sure that the project progresses as it should. A formal quality assurance group may do this, but it is more likely that the sponsor and the manager of the Project Manager perform this function. They are not interested in knowing all the details of what is going on, but they need to ask the right questions to feel comfortable knowing that things are progressing as they should.

On an outsourced project, the roles are still in place, but different people perform them. If the work is truly outsourced, the Project Manager for the vendor should be the one who is worried about the details. The vendor Project Manager is planning and assigning the work, and managing issues, scope, risk, etc. In this situation, even though you may be asked to "manage" the outsourced project, you really take on the quality assurance role. You need to ask the right questions to make sure that the vendor is doing his or her job correctly. You do not necessarily need to know all the details of how he or she is managing and executing the project, but you have to feel comfortable that the project is progressing as expected.

What to Look For at the Beginning

First, look for the up-front deliverables that you expect all projects to have. For example, is there a Project Definition document? You need to make sure that they have defined the project correctly and to your satisfaction. You should approve this document. The vendor must also have a project workplan. As the project moves forward, you must be aware of the key milestone dates, and there should be a formal checkpoint to ensure that the deliverables produced up to that point are complete, correct, and on time. You and your sponsor should formally approve the important ones. If there is a partial payment being made at a milestone, you need to ensure that the criteria for payment are all defined and that they are in fact completed. Depending on the nature of the project, you may require regular status meetings and formal status reports. The type of questions you would ask at the beginning of the project includes: