In many projects you may end up using staff who do not work for your business as part of the project team. The use of contractors, consultants and third party suppliers is common to projects. These external contractors may have specialist skills, provide some service you do not know how to do yourself, or may simply be an additional resource to get over any shortages you have whilst running the project.
For individual contractors, you should manage them as you would any other member of the project team. There are many advantages and disadvantages of using a contractor compared to a colleague who works for the same business as you. As the project manager, you generally have a little more leverage over them than employees, as if they do not deliver what you have employed them to do, you may not pay them. This usually focuses their attention!
An alternative scenario with an external company working on your project is where they take total responsibility for a section of the project and they manage it themselves. If you do this your project management task can become a lot simpler, as what was a whole series of complex tasks on your plan may become a single task with a start and end date, the details of which are invisible to you. This 'black box' type of task has many attractions. For one thing, you don't need to worry about who is doing something or how they do it only the start and end date and the cost. However, for this to work well you really have to trust your third party supplier. They are often just as likely to be late as you would have been in doing it yourself!
If you do choose to use a third party supplier to be responsible for a whole section of the plan, then they must plan this task themselves. When they tell you how long they will take and how much they will charge you should:
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