Dealing with a Slow Developer


We outsourced development (out of the country) to get a prototype of our site put together. The developer estimated 8 weeks for the project, but admitted that they could not guarantee that it might not take a little longer. Based on our lenghty description and a graphic we sent them of what we wanted and competitors in the space, they were able to in 2 weeks, provide a mock-up that we agreed to.

Today is the end of week 18. We have a project that is about 2/3rds finished, but nothing we can present as a functioning beta.

My question is what to do now to speed them up. We paid them half up front and promised the other half on delivery -- in hindsight, I wish we'd had more concrete milestones.

In any case, should I now:

  • ask for a discount based on the inordinate delay which is pushing our launch back?
  • ask for delivery of what we have now, pay no more and find a new developer in town to finish the project -- hopefully within the 2nd half of the original budget?

This delay is really not helping. The business is seasonal and we would love to be able to put something up in beta by the end of the year.

Thanks for any suggestions

Contract Development Deliverability

asked Oct 21 '11 at 20:17
D Moore
174 points
  • Welcome to the wonderful world of software development and outsourcing. – Tim J 11 years ago
  • Could part of the problem (only part mind) be that YOU don't understand the Iceberg secret? The line about mock-up in only 2 weeks makes me think so. 11 years ago
  • i understand it now, believe me. – D Moore 11 years ago
  • @Ryan, I was going to vote you down for spamming, since the page is a sales page. I took the time to read the article. Awesome! It was really informative and very relevant. Thanks for sharing it. – Evik James 11 years ago
  • A sales page? Compared to most blog sites Joels is pretty minimalist. I've head about the internet attention deficit disorder and average bounce times of – Ryan 11 years ago
  • To add to @Ryan, only about 0.01% of the people who do not have at least 5 years of development experience can make a good decision about the software project time estimate because most do not understand the complexity of the project. – Phaedrus 11 years ago

7 Answers


I think that a discount at this point would exacerbate the problem. In my experience when a project goes over time so significantly it means that it has also gone way over budget for the developer. The developer is now trying to find and do other work to pay the bills to subsidize the completion of your project. The less money he makes on your project the further down the priority list it falls.

Talk to the developer. Make it clear that you share a common goal of successful completion of the project. Do not set up an adversarial relationship. They know that there are problems. There is no need to rehash all of the reasons why -- the focus is on how to solve it.

If you need to get hard ball — then, the bottom line is that they are in breach of contract — they have not fulfilled their end of the deal. And you are renegotiating a new agreement. This one will be done right.

Here are options to consider as part of the solution:

  • Breaking the remainder of the project into small and deliverable parts with greater accountability. Don't just think weeks -- think days or daily.
  • Attached portions of the remaining due compensation
  • Adding a bonus for completion of specific incremental milestones by specific dates
  • Divide the project up and engage other developers in portion of the work
  • Offering to close the project out and transfer it to another developer

Meanwhile you should start the development of contingency plans:

  • Have someone audit the code and review it
  • Get bids on completion of the work
  • Find a local developer to partner with to complete the project

Good Luck!

answered Oct 21 '11 at 23:27
Joseph Barisonzi
12,141 points
  • I agree. The developer is probably already overbudget and over his estimate so telling him you are going to pay him less is not going to help anyone. Also, most great programmers charge a premium to take over a struggling project. They are usually going to have to deal with someone else's poor craftsmanship or at least not the way they felt it should be organized. If it was coded superbly the project probably wouldn't be in jeopardy or be late. – Ryan Doom 11 years ago
  • Very helpful outline. Thanks very much. The developer is currently hosting the draft website on their server which I access by login/password. What if they won't give me access to the code? – D Moore 11 years ago
  • One of the reasons to NOT get in an adversarial position with them is that it will be very difficult for you to get the code unless they choose to give it to you. It will be far more cost effective for you to do what is necessary to keep the relationship focused on a successful outcome for all so that you CAN get access to the code. – Joseph Barisonzi 11 years ago
  • @Ryan Doom-- thank you for your additional comments! – Joseph Barisonzi 11 years ago
  • Thank you both for the guidance! – D Moore 11 years ago
  • @DonWallace Thank you for the add. the people pushing the project want to spend the remaining portion of their budget on completion. It never works that way does it? It is a new project-- with baggage. – Joseph Barisonzi 11 years ago
  • Just want to add that this advice was extremely helpful. Developer agreed to our 2-week timeline for completion (even with the condition of delivering all the existing code upon a missed deadline) They met the first milestone this morning delivering the code a day early. We are hopeful to finish up with the rest of the code in one more week. We'll see what happens, but the advice, again, was very helpful and much appreciated! – D Moore 11 years ago


I don't know what you expected in 8 weeks but, in my experience, nothing of much value can happen in that short amount of time.

If all you were trying to accomplish was a brochure site then 8 weeks is reasonable, assuming you're fairly solid with your marketing. But to accomplish a meaningful application in 8 weeks, especially offshore, is more than a bit past optimistic.

Could you outline in broad strokes what sort of application you are trying to build?

answered Nov 4 '11 at 15:30
Ryan Reid
31 points


If you did not have a contract about the finish date, and having specific conditions on payments with respect to the finish date; I don't think that would be a good idea to push him/her to make a discount. Things might get worser..

My suggestion is let him open the code, and bring a very experienced developer to look into the code and estimate how long does he think it is gonna take ? If necessary pay $200/h to go over the code and make suggestions. Think him like a CTO and let him to tell you the truth!

If he says the code sucks, stop paying outsourced developer, bring an way better local dev and keep on going. If he says the code is fine, be patient, make another deal about the finish date. Cut the payment for each late day/week. Like %20

Whatever happened is already happened. Focus on getting your site as quickly as possible.

BTW, is this an web application or a web site?

answered Oct 21 '11 at 20:30
Bahadir Cambel
251 points
  • Thanks for the answer. I would characterize it as an application/tool though we may have a little content/blog attached. So to my developer -- just tell them to "open the code" so someone else can take a look? – D Moore 11 years ago
  • Definitely. That is where all the truth lie down... Let's see what you have in your hand before making a big decision.. – Bahadir Cambel 11 years ago


From personal experience it became a prerequisite to deal only with outsources and developers adhering to agile methodologies like Scrum. Using these methodologies eliminates "guesstamating" from projects, which in truth is what most outsourcing companies do. It also forces both sides to adhere to a predetermined timeline and burndown of tasks.

A link for you to investigate: With regard to your current situation you have two options:

  1. Cut your losses and move on to an agile-adhering developer.
  2. Take stock of your current project status and todo list and implement agile (Scrum ) on the remainder of the project.
answered Oct 22 '11 at 17:24
21 points
  • Going to try for the moment to avoid changing developers for the prototype, but I will check this out on the next go round. Thanks! – D Moore 11 years ago


Been on both sides of the coin: own a web dev biz, AND hired devs to work on projects.

I know what it's like to be yelled at and I know what it's like to yell.

Best advice if building a product: raise a little capital and hire someone full-time. It saved my business.

Outsourcing sucks UNLESS you know what you're doing.

answered Aug 2 '12 at 17:29
131 points


I would speak to the developer now and try to arrange for an agreed date for the project to be completed, as the project is way overdue, push for penalties (ie. discounts) if the new agreed date isn't met.

It would be unfair to just impose a discount straight away as it wasn't agreed upon, but hopefully you can now create a new agreement for the remainder of the work.

It is a good example of the benefit to agile development. Get a very simple baseline delivered, and then iterate on it to add features. At any time then you can withdraw and still have a working product. This is not to mention the many other benefits.

answered Oct 21 '11 at 20:37
Joel Friedlaender
5,007 points


Probably a very late response and won't help however let me give you my wisdom.

Your 2 month project has stretched to 1.5 years, still nowhere close to completion and you are still hopeful for a delivery. That is amazing!!!

  1. My advice to you is that snap the deal. Write the money lost in bad debt or what account it fits in (any way you have paid for 1 month).
  2. Start fresh with a new developer who can provide references of some successful projects.
  3. Re-look into your specs. Probably in past 2 years they have become obsolete and you may need to think about them again.
answered Jul 4 '12 at 22:01
286 points

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