When we think of project managers, most of us think of company employees placed in the PM role to take on either internal or external projects. But that is not the only scenario. Sometimes companies go outside and bring in consultants on a project by project basis to manage projects, save projects, or consult on the building of the PM infrastructure within the organization.
When the project manager is hired as a consultant rather than being an internal resource leading the project, there is definitely a different set of rules, a different set of expectations and a different process for onboarding that resource. Being hired as a project management consultant simply presents a unique set of challenges. First, as a consultant, the project manager has been employed by a client because that manager possesses or has demonstrated the necessary ability to manage projects. Second, this project manager also has to adjust to the client organization and people, and this can take time to ramp up. The following are some of the issues that a project manager can expect to find and adjust to at a client site.
Adjusting to the methodology. Adjusting to the prescribed client project methodology or processes can take some time and modifications to the consultants on thought processes and practices. If you’ve always been doing things one way, it’s not that easy to make quick changes. But if you’re managing projects for a client, you need to follow their processes at least at first before suggesting any drastic changes.
Understanding the organizational structure. Obtaining an understanding of the organization and its functional areas is critical. Getting to know your client’s business processes, knowing how their structure works, what their overall workflow for projects is like, and knowing who the subject matter experts (SMEs) are is an important part of the consultant’s learning curve.
Understanding the organizational politics. Understanding organizational politics (e.g., who controls the project) is an important aspect of knowing how to successfully lead projects in your client’s organization.
Being the outsider. While being the outsider can be a good thing, it can also be a bad thing. Not only do you have to get up to speed on all the things I’ve already listed, but at this point you have not developed any relationships with potential project staff or with any key individuals in other departments that can help you get things done.
Objectivity. Having an objective platform to consult on project processes, techniques, and methods without any career limiting moves can help you get things done faster and make faster decisions. Pre-conceived notions are not holding you back.
Ability to ask questions. Being able, as an independent consultant, to ask the questions other permanent staff usually must avoid addressing is a big plus. There are no stupid questions when you’re on the outside looking in. Plus, they all know you are being paid to learn so they should be more than willing to help get you up to speed.
Guru perception. You have the guru perception going for you. They may love you, they may despise you, but either way they know you’re costing money and they perceive you to be the guru coming in to lead the project. As long as you don’t give them cause to change that perception, you will likely have free reign and people will get you what you want and need. They’ve probably been told to do that so they don’t slow you down and cost the company more money.
Summary / call for input
I think there are advantages to both situations…it depends more on the climate of the organization you are working in more than anything. How you manage the project customer really shouldn’t change – and in my opinion in either scenario they are usually my number one concern anyway. Get it right with them…make them happy…and you’ve proven yourself to be fairly successful in either scenario.
How about our readers? What are your thoughts on these items and your own experiences with direct hire PM positions versus your own or other’s consulting experiences? Please share and discuss.