Contracting for Ottawa Web Project Manager - Ottawa SaaS Product Manager
Project Contracting :
Project Management contracting provides significant benefits for companies
Companies no longer can count on having the right people with the right experience on staff. In order to stay competitive, companies need to know when to bring in help from the outside. Contract PMs can offer significant value to a company through peak loading, program/project support, mentoring, and PMO leadership.
Contract Project Manager : Free Agents and Pinch Hitters
In the not so distant past, almost all non-construction project managers were of the accidental variety. Companies staffed project management positions by picking functional managers who showed solid potential to move up the ranks into senior management and offer them the challenge. The challenge was always perceived on both sides as a very high-risk situation in which a manager agreed to step out of his or her day to day management job to run a high visibility project. If things went well on the project, the manager could expect to be promoted. If things didn't go well, the odds were that there wouldn't be a job to return to at the end.
From management's perspective, project work was the ultimate management training program. A project allowed clear visibility of how the individual in question worked under pressure, how she could handle risk, or how he performed in a consensus-building environment. From the accidental project manager's point of view, it usually afforded the opportunity to build name recognition among the company's ruling elite, which would hopefully translate into support when a senior management opportunity became available.
Running the gauntlet of project management was a normal part of every ambitious manager's career until the 1990s shattered the relationship between company and employee. Reengineering and a relentless focus on cost reduction might have been good for many things but it did irreparable harm to the notion that a career was built through loyalty and good work at one company.
According to Newton's third law, for every action there is an equal and opposite reaction somewhere in the system. In our example above, we see the corporate action of thinning the middle management ranks (the traditional source of accidental Project Managers) being offset by the reaction of creating project management as a formal profession.
The growth in membership of the Project Management Institute (PMI) from 8,500 in 1990 to over 100,000 in 2003 proves this point in a dramatic way. Additionally, once project management became a recognized profession the best and most experienced project managers had the opportunity to choose to become free agents. Rather than stay at a company for years and handle projects occasionally, some of the most talented and capable individuals have made the decision to manage projects full-time - even if that means moving from company to company or state to state to follow the work.
For some companies, the thought of hiring a contract Project Manager to run a project is a perfectly acceptable proposition. The following demonstrates four areas where contract project managers not only provide a clear value proposition, but also in fact are the superior choice to having an employee fill the same role.
The most common reason to hire a contract project manager is when there is simply too much work for the existing staff to handle and it just has to be done. Project work by definition has a beginning and end and often there is no particular reason to increase the permanent staff. Hiring a contract project manager also allows for a number of benefits:
- They can provide experience in solving the specific problem.
- They can manage their project without challenging the current political structure, and therefore obtain cooperation and consensus more readily than an employee might in some circumstances.
- Since they don't have ongoing responsibilities they can focus on a single project and get things done more quickly.
The best way for a company to approach this is to develop a working relationship either with a firm that specializes in project management (not a body shop of temporary employees) and/or with a number of trusted individuals with whom the firm can build an ongoing relationship.
What this concept might look like in practice
Clarity Electronics has just finished evaluating their project portfolio for the second half of 2003. IT spending is going up only slightly but they have a vast amount of work they want to accomplish in the next six months, including a business intelligence project and some rework on the CRM applications they tried to roll out a couple of years ago. They review their available resources and determine that it makes sense to have their existing employees work on the new Business Intelligence System but that the CRM project really would be better run by someone who has actually seen a CRM system work well at another company.
The company maintains a small database of every contract Project Manager who has worked for them in the past and it's a quick process to look up resumes. In this case, it turns out that Jane Anderson has CRM experience and that she's received good marks from the team she's managed at Clarity before. A quick call to Jane finds that she'll be available in 4 weeks full-time but can free up a few days before that to get some advanced planning activities kicked off. Approximately four months later, Jane and the team have been able to work with the sales staff and re-implement the lead tracking module in a much easier to use manner. Jane goes off to work on her next client and the project team has had another opportunity to work with and learn from an experienced Project Manager.
One key factor is that Jane didn't have a learning curve. She already knew the company, knew most of her team members, and had even met a few of the stakeholders on the last project she had done for Clarity. In our example of a 120-day project, Jane was able to bring to the company both the unique knowledge gained elsewhere (a working CRM system) and her familiarity with Clarity to bear on the project in order to get it done quickly.
Jane was also able to avoid the problem of contractor resentment that keeps some companies from hiring outside consultants. By working for the company on a number of short term projects it is clear to the employees that she is operating in a peak load capacity and that she isn't taking work away from them. Also, by choosing to hire a Project Manager with specialized knowledge, it becomes clear to the staff that Jane (in this case) is bringing something none of them would have had the opportunity to acquire. Going outside of the company becomes not just necessary but a good thing.
The Program Manager/Project Manager Model
Another effective way to use contract project managers is in support of very large or very complex projects. If we move ahead one year in our example, the company has now chosen as their primary project a complete rollout of the latest software from Microsoft. This software rollout will touch every desk in the company and will need to be coordinated in seven sales offices and three division locations. In this case, the role of the contract manager is to become the aide de camp of the company program manager.
For our proposes, we'll define the program manager as being primarily focused on meeting the needs of the sponsors and stakeholders while the project manager is focused on the day to day operations of the project. Some companies leap to the conclusion that this project management role is by definition a subordinate position that will require less experience and less sophistication. They therefore staff it with a young inexperienced Project Manager in order to preserve their employment hierarchy and salary scales. While there are some times when this might work in general, however, on mission critical, high-risk projects it is a terrible mistake.
The goal in the program manager/project manager staffing model is to effectively clone the program manager and in order to do that, it is necessary to hire someone of equal skill, background, and ability. From the point of view of promotional opportunities, salary scales, job grades, etc., the simplest and easiest way to accomplish this is to bring in a contract project manager. This person is able to function as a peer and help get the job done; however, since they will be leaving at the end of the project the company hasn't been forced to invest in a duplicate resource for one project only.
Another factor that can make this relationship work particularly well is if the contract Project Manager is comfortable operating in a people management role. As the person in charge of most daily activities of the project, they see the members of the project team up close and personal. They need to be comfortable providing guidance and direction not only on project tasks but also on any area where the team member might need management guidance.
The Consultant PM as Mentor
This leads directly to the third possible role a contract Project Manager can play: mentor to an employee Project Manager. For companies that aren't large enough to have a Project Manager center of excellence, being able to provide mentoring and guidance to an up and coming employee is money well spent. The relationship of a contract Project Manager mentor to an employee is different than the model we discussed above. In this case, the Project Manager mentor is always the more experience member of the team.
The Project Manager mentor in general does not take on a day to day project role and serves primarily as reviewer, facilitator, and advisor. Hiring a contract Project Manager into this role is usually the only option for a smaller company since it's difficult to justify the cost of a very senior person in an oversight and support role unless they're working with a significant number of people.
Most project managers would be delighted to have their company make this investment in their career, but according to Barry Sweeny (the mentor of mentors) it is critical that the employee Project Manager commit to the following:
- To defer to the greater experience of a mentor.
- To learn through others' experiences and mistakes and avoid learning by trial and error.
- To take the risks of discussing their weaknesses and needs, and of learning in front of someone more senior.
Surprisingly, these three steps are usually easier for an employee to do with a mentor brought in from the outside than to do with a company mentor/supervisor. A contract Project Manager mentor is almost always perceived as less of a threat and as more of a safe ally to learn from than a senior level employee.
The Consultant Project Manager as head of the PMO
Contract project managers can bring unique value to a company in running their Project Management Office (PMO). Consider the following reasons:
By making the decision to staff the PMO with a known, trusted external resource, the company can increase their flexibility without running the risk of building an unnecessarily bureaucratic organization. A number of consulting companies specialize in providing this type of support. When it's done right, the company purchasing the services will actually spend less money than if they attempted to build a PMO from the ground up themselves.
- The right consultant Project Manager brings extensive experience in running project management organizations that actually work. Assuming the company is willing to avoid remaking mistakes others have made, the payback and results from a PMO can be rapid.
- A consultant is free of the company's promotional pressure and therefore can focus on the job at hand.
- A consultant is usually interested in achieving results and not personal power. This should make the recommendations and design of the PMO lean toward lighter weight, more sustainable processes.
Maximizing the free agent relationship
The world has changed from the days of the accidental project manager. Companies no longer can count on having the right people with the right experience on staff. In order to stay competitive, companies need to know when to bring in help from the outside. Contract Project Managers can offer significant value to a company through peak loading, program/project support, mentoring, and PMO leadership. The highest value can only be realized, however, if the company and the contract Project Manager both agree that the maximum benefit for both parties comes from developing a stable longer-term relationship.
From the perspective of the company, this means dealing with firms or individuals that specialize in project management and who are willing to invest themselves in adjusting to the needs of the client organization. From the perspective of the contract Project Manager, this relationship requires respecting and accommodating the company's unique culture, being willing to manage employees and not just tasks, and in general being willing to go the extra mile in order to get the project done.
The reengineering movement of the 90s and the downsizing of corporations have created a situation that all the king's men can't put back together again. On the other hand, the new relationship can yield some efficiencies and benefits that weren't possible in the old full-time employee model. All it takes is the commitment on both parties to establish a long-term as opposed to full-time relationship.
© Donna Fitzgerald