Your organization has decided to outsource a project to an external firm. In some cases, the organization may allow your team to manage the project, but more often than not, the organization may want full reign and to manage the engagement themselves. What does this mean to the project manager from the client organization? Depending on your company’s project management philosophy (i.e. do they see project management as a scheduling function, or someone that truly manages the project and risk), this type of agreement may be more challenging than you first think. While it may be helpful to have the outside assistance, it may require a change in your normal approach and project management function in order to provide, effective, external team support and oversight.
I’ve been in situations where I was the contractor that has had customers instruct me on the process they would like to use and others that have allowed me to use my organization’s expertise to deliver the best result. I’ve also been in situations where my organization is the customer who has outsourced a project and been responsible for truly managing the external resources and other situations where asked to allow the contractor to exert full control over the management, using their own approach and practices.
While the specific approach needed should be tailored to your specific situation and organization, I fine one of the more uniquely challenging situations is when you outsource an engagement, including the management/oversight and project approach. While there are always opportunities for learning and growth, the last scenario can be difficult and even confusing for a strong project manager. The level of authority and your role will depend greatly on your organization’s viewpoint on project management. If you are put in this type of situation, my suggestions are:
1. Clearly Understand Roles & Responsibilities: Regardless of the scenario, clear role definition is an essential first step. You’ll need to understand specific role expectations from both your organization as well as your contractor. Defining what the contractor is responsible for all the way down to communication with your organization is also important.
2. Be Prepared to Be a Passenger: Not being responsible for running the project can be tough for strong project managers who are asked to interface with the external consulting organization, especially where there are deviations from your recommended approach or where you identify areas for improvement and their process is set in stone. Understanding the roles and responsibilities of all involved will help you understand where you can provide value and where you can intervene. You may also need to prepare yourself for having more of an administrative role than an orchestration or technical role. Understanding who does what will help reduce the push and pull between organizations.
3. Ensure There is a Sound Escalation Path: While you may not have direct authority, you will want to understand what types of items can be escalated and when. You’ll also need to ensure you have the proper support within your organization. The lack of direct and indirect authority, plus no support does not make for a prosperous environment.
4. Utilize Lessons Learned: Reviewing prior projects, especially those with many of the same variables is useful for educating the organization and can even assist your contractor. Continue to collect intelligence on what works well and what doesn’t work well, even if you don’t have direct control over changing the immediate situation. This information can be useful for not only the current situation, but future endeavors.
5. Educate Your Organization on the Value of Project Management: Even though you may not have direct control over the project or even the support you need, never give up on educating the organization and vendors on project management value and best practices. Hopefully the contractor will apply the same project management rigor you would, but if not, there is always a positive takeaway for you personally and hopefully professionally for your organization. Help educate your organization on your discoveries, the impact of these discoveries and the lessons you have learned through prior experience. Project management is not for the faint of heart, but requires tireless perseverance. Show your organization why you are in your role and the tremendous value this function can provide your organization.
There is always something to be gained and learned from each situation. While outsourcing to an organization that owns the management of the project may not directly utilize all of your project management skills, it will certainly help develop new ones.