A project manager is a project manager is a project manager, right? I mean, it shouldn’t make a difference if you’re an employee of the organization you’re managing projects for or if you’re a consultant, right? Guess again…it makes a difference. Not necessarily in a bad way, but it does make a difference.
If you’re an employee managing project for an organization you know the corporate culture, you know some of the bad things about how to process work and you also have key information into the good things that you can use repeatedly on projects to help ensure success and keep the customers happy. You know how they play the project management game and what the customers expect.
Being hired as a project management consultant 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 project methodology or processes
You have your set ways of doing things. And, because you’re a successful consultant that has been sought out by a company to assist them as a project manager, your ways have likely been pretty good at achieving the right end results. However, the organization you’ve been hired by has their own processes and methodology and if they’re running projects for repeat customers they also have a customer expectation to fulfil. After all, they want to remain and appear consistent to the customers they serve. So, unless you are given complete freedom to manage projects however you want – which is unlikely in any organization other than a startup – you’ll likely need to conform to their ways of managing projects. That said, they know you’re an expert and will be very interested in suggestions you have for improving their processes.
Obtaining an understanding of the organization and its functional areas
Just as familiarize yourself with the organizations PM practices, you’ll also have to know how the company functions. You will need to learn where to get specific information, who to know to get things done, and a history of the organization and the customers it serves. You’ll need to understand relationships within the organization and its many departments.
Understanding organizational politics
Finally, you’ll have to get to know something about organizational politics. The last thing you want to do is step on the wrong toes, forget to inform the right people, and alienate those you’ll end up needing most, later on, to get things done.
Having an objective platform to consult on project processes, techniques, and methods without any career limiting moves
This is an area where you can really shine. You’re the expert so while you’ll need to understand the current project processes, the company you’re consulting for obviously needs help or they wouldn’t have brought you in. So you can make a difference on the projects you immediately take on, but you can also entrench yourself in the organization – and set up a longer term relationship with the organization – by helping them incorporate some better PM practices.
Being able, as an independent consultant, to ask the questions other permanent staff usually must avoid addressing
The organization-specific ignorance you come in with can serve you well. You’re not supposed to know anything about the company, their processes, or their customers so you can ask questions without looking stupid. You’re a blank slate – other than your PM expertise – so you can ask anything you want and you won’t offend anyone. And you’ll learn volumes of information in the process.