Should Project management be outsourced?

Should you outsource your project management or keep it under your own people would not be a straight answer since the decision would depend on a number of . A “project” can be viewed as an external deliverable to the enterprise or at times project is viewed more as a core strategic activity within the enterprise. If more strategic than outsourcing would be second option!

Project Management particularly in sunrise industries e.g. IT/Telecommunication is fast emerging  as a professional discipline. Over the last decade there has been considerable awareness in firms and organization to dedicate skilled & qualified people into the role instead of someone who happens to be available to coordinate. This is a welcome trend, however again organizations who do not have a governance body or core skills in PM can look for independent PM professionals or PM consulting firms who may fill the gaps.

I feel that one of the main reasons for failing projects is that the supplier side of the project also does the PM. This is also described in the PRINCE2 approach: customer and supplier have opposite Business Cases. Generally more a project spends, the happier the supplier. Cost of the customer is basically turn over for the supplier. So it is difficult to expect a supplier PM to keep the project (financially) under control unless it is a fixed bid project. Hence there is a strong case for an independent PM to manage enterprise critical project/programs where owner does not have a matured PMO organization.

Generally, the supplier who also happens to provide project Management would be more concerned for meeting what is ASKED FOR rather strategic objectives (if not asked for). Pre dominantly PM is assumed to be supplier responsibility & project fail often more due to gap in priorities of supplier and customer.

And yes, it is the customer responsibility to ensure that stated goals of the projects are well documented and measurable. If that is not done supplier cannot be held accountable for him the project is Successful if it delivers what was Asked For even if it was a waste of money for customer.

Having led several enterprise level projects myself, I found that lot many times customers themselves do not have a deep clarity on strategic goals of the project they want to initiate & not wonder as project progresses their goals too keep changing resulting in significant time delays, and more budget than planned. On top of it, once project is delivered, the usage & adoption challenges remain.Especially in IT projects, it not very uncommon scenario! Who do you think is to blame here? What kind of customer satisfaction ratings can be expected in such projects!

in case a consulting vendor is entrusted to manage end to end project, he is more likely to have a say in team with some influence from client. If he is to manage an existing team from vendor it might be some time before optimum results can be expected.

We see cases where project types changing mid way in large projects. May be it’s nice to have a T&M project type for pilot projects to understand project dynamics of a large longer term project! It would also help establish credibility of appointed Consulting PM org.

One more interesting issue that doesn’t get noticed is that management of project is more or less considered ‘free’ service by most buyers, may be that’s the reason suppliers have no option but to do it themselves! Also PM is applicable to wide range of industries, in fact many old economy sectors have more sophisticated PM practices while PM practices in IT are still evolving.

Well…no doubt an outsider would take time & would need money (internal PM is a cost too!) however, an outsider is most likely to be impartial & more focused on outcome in addition to bringing in top level skill set and proven domain experience.

With an appropriately organized project board, yes, project management can be outsourced. However the PM needs to be well versed in the sponsoring customers business / technical skill set and needs to have a strategic vision and fit. So if I was responsible for a project, the outsourcing decision should be based on finding the PM with the right (business!) skill set.

One thing that surprises me lot is that its not uncommon to have two different perspective from supplier Vs customer definition of project success. A logical conclusion should be to rate the vendor poorly on which the project failed and re-shuffle the Pre-qualified suppliers. Still, why don’t we see that many supplier churns in particularly large size projects! Customers seem to go back to same suppliers time and again despite having different views on success of completed projects. I know several large vendors in IT and capital goods sector who got repeat business despite average or below average ratings! But then that is another thing to ponder on! 🙂

Shyam Verma, PMP, ITIL
Program & portfolio mgnt professional
LinkedIn:spverma. Twitter: Shammy11

Customer focus

As a project manager, when you are entrusted a project, what takes your main focus? If asked, some would say the project scope, for others it would be Quality and for some schedule or timelines. All of these answers are true since these do represent the key project expectations. However, the most important thing that many project managers lose focus of is the customer itself! While managing the project tasks one should not forget whose problem the team is trying to solve through deliverables defined by scope, quality and schedule. Here are some quick suggestions;

Involve the customer representatives early on the project: As soon as the project is handed over, one must identify the customer representative or a stakeholder who potentially is going to play a role in acceptance of the project deliverables. I do not mean the client organization people who are involved in the project governance alone as these might be business people entrusted to get the project done. There is a difference between them! As project progresses you can go back to the customer reps for progress updates and seeking suggestions on the challenges being faced by the team. This need not happen only at the time of and at the frequency of planned communication. This can be ad hoc or on need basis in addition to during planned intervals. Key here is to at the support and acceptance on the expected deliverable features, functionalities or benefits.

Define user stories : there is an emerging trend of using more and more user stories were as detailed requirement descriptions are being used less and less during the requirement process phase of the project. Same is true for use cases that have been used extensively over last 5 years or so in most technology/IT projects. The reason is it is easier for the business as well as the actual users to relate and understand the benefits of value of product or solution coming out of the project. I don’t say that discard these techniques, what I mean is to focus more on the user stories and scenarios to gain customer or user confidence. This also helps you in case the project happens to be on agile nature.

Find a real user: it would be another great way to be able to understand the pain points of the customer and be able to provide what is most important to the customer. If you can identify a real user who is a potential beneficiary of you project outcome, it can give you key insights in to what would work for your customer. Chances are if it works for him/her, it would work for the project stakeholder too. It helped me a lot few years back to refine the workflows and streamline multiple I user iterations, as I managed development of a web based product that helped online reviews of design artifacts & documents. This not only helped deliver the right feature sets but also reduced turn around time for the creative guys working at the advertising agencies.

Test early: this is a key if you really want to avoid a major goof up and shocked faces on a big day. To test, you don’t need to wait until the entire module or product is ready, you can always test individual functions first before they are grouped in to a module. Similarly one can test hardware for compatibility first if the software is still in development instead of waiting for it to be ready before end to end testing. This way lot of unforeseen issues can be addressed early on giving you a smoother transition experience and a satisfied customer your team worked hard for!

Shyam Verma, PMP, ITIL
Program & portfolio mgnt professional
LinkedIn:spverma. Twitter:Shammy11