Today there is no doubt that outsourcing is a highly popular and fast-evolving trend. Many companies are looking for ways to bring more effectiveness to their business via outsourcing, not only in the IT area, but in all major business domains such as finance, manufacturing, and human resources. The projects, thus, are greatly varied and complex – technically, as well as organizationally.
Not surprisingly, it`s a complicated task – to find a person that has the experience, project management skills and interpersonal skills necessary for a particular project – a Project Manager.
Ideally, a Project Manager ensures a project`s successful and timely completion, so in the case of ineffective management leading to a project or business failure, companies, quite naturally, start looking for ways to redeem the situation. A more productive approach, of course, is to find the right person that is able to manage a particular project before any failures take place – only then, should you begin your project.
This type of individual cannot always be found within an organization. Lack of in-house expertise, knowledge, funds or availability are all valid reasons to decide to outsource project management.
The vendors providing outsourced project management expertise are mostly focused on training, development and coaching project management experts. But what is important to remember is: outsourced project management is not only about getting the necessary expertise or saving money, it is about building a long-term and result oriented collaboration between the two organizations working towards the same goal.
Similar to all the other outsourcing services, outsourcing project management has certain advantages as well as disadvantages. Let`s take a closer look at both.
Outsourced project management may bring organizations a set of real benefits, not available otherwise. The most significant among those are:
Experience, knowledge, best practices, availability. Your organization may have its own expertise in-house, but there are no available project managers to do the actual job. External specialists can have the time to invest more into project management research, new technologies and methodologies. Consultants use best practices developed during their previous experience and assignments. By using external expertise, organizations will gain the necessary knowledge to be able to drive the project themselves.
Objectivity. All organizations have their own politics and negotiations behind final decisions. This takes a lot of time and attention of the internal personnel as most of the employees within the organization have their own interests in many of the decisions. An outside person is less likely to fall under the influence of office politics and may bring an independent and more objective view of what is better for the organization.
Cost savings is also an important issue on the list of outsourcing advantages.
Any outsourcing implies some challenges for a client organization. The most significant are the following:
Culture and Processes. Each organization has its own culture that has been developed, as well as established processes and procedures. The bigger an organization, the harder it becomes for every new employee to adjust to all the processes and rules within the company. For a project manager who is external to the company, the period of adoption may be much shorter as the project manager should concentrate on the ongoing project rather than on learning and understanding the company.
Gaining Knowledge and Experience. One of the most popular reasons why project management is outsourced is that organizations may not have people with the appropriate knowledge and experience. On the other hand they may never gain this expertise while outsourcing the project manager role. This is why most organizations outsource project management, while additionally developing the necessary skills inside the organization. In such cases outsourcing may become a valuable educational experience for the organizations` employees working alongside an external Project Manager.
Dependency on Vendors. Many organizations see some risks in long-term dependency on one vendor when all the knowledge and experience is collected within another company, including the project management expertise. On the other hand, the long-term relations may become a basis for a solid and mutually beneficial partnership, since there is no need for additional period of adoption and the client organization`s culture, as well as processes are already familiar to the vendor. If building a partnership is not possible, clients can avoid outsourcing the most important and valuable tasks, choosing to outsource smaller portions of the project.
Access to Internal Information. Another extremely important part of the relationship is between the client organization and the external project manager. The person taking the leadership position will have access to internal information that may be sensitive or confidential. It may also make the collaboration between the two companies more complicated. A solution is to establish a good and formal process of collaboration right from the beginning and ensure that it is followed.
Solving the Problems
Once you identify the issues mentioned above, they can be easily addressed and solved. To do so, the project manager consulting for your organization should work on a few important hard and soft skills:
Contract Management. In any collaboration between two organizations there is a contract which specifies all the aspects of scope, schedule, costs, and quality criteria. The project manager is the key person who should possess complete knowledge of the contract and manage the relationship according to it.
Managing Relationship. In outsourcing, the project manager is managing not only the technical aspects of a project, but also the business components, the business relationship between two companies in particular. It requires key skills that may be weaker in the case of managing a project in-house. It is advisable to focus upon the art of negotiation and the business relationship.
Cultural Background. Outsourcing already implies the collaboration between people from different cultural environment. Every project manager should have strong knowledge of the traditions of the client’s company. This knowledge could be gained while performing company research, communicating with the employees inside the company, by asking questions, socializing and establishing a relationship with co-workers.
Communications Management. It is often said that communication is the glue connecting all the parts of a project together. Being external to your organization, the project manager should never let their communication management skills get rusty, always maintaining them on a very high level.
Strong People Skills. Ability to build effective project team and ensure a successful project completion while at distance also requires a strong ability to find a personal approach to each team member.
Being Adaptive. In most cases an external expert should be able to adapt to the internal rules, processes and traditions of the organization in a very short period of time. While the ability to adapt is important, it can also be an acquired skill, which is especially important if you have to adjust to the working conditions existent in the client organization that may not be comfortable. Your main focus should be on achieving a positive project outcome.
Flexibility, Mobility. It is very likely that traveling and an intensive schedule will be unavoidable during the project period. The project manager should be able to react to the changes and adapt to any circumstances. In many cases this means being available for a quick call or an email (or set the auto-reply informing when you will be available, and check your phone and email for urgent messages as soon as it becomes possible), replying to the requests in a timely manner, as well as being ready to change the schedule and plans when necessary.
For the Client Organization:
If wielded correctly, outsourcing project management may be a valuable experience, saving you time, money and stress. The disadvantages cannot only be compensated, but turned into assets. Just be sure you have a (realistic) list of what you want, and check if your external Project Manager is capable of providing your requirements.
For the External Project Manager:
Managing varied projects and working with different companies is a daily challenge, requiring not only professional expertise, but the ability to work under stress with perfect communication skills. Starting every new project, remember that you have to prove yourself to the client’s organization and co-workers first, establishing trust and clear understanding. Being aware of the challenges your client is concerned with in outsourcing project management, work on the corresponding aspects and develop the necessary skills to diminish (if not eliminate) their concerns.