Project Management, Resource Management, Agency Management

On Being a Project Management Consultant

by Brad Egeland, February 3, 2014

Most of us think about project managers as existing members of the organiz
ation – possibly part of an organized group of project managers in a project management office (PMO) or individuals periodically filling the PM role as project needs arise.  But what about this scenario - consultants coming in as project managers to an organization with PM leadership needs?  Coming in as a project management consultant versus already being in the role of a project manager within the organization definitely has its differences.  The PM consultant is viewed differently, people interact and respond to this individual differently, some give true respect and some respect is superficial, and top management in the organization views you differently as well.  I know…because I have been there.  Sometimes even how much control you have over the project and project outcomes can be very dependent on your internal vs. external status in the organization…in both good ways and in bad ways.

When you are hired as a project management consultant you often encounter a unique set of challenges that you are not necessarily faced with as an existing project manager in the organization. I also feel that there are some unique benefits of being in this type of situation as well.  Lets consider…

Challenges

  • Obtaining an understanding of the organization and its functional areas
  • Adjusting to the client project methodology or processes
  • Knowing where to go to get roadblocks knocked down
  • Presenting a corporate culture to an external customer (trying to appear seamless even though you are not an employee)
  • Understanding organizational politics (e.g., who controls the project)

Benefits

  • Being able, as an independent consultant, to ask the questions other permanent staff usually must avoid addressing
  • Having an objective platform to consult on project processes, techniques, and methods without any career limiting moves
  • Often enjoying hands-off guru status by others in the organization due to perceived expertise
  • Also enjoying hands-off guru status by others because you may be receiving a relatively high hourly rate and exec management wants you focused rather than bothered
  • More credibility if you’re coming in as a project savior if for no other reason than you’re not directly associated with the organization or business area that is already failing

These are just of few of the challenges and benefits that come to mind – mostly because I have lived them. And I’ve been on both sides of the fence over the past decade - I have been the project manager who is part of the existing corporate culture and I have also been the hired PM consultant brought in to make changes, save the day and rescue failing projects, and even to create a PM structure where their really was not one before. These are just a few of the pluses and minuses of coming into a project as an external consultant. 

Saving the day

One more thing – from a career standpoint - don’t overlook that project savior role.  Often, consultants are brought in to resurrect failed projects or to help ‘save’ a project in the 11th hour.  I’ve been in that role. When you’re an internal PM trying to save a project you may succeed, but it may not help you career-wise because you’re already an employee. It’s just part of your job. Conversely, if you fail, it could cost you your job. The downside is potentially huge and the upside is sometimes non-existent.

On the flipside, if you’re a consultant coming in to save the day, success can lead to more high-paying consulting work from the organization or even the project customer organization…. or potentially a lucrative full-time offer if you’re leaning that way. A failure, on the other hand, isn’t necessarily attributed to you – especially if you do show significant leadership and expertise while going down with the ship. Indeed, failure may still lead to more consulting work with the client and possibly a job offer. In the worst-case scenario, you leave the mess and move on to your next client.

 

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