After another project in your organization goes over budget and runs late, you may decide the time has come to look for project management assistance on the outside. But where should you look for project management help, and what kind of services are available? Here are some important questions to ask yourself, and a description of some of the options available.
What kind of project management help do you need?
There are probably six main types of assistance you’ll be able to find in the marketplace:
- Technical industry-specific assistance
- General team-building expertise
- Project management training
- Project management tool expertise
- Project management assistance for specific projects
- Project management methodology development
Technical Industry-Specific Assistance
The focus of these companies will not be so much about best practice management, but more about helping you improve and optimize your technical processes, reduce your development times etc. Likely very focused on specific industries, these companies will rely on their technical experience to optimize your project processes.
General Team-Building Expertise
Again, not so much about hard-core project management help, but this time the focus is more on your people and getting them to work together in better project teams. Previous experience with your particular industry is not so important, but you’ll probably want someone who’s familiar with the particular challenges of implementing project management processes. There’s a lot of misinformation out there when it comes to teams, so you’ll want someone with an approach backed by solid data, such as TeamTrainers.
Project Management Training
Sometimes the first challenge when improving your organization’s project management is to educate yourself and others in the organization to a level where you can recognize what best practice project management even looks like. There are many sources for project management training, from a wide range of different types of organizations, so this warrants a whole separate (future) posting.
Project Management Tool Expertise
You may feel that the best way to improve project management internally is to improve the way everyone is using the organization’s project management tool of choice, whether that be Microsoft Project, Primavera, Daptiv, AtTask, Clarizen, or one of the hundreds of other available project management-related tools. There are companies that specialize in the installation, configuration, and use of such tools, but it’s worth considering that while the use of your tool(s) may be sub-par, it is unlikely to be the root cause of your project management difficulties.
Project Management Assistance For Specific Projects
Some organizations aren’t ready, or don’t need, to improve project management across the whole organization, but they do need help managing one or more high profile, or high risk projects. In this situation, here are some things to consider:
Is this is a project that lots of people have experience with? (A complex office move, for instance, is something that lots of people have done before.) If the answer is yes, you should be able find people or organizations with previous experience managing exactly the same kind of projects.
Is the project of a familiar type? Maybe no-one has built a multi-story zoo before, or developed software that will allow your phone to talk to your coffee cup, but people understand construction project management and IT project management, and there are niche companies in these and other industries that specialize in managing these types of projects. You should be able locate an appropriate company, even if it’s not local to you. They may not be cheap, but they should know what they’re doing.
If the answer to these two questions is “no”, then you’ll probably need a company that provides project management help across a wide range of industries, using best practice project management techniques, to manage whichever projects are presented. This kind of company should be able to walk you through the process of planning and executing your project, whether you’re involved in planetary terra-forming, the treatment of cancer cells, or something in between.
Project Management Methodology Development
Ultimately you may decide the time has some to develop, or improve, an internal project management methodology. Likely owned by a Project Management Office, the methodology should provide guidance, tools, and templates for managing projects across the organization, and may provide some level of project governance. Some considerations for this kind of assistance:
Does your organization already use, even in part, an existing project management standard? (Common examples include the Project Management Body of Knowledge (PMBOK) from the Project Management Institute (PMI), and PRINCE2, out of the UK.) If so, you’d obviously want to work with someone very familiar with the appropriate standard.
What’s your organization’s organizational-change style? There are two basic approaches to developing an appropriate methodology. Option A is to study the organization, develop a set of integrated project management processes, train the personnel, and implement. You might call this the “bite the bullet” approach – potentially a fast solution, but also higher risk.
Option B is an incremental approach, more in line with Agile Project Management thinking, where potential improvements/needs are prioritized and then designed and implemented over time. At Key Consulting we lean more towards Option B, although others might refer to Option B as “death by a thousand cuts.”
National or local? There are several project management companies with a nation-wide presence. They tend to be larger, with a broad base of experience, and have deeper benches than their local equivalents. But they tend to be expensive, and may not have personnel based in a location close to you. Local project management companies vary greatly in terms of number of employees and quality of work, but can be more affordable. They may be also be better situated to provide support at low levels over the long term, as needed.
Years ago project management was mostly confined to the defense and construction industries, with some presence in Information Technology. Today project management is present in every industry imaginable, because there’s been a recognition that nearly all managers are involved in projects of one sort or another, even if it’s not their full time role. If/when your organization decides it needs project management help, there are likely a range of third party organizations for you to leverage.