Projects are not linear so why recruit a full time project manager?

Rollercoaster against a blue sky

Like my English teacher used to say, a good story, has a beginning, a middle and an end. The same can be true for projects. If we simply explore the level of effort required to manage a project effectively, the requirement is not linear.

The same can also be said for skill level. A project generally requires different types of skills and expertise throughout the project lifecycle. So why do many businesses, who look externally for project management expertise, budget for a full time project manager?

Before we answer the question, let’s explore the lifecycle of a reasonably simple project. I always think the project starts with some form of discovery stage which results in some form of business case to determine if the project is viable.

Business Case & Initiation phase – HIGH input
Producing a robust business case is a skill in itself, and, probably one of the most important stages of any project. It usually involves a period of high intensity effort to identify the options, analyse the cost and benefits and to make appropriate recommendations. It probably requires specialist technical input, analytical and financial expertise and someone who can manage the process and pull it together in a cohesive document. This stage does not necessarily need a project manager to lead but should consult one as part of the process.

If the business case is approved, the project can start, but this is still the beginning of our story.

Initiating a project still requires a degree of high intensity effort. It involves thinking through the governance, developing detailed requirements (scope), planning, and identifying and securing the project resources. The services of an experienced project manager are fundamental at this stage. The skill here is to ensure that the project is initiated in a way that is high in rigour, but low in administration and bureaucracy. An experienced project manager knows how to tailor the project process to the type of project being delivered and the organisation it’s being run in.

Delivery phase – LOW input
Once the project is up and running, we commence the middle of our story, the delivery phase. Once in delivery, a project manager’s role is to monitor the project over a series of sprints or cycles, to ensure the project is moving forward in accordance with the plan. If the project is delivering effectively, a light touch approach is all that is required, with some capacity in reserve to respond to any issues that may arise. A less experienced project manager can be used to manage this delivery phase, with more experienced support on hand to guide and, jump in if needed. For our simple project, the effort required is of a lower intensity. It is unlikely the that the delivery project manager will be needed full time, and the experience project manager less so. A few days a month should be all that is required.

Handover and End phase – HIGH input
As the end of the project is in sight, we come to the end of our story. It is at this stage where the input from the experienced project manager is needed again. The project reaches another period of high intensity effort to handover and embed the project into the organisation so that it becomes the new business as usual. This may involve organisational change and requires another set of skills and expertise to do so without breaking any of the business functions and processes. Once delivered, the project needs to be closed. This is a stage that is often overlooked, but it should be completed to ensure any lessons are learnt, the benefits are achieved and, knowledge is handed over.

If we review the effort required by the project over time, we can see that it is not linear. It follows a curve, often referred to as the ‘bath-tub’ curve. It requires different levels of project management effort, to be successful.

Figure 1: Project Management Effort over Time

So, let us come back to our original question:

Why do you budget for and recruit, a full-time project manager?”
The answer often lies in how you procure your project management expertise. A lot of businesses use a recruitment agency to provide their project resource. In this model, you are generally recruiting an individual who operates on a fixed day rate and is generally seeking a full time engagement over a period of months rather than days or weeks. You therefore budget to secure that expertise over the full lifecycle, and the day rate you set is therefore often a factor of affordability rather than being based on the experience needed to fulfil the more challenging phases of the project.

This approach has its benefits but likely requires you to achieve a compromise between cost and experience at some point throughout your project. You either choose to:

  1. Recruit the services of a higher cost, higher experienced individual resulting in a potential productivity trade-off during the delivery phase, or
  2. Select a lower cost, less experienced individual which means you might be exposing yourself to higher risk during the front and, back end of the delivery.

So how do you get around it?
Larger organisations may be able to blend internal and external resources or have more than one project that increases the utilisation and expertise of the project manager. Others might turn to Project Consultancies that can provide a project team of people with different skills, expertise, and rates and the flexibility to meet the varying demands. Both however come with an attached cost.

For the businesses that are not able to do this, how can they find external project resources that better suit the needs of the project lifecycle? The answer is to find those businesses that operate in between the two. There are those of us in the market that can offer a more tailored or hybrid approach to project delivery. This can be achieved by offering a blend of full and part-time working or, by pulling together a team of individuals with different skills and expertise to suit the needs and demands of the project. This ensures that you benefit from experienced consultants who possess those skills you need, when you need them, without unnecessarily depleting your budget.

Food for thought? If you want to discuss how you can achieve a different approach to your project delivery without the need of resorting to agency staff or high-cost consultancies, please get in touch with us at CMI Synergy for an initial discussion.

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