In my previous post, I’d laid out the scenario many of us find ourselves in: wrestling with difficult initiatives or technology implementations, complicated projects with challenges that take on a life of their own. With full disclosure, I am a successful “third-party” consultant / project manager (PM) by profession, and I have years of previous practitioner experience.
In my consulting career, I’ve heard clients repeatedly look back and reflect on the value they achieved in bringing in an outside senior project / program manager early in their technology implementation projects. At the same time, many companies who haven’t been through the implementation process may still be considering the pros and cons of external PM support. Why not just manage it internally?
If you find yourself in that situation, you might want to consider a couple of things that you’ll never hear from an internal PM. In my last blog, I’d written that the first quote that you would not hear from your internal PM was “Gosh. Managing that project was much easier than I expected. It didn’t distract me from my regular job at all.” You can check that out HERE.
Here are four more things that I wouldn’t expect you to hear from your internal implementation PM:
- “The vendor and our internal contacts are so in tune, it’s like they’re reading each other’s minds.” The truth is, when implementing a technology solution, the vendor and the client are not on the same page. For the vendor, the goal is to produce a successful project rather than fit into a reporting structure. As a third-party, the PM can play the role of observer to the client-vendor relationship. She can coach either side on behaviors and deliverables without creating awkwardness to the future client-vendor relationship.
I have experienced this disconnect a number of times. I’ve been able to coach my client on the proper level of expectations, so they’re not making judgments on the vendor in the heat of a hiccup in the implementation. Likewise, I’ve had some vendors who are just not yet tuned into the client’s culture or way of doing things. In these situations, I’ve been able to help the vendor understand how to better communicate with the client and build a firmer foundation for their ongoing relationship.
- “I’m glad we stuck to the vendor’s basic solution, rather than fussing with adjustments.” It may seem easy and logical to adopt the simplest solution during implementation. The vendor PM would agree with this, because his goal is to get implementation underway in the simplest way possible. With a minimum of configuration decisions, the vendor can begin transition to business as usual.
A consultant PM who knows the vendor product can prove invaluable in providing insight into options and alternatives to a “vanilla” configuration. This would better serve your needs over the long haul, but just as important, it may prove critical in winning user adoption early in the life of the implementation. Even if the PM does not know the product, there is still value to the PM pushing the vendor based on knowledge of other systems and expectations from the marketplace.
- “I’m very confident, after developing a thorough understanding of all alternatives and options, that we have the best solution possible.” You might hear this from an internal or vendor PM, but that may not be accurate. In fact, a good third-party expert will be the first to admit that keeping up with a constantly evolving and complex technology marketplace is challenging.
You can be confident that a good outside PM provides a deep level of expertise based on product knowledge and hands-on experience across many industries and across many technologies. There is nothing like having experience with similar or competitive products and tools, understanding how things “should” work. Being able to present options and solutions, lifting from one situation to apply to another—these are just a few of the intangibles a third-party PM brings that can ultimately translate to value in terms of speed, cost and adoption.
- “It was so simple.” Training. Change management. Integrations with other systems. Data migrations. These are just a few of the complications that arise in a technology implementation. You can’t ignore these needs, and they often demand skills you may use very infrequently. That means you have to shake off the rust, or learn new things from scratch — and these things take time. Some activities need presentation skills, and some require technical knowledge.
A strong third-party project manager has a broad skillset and toolkit, being able to understand the environment and make recommendations on how best to address training, change management and adoption. At the very least, they know the questions to ask to explore an integration with another related system or tackle other complex challenges as they arise.
So now let’s make the case.
A third-party PM allows your in-house team to be the subject matter experts, and prepare for eventual steady state, while keeping things going on a daily basis. The third-party consultant / project manager becomes an integral part of the team, yet his or her role is distinct: to drive the project forward and bring broad experience to bear in terms of solutions. Of course, most people know this and understand it.
Now it’s just a matter of starting the conversation early. Does your strategy rest on the hope that the fictional quotes prove true? If not, consider your options and look at the value of the neutral expert. That value is much greater than the cost.
Again, I’m happy to respond to comments on this posting.