What You WON'T Hear from Your Internal Project Manager

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Like most HR and business decision-makers, you’ve probably wrestled with difficult initiatives or technology implementations. These are complicated projects with challenges that take on a life of their own. At some point, you or someone on your team will start to wonder why people are being so difficult. You long for the project to be over so you can focus on your day job. Maybe you find yourself relying on hope as part of your strategy for success!

Have you ever heard your project manager (PM) say… “Gosh. Managing that project was much easier than I expected. It didn’t distract me from my regular job at all.”

If you’re planning a project, and allocating management of the project to someone in the company in addition to their regular work, it’s not a bad idea to multiply your estimate for time required by three. Why? Experience shows that the devil is in the details we take for granted. If you assume that creating a status update communication to everyone in a systems implementation takes fifteen minutes, think again. That project may end up taking more than a day if started from scratch, interrupted by normal activity, and shared with everyone who is politically expedient to the internal group. 

Many companies find that the challenges can quickly grow larger when an internal PM is overwhelmed due to the need to manage a project and a day job. Feedback is missed. Deadlines get extended. Approvals get held up. All of these things can put the success of your project in jeopardy.  These are all challenges that companies rely on an external project manager to address. It’s about more than providing consulting expertise. It’s about getting things done.

A dedicated external project manager has focus. Her role is to manage the project. This IS her “day job,” and internal politics and relationships are one step removed. A dedicated external PM can keep moving, planning and pushing in a way that an internal PM cannot. And, if that PM is worth his or her salt, she probably can tackle that communication quickly, because she’s not reinventing the wheel with every communication or activity.

Well, what about a vendor PM? After all, a technology provider may be offering someone to manage the project. Even there, however, the PM has the equivalent of a day job. That is, the day job is to get the implementation in place. Period. A vendor PM’s focus is only on the tool being implemented, not as much on introducing or optimizing processes related to the project goals. If you want to get the full value out of a technology, someone would still have to oversee that PM’s management of the project. They would need to ensure that it aligns with your business and that end-users embrace the result.

Of course, one of the options for solving these issues is to bring in an outside consultant. “But, hmm… That sounds expensive. That might complicate things. Do I need to go there?”

Well, my answer may seem obvious, because I am a consultant, and I believe a third-party expert has much value to add. In fact, most organizations know that value. The trouble is, using that consultant is typically one of several options available, and here’s where it gets murky. Going to the doctor when you feel you may be getting sick or the auto mechanic as soon as you hear that funny click under the hood can save you tremendous amounts of trouble and cost, but few actually do this. The same may apply to bringing in a consultant; engaging the consultant later in the game when early symptoms have manifested into real issues is distracting and disrupts the momentum of a successful project start. The first phase of the project then involves putting out some change management or implementation fires first, getting people back on board, and then moving into the business of bringing the project to fruition.

If you want to avoid the fires, you’ll have to make the case, not only for bringing in the third-party consultant, but for bringing her in early, before challenges turn into fires. Few team members want to bring this up. Perhaps it may sound as if they are being negative, or do not have confidence in their colleagues’ management capabilities. With that in mind, perhaps it would taste a bit sweeter if you consider the case in light of the type of things you know you’ll never hear. Remember, your internal PM will never say, “that was easier than I expected.”

Part 2 of this article will outline four more things you will probably never hear from your internal project manager. I hope these posts give you some ideas to get that conversation off the ground. I’m happy to respond to comments to this and my next blog post.

Sally Millick

Sally brings a unique holistic view to helping clients achieve their goals in Talent Management. Her career spans positions in talent acquisition/RPO management, HR technology implementations and optimizations, technology and contingent labor vendor management, competency and selection processes, global mobility and consulting operations. She is successful at defining high-level talent management processes, technologies, and change management strategies; tactical plans to achieve these strategies; and hands-on client delivery. With over 20 years of experience in the talent management field, she has served large clients in the Pharmaceutical, Financial, Defense, and other industries.

Topics: Project Management, HR Technology, Change Management