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Why you might need an external Project Manager

Each project needs to be managed, if you want it to be on time and within budget. Big or small, simple or complex. When you have to decide whether you need an in-house Project Manager or an external one, you first need to make a couple of considerations.

The Project Manager’s skillset

A Project Manager needs a very specific skillset. In short, it should be a blend of an engineer’s technical knowledge, a financial controller’s way with numbers, a marketeer’s communication skills and a (fair) politician’s way with people. If your company does not have a dedicated Project Team or Manager, it is a good idea to bring in an external Project Manager along with his project methodology. You might learn a thing or two and implement that methodology for other future projects.

Filling the gap

Even with a dedicated Project Team, this project might just be too complex or too big. Or the internal team might not be able to free up time to work on this project. An external Project Manager or even an external Project Team can help. Of course local support and inside knowledge will still be needed, but the impact on local resources will be a lot smaller.

The external Project Manager’s experience

A project is by definition a unique assignment limited in budget, scope and schedule. It can imply adding new technologies into your production, building a new plant or line, or changing an organization. The good news is: there might be an external party with experience in that field or in your industry. Or even better, there might be a Project Manager who brings in experience new to your type of industry. And that gives you a head start compared to your competitors. The experience an external Project Manager has, could come in handy navigating through the project.

The external project manager’s neutrality

Politics and personal agendas might colour an employee’s actions and decisions. An external Project Manager is independent of the company’s hierarchy and has no other goals than to complete the project within time and budget. Therefore it is easier for an external Project Manager to get to the heart of the matter and take objective decisions with only the project’s goal in mind. There is no history between the Project Manager and the project members. Everyone starts with a clean slate. Being hired specifically for this project, he will report directly to the project sponsor or executive, shortening the communication lines. This also means the internal team stays out of the line of fire. The external Project Manager is accountable and responsible for the project’s continuation and employees’ reputations are not affected if things should go south.

The downsides

Hiring an external Project Manager does come with some downsides as well. Having an internal manager for the project might do wonders. And taking the project away from someone who pitched the idea with the intention of coordinating it, might send the wrong message. Even if this person still has ways to go, it might be very empowering and motivating if he can execute the project. If you have an internal project department, communicate well in advance why somebody else is doing the project.

Awarding a project to an employee is also a nice path for internal growth. Of course one needs to be careful with his expectations when transferring skills, but these kinds of opportunities are very rewarding. He will also have an advantage in not having to learn about the process, operations or the proposed solution, while an external Project Manager will need some time to get acquainted with everyone, the process and the project.

A last caveat is that while every employee is hired with a certain company culture in mind, an external party might not live along the same corporate culture. Although any decent Project Manager has enough emotional intelligence not to clash with the local team, it might take some time getting used to each other’s way of working.

So if you decide on an external Project Manager, most drawbacks can be mitigated by making sure the external party is a good fit within your company and its culture. This will facilitate a quick acceptance and integration of this Project Manager and most likely lead to a successful project.

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