With the current economic climate which has resulted in high level professionals suddenly finding themselves unemployed, it’s not surprising that the number of ‘project managers’ offering themselves for work on a contract basis has gone through the roof. I differentiate here between IT/ Business Project Managers and Project Management within the construction sector which I see as a very different role – and one that I don’t think has suffered the same dramatic increase in supply. The increase in supply has led to a decrease in average project management rates but also a decrease in quality delivered to clients. Ironically, as I will expand on later, this has led to an increase in the rate card for those at the top end of the spectrum.
|Taking the courses won’t make you a Project Manager
(Image © Anne Davis Flickr)
So why the decrease in quality? To enter the contract world, the majority of professionals are fairly confident of their ability to deliver and are probably joining the lifestyle from a position of some seniority. I have indeed come across several who have been former clients, formerly managing groups of contractors on behalf of their organisation. So these are often senior management calibre. They enter the contract market and pick on the rather generic title of project manager as it seems like a pseudonym for someone who just gets stuff done. How difficult can it be? Find the end objective and work out how to get there. Simple.
There are two main reasons why this type of contractor finds it tricky to succeed. The first is the corporate model, the second is that project management isn’t merely another term for senior manager. It takes a certain type of person and takes a certain group of skills which cannot be learnt by taking the standard Project Management courses of PRINCE2 and PMP.
I strongly believe that project managers within organisations need to be contractors. As soon as one gets to any senior level within an organisation, the corporate mentality takes over. Each individual is incentivised by their career prospects (either in that company or their next step). As a result, almost every move they make, every decision that they take has to be run through a decision tree which says how will this affect my career. How will this affect the corporate relationships that I need to develop to progress my career? For that reason, the decision making process is immediately flawed. A good project manager will be focussed on delivering the scope agreed to the cost agreed in the required timescale. Simple as that. The corporate manager knows too much. At every turn, their are opportunities to flex the scope, decisions which need to be taken in the projects best interests but are taken as a way of advancing the career. Or worse – not taken at all. The contractor doesn’t have these ties. He or she is purely incentivised on the delivery of a single (or a group of) projects. They are measured on their ability to control and deliver to the original project constraints (Scope, time, cost). The ex corporate manager would be much better suited to a portfolio management role where they are tasked with balancing the delivery of project with the wider corporate objectives. Two things stop the recently redundant manager doing this though. Firstly, there are few contract roles of this type and to achieve a contract role as a Portfolio manager, ironically the client will generally look for proven experience of delivery as a contractor. Secondly, the very reason that that role suits them is because it should be a corporate role. Therefore they are rarely on the contractor market. Vicious circle.
The best end up establishing themselves in the interim sector of the market, that is performing permanent corporate roles on a temporary basis. The rest try mistakenly to rebrand themselves as project managers, pitch at low rates and then come unstuck once it becomes clear that the difference between the corporate mindset and the contractor mindset is marked.
Let me be clear here. I am in no way playing down the skill sets of corporate professionals. To operate for years in the same global corporation, to manage the relationships, the politics to create strategic direction is a much sought after skill set. All I am saying is that it is not one necessarily suited to project management which is where many are repositioning themselves
The flip side of the massive increase in supply into the project management sphere is the increase in the reliance of clients on recommendation and previous contact. Agencies are swamped by CVs, are targeted by procurement departments to deliver low cost resource but Client Delivery Managers are aware that this low cost approach does not necessarily deliver results. This results in the route to contract changing – agents are now administrative billing functions rather than recruiters but also in the rewards increasing as clients target individuals rather than generic skillsets.