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To Hire or Not to Hire?

Project Leadership

Getting an external experienced and skilled Project Manager on board always triggers debate within organisations – to hire or not to hire?

“Think of the additional cost, surely we can do this internally”. Go on, give it a go, but think of the additional cost of not delivering on time or, worse, delivering the wrong outcome or, even worse, not delivering at all.

With over 30 years of experience in getting this done, I have been involved in the delivery of some really exciting, industry-first and award-winning initiatives. Some of our projects have made the headlines (for all the right reasons!) such the opening of the automotive industry’s first truly digital automotive showroom in 2012 and some have been in the headlines during more challenging times such as programme managing the Volkswagen Group’s response to the emission crisis in the UK.

Headcount staff doing projects as ‘homework’ is often the default choice for many organisations – pulling on the goodwill of their staff to work on initiatives and projects as a ‘development opportunity’ or a ‘great chance to raise your profile within the organisation’ does not always lead to the right outcome. Such a choice can often lead to inappropriately skilled or inexperienced staff being asked to do things they are simply not equipped to do, resulting in projects not realising the business benefit that they were set up to deliver. Internal ‘project managers’ can also struggle to gain traction with their colleagues as they have to try and motivate people in other departments or functions to engage with the project when it is not on their ‘personal objectives’ or their line manager deems it less important than their own day to day priorities. Generally, ‘homework’ projects risk being poorly planned and executed. The topic of ‘homework projects’, as my colleague Stuart Copeland refers to them, is explored in real depth in his book The People Project Triangle, where he exposes the effect of this type of project management on organisations and people.

A recent review of over 100 ‘internally managed’ business-critical projects being led by experienced managers across 9 countries all from one organisation. There were some really interesting results that clearly demonstrate the challenges that people face when asked to run projects as ‘homework’.

Chart showing projects which had not been set up properly e.g. no clear objectives etc.

Of the projects we reviewed we found:

  • 80% of the projects did not have a clear objective that defined what the project was to deliver and by when.
  • For over 70%, the ‘project managers’ could not clearly describe clearly what their deliverables were.
  • For nearly 50%, the ‘project managers’ could not articulate their scope.
  • For over 60%, the projects had no clear milestones to work to.
  • Over 80% lack clarity of understanding of how to define and manage risks and issues.

I can feel the risk logs of these projects bursting with colour – pretty much all of it ‘red’. Imagine the cost of each of those projects, over 100 of them in one organisation alone, and the potential for not delivering on time or not delivering the right thing or, even worse, just not delivering at all.

In our view, getting the right project management support is critical whether it be just to mentor and coach your internal project managers; guide them through delivery. Or by taking the reins of the project altogether and delivering it partnership with your team.

And, just to be clear, when we talk about project management we talk about Project ‘Leaders’, not Project ‘Administrators’. Whoever leads and drives projects through to a successful outcome must be a trusted safe pair of hands, they must set up and structure projects in realistic and pragmatic ways suitable for the business and the operational environment the business works within, they must actively engage with and motivate stakeholders at all levels, searching out solutions to issues and blockers, and they must work in partnership with the organisation to make things happen.

So to hire or not to hire … that is the question. Can you afford not to?