The challenges and advantages of being an inside outsider in project management

As a McManus Associate, you will move from project to project, company to company. Essentially, you’re an “inside outsider”. This gives you a unique insight and provides you with experience that your clients value.

Smart consulting PMs will recognise the advantages, avoid the pitfalls, and maximize the opportunities inherent in being an inside outsider.

Consultants are often perceived, by their internal peers, to be overpaid but, with a little insight and effort, you can get them on your side as they come to realise that you bring something to the table that only someone from outside the company can.

As a consulting PM you will have worked in a number of other organisations, often in the same market as the one you are currently in. This means that you will have worked on similar projects, in similar environments, and have the advantage of knowing what worked, what didn’t work and why.

One of the double-edged swords of being a consultant is that you are not privy to internal politics.  On one hand, you are unhampered by allegiance to a particular individual or group; but on the other, there is the danger of blundering into a situation because you are not aware of the sensitivities. Internal politics can be a minefield to navigate but help can come from identifying the relevant influencers and learning from them. A word of advice though: the “influencers” are not only the obvious individuals – having a competent secretary on your side can be invaluable!

Adjusting to different organisations’ project management methodologies and approaches is always a challenge for consultants. Even when the framework is the same, each organisation has its own interpretation. MD of McManus Consulting, Tony McManus, recommends a “flexible but circumspect approach”.

“As a consultant, you can’t be dogmatic and you need to be flexible and accommodating, however, this can never be at the expense of sacrificing best practice. Simply put, if there is a risk you are obliged to point it out, regardless of how unpopular such an action will be,” says Tony.

From the company’s point of view, one of the biggest benefits of having a consulting PM on the team is the consultant’s vested interest in getting the project done on time and in budget. A failed project, or one that is running over time and budget, is far more career limiting for a consultant – whose last project is a defining benchmark – than it is for an employee.

Consultants inevitably have a fresher and objective view of the company and the project. This is especially true when it comes to employees who have been with the company for many years and can no longer see the wood for the trees. But it is those same old timers who can be the hardest to win over. As a consultant, you will be a people manager as much as a project manager. Hone your people skills, sell yourself within the company and try, wherever you can, to foster good team spirit.

The power to shape your own destiny

Being a McManus Associate means that you are the master of your own destiny. You get to determine your own income, when and where you want to work and, best of all, you operate alongside, not inside, the traditional corporate bureaucracy framework. The latter is a seemingly small but important distinction: because when clients are paying by the hour for you to sit at their offices, they are more likely to value your opinion and it’s easier to avoid the pitfalls of office politics, which can so often impact on a project’s execution (and even success).

You also get to work in different industries and gain diverse experience. This not only looks good on your CV but gives you fresh challenges on an ongoing basis, as opposed to the same old, same old experienced by working for the same company year after year.

Essentially, as a McManus Associate you have the best of both worlds: the freedom of self-employment, without the stress of having to find work for yourself.

Our Associates’ rates are calculated based on your requirements and all your benefits should be built into that rate. Prudent financial planning ensures that your employment “freedom” does not impact on your financial wellness. Here are some tips to consider:

  1. Set up your business correctly. Registering a sole proprietorship or a propriety limited company allows you to benefit from business tax breaks.
  2. Stick to a budget. Every self-employed person knows the ecstasy and agony of feast or famine, working to a budget eliminates the anguish.
  3. Create an emergency fund. Have an emergency fund of three to six months set aside to tide you over lean times.
  4. Plan your tax payments. If you’re a provisional tax payer, make sure that you put money aside to make your biannual payments.
  5. Save for your retirement. With no corporate pension fund coming your way it’s important to talk to a professional financial planner to ensure that you have enough money to retire comfortably one day.
  6. Insure appropriately. Talk to your insurance broker about income protection and disability insurance cover.
  7. Boost your medical cover. Consider topping up your medical aid cover with gap cover which pays the difference between what your medical aid pays and what a medical specialist charges. Some medical aids offer gap cover as an ancillary offering but there are also stand-alone options available.

© Tony McManus, McManus Consulting.  |  Image created by

The importance of lifelong learning

It doesn’t matter what field you are in, the most successful people are those that grow and develop throughout their lives. The world around us is changing at an alarming rate, not only in terms of technology but also how people view and react to the world around them.

Lifelong learning is more than a catchy phrase; it’s a necessity if you want to stay relevant in the workplace. There is no doubt that one of the best investments you can make is to expand your mind. And, nowadays, despite the time constraints that we face in our crazy 24/7 online world, it’s never been easier to grow and learn.

Professional development programmes, webinars, podcasts, books and online courses are just some of the ways that you can tap into the rich vein of lifelong learning.

It’s no coincidence that some of the most successful people in the world are also the most prolific readers and (according to Tom Corley, author of Rich Habits: The Daily Success Habits of Wealthy Individuals)they read for self-improvement, education, and success, rather than entertainment.

Elon Musk famously said (when asked how he learned to build rockets): “I read books”. Bill Gates reads about 50 books a year; and Mark Cuban reads for three hours a day.

Brian Tracy, well-known US sales trainer, talks about three kinds of lifelong learning:

  1. Maintenance learning, which keeps you current with your field.
  2. Growth learning that adds knowledge and skills to your repertoire that you did not have before.
  3. Shock learning, which contradicts or reverses a piece of knowledge or understanding that you already have.

But perhaps the most compelling advocate of lifelong learning was Henry Ford: “Anyone who stops learning is old, whether at twenty or eighty. Anyone who keeps learning stays young. The greatest thing in life is to keep your mind young.”

No matter how busy (or smart) you are, make the time to expand your mind…you are worth it!

Adding Value – PPA Assessments

We recently engaged Thomas international to administer our on-the-job personality assessments. Below is a description of what the PPA brings to our Value Chain.

Info taken from the Thomas International Website:

In just 8 minutes, the Personal Profile Analysis (PPA) psychometric assessment will provide an accurate insight into how people behave at work, answering questions such as: what are their strengths and limitations? How do they communicate? Are they self starters? What motivates them?

Assess: Behaviour
Type: Ipsative psychometric assessment
Time: ±8 minutesThomas’ behavioural assessment PPA provides an accurate insight into how people behave at work, giving you a greater level of certainty when recruiting.

Thomas PPA takes only 8 minutes to complete. You are then provided with an initial profile detailing a person’s strengths and limitations, their communication style, their value to the business, what motivates them, their basic fears and how they behave under pressure.

Test author:
Thomas M. HendricksonYear of construction: 1958Background and theory:In the late 1950s and early 1960s, Dr. Thomas Hendrickson developed William Moulton Marston’s DISC theory to produce the Thomas Personal Profile Analysis (PPA) for the work place.
Marston’s original theory stated that actions based upon emotions are an individual’s biosocial response to supportive or hostile social environments. These actions determine how the individual interacts with the environment. It was theorised that the way in which the individual interacts with the environment takes four basic directions: tendencies to dominate, influence, submit and comply. Marston published his book ‘Emotions of Normal People’ in 1928, which described his theory of human consciousness in comprehensive detail.

The PPA determines whether individuals see themselves as responding to workplace situations that they perceive to be favourable or challenging, and reveals whether their response patterns are active or passive; thus classifying the individual’s behavioural preferences in terms of four domains: Dominance, Influence, Steadiness and Compliance.

Reliability and validity:
The Thomas PPA has been subject to rigorous scientific testing to determine its reliability and validity as a psychological assessment. The PPA is registered with the British Psychological Society (BPS) after it was audited against the technical criteria established by the European Standing Committee on Tests and Testing, part of the European Federation of Psychologists’ Associations. Thomas International conducts on-going psychometric research with the PPA in partnership with the Psychometrics Centre at Cambridge University.

Social media savvy is an essential 21st century survival skill

Look around the next time you’re out in public and take note of the number of people glued to their phones or tablets. More than 100 million users log into Twitter each day; Facebook has more than 1.94 billion active users each month; LinkedIn has nearly 500 million members; and Instagram has some 700 million monthly active users. Love it or hate it, social media has taken over the world and it seems that it’s here to stay.

While social media can be uplifting, informative and inclusive; it can also destroy lives and careers. A growing number of individuals have been hauled to court for their social media posts, faced fines, and even lost their jobs. It’s also not uncommon to see companies being called out and vilified, by association, when one of their employees transgresses.

The social media phenomenon is so pervasive (and so potentially dangerous in terms of reputational damage) that most companies have developed comprehensive social media policies, which staff are required to conform to. While consultants are not confined to a specific company’s policy, some common sense and social media savvy should be practiced by anyone when using social media.

And, if you still doubt the power of social media, consider this: a growing number of companies and recruitment agents are checking the social media accounts of job applicants before making appointments.

Here are some simple rules to keep you out of hot water on social media:

  1. If you wouldn’t say it in front of your clients and colleagues, don’t say it on social media.
  2. Be extra vigilant when entering into discussions about topics like culture, religion, politics and race.
  3. You can’t truly erase anything you put on social media… there’ll always be a screen grab to come back and remind you of your gaffe.
  4. Don’t provide confidential business information or personal information on line.
  5. If you choose to post anonymously, remember that your true identity/location can be traced relatively easily.
  6. It’s not necessary to add your two bits worth to every post you see. Sometimes, on social media – as in real life – silence is golden.
  7. Since recipients of your message don’t have the benefit of hearing the tone of your voice or seeing your body language, posts can easily be misconstrued. Post with that in mind.

Above all, remember that your social media profiles are a snapshot of who you are and how you react to the world around you. It’s probably a good idea to scroll down your posts from time to time to check that you are presenting yourself in a way that you want others to see you and being true to your values.

Social media can be a lot of fun. It will allow you to connect with amazing people that you won’t ever meet in real life; and others that you’d never want to meet. Enjoy the experience but don’t lose sight of the perils.

When in doubt, the Socrates test is a useful measure: is it true, is it kind, and is it necessary?

Top 10 interview skills to develop

Being an outsourced Project Manager means that you are going to be interviewed for your next assignment again, and again, and again. And, as the old saying goes, you don’t get a second chance to make a first impression; so here are 10 ways to make sure that you get the assignments you want.

Prepare for the interview
Find out as much as you can about the company, its culture and the assignment beforehand. That way you will be able to engage the interviewer more meaningfully, give informed answers and ask the right questions.

Dress appropriately
Consider the type of company by whom you are being interviewed when deciding what to wear and, ideally, do some homework on their dress code. But, even if your interview falls on casual Friday, resist the temptation to pitch up in your casual gear! For gents, the rule of thumb is to wear a tie to the first meeting.

Brush up on your non-verbal messages
What you do during the interview can influence the interviewer’s opinion of you almost as much as what you say. So be sure to greet with a firm handshake, sit up straight and don’t fidget or sit with your arms crossed. Make eye contact when speaking and don’t forget to smile – a sincere smile says that you are friendly, relaxed and confident.

Practice makes perfect
Rehearse answers to the kinds of questions you are likely to be asked; where possible, weaving details of your skills and capabilities into your answers.

Arrive 10 minutes early
Allow plenty of time to get to the interview, taking into consideration traffic, roadworks or any other factors that could delay you. You definitely don’t want to arrive late or flustered. Consider using an app like Waze (the world’s largest community-based traffic and navigation app) to make sure you arrive on time.

Clean up your Facebook and Twitter accounts
These days, 91% of employers search the social media pages of prospective employees. If you think you’ve transgressed, use Social Sweepster, an app that detects any past inappropriate photos and profane content.

Time it right
According to jobs and recruiting site, Glassdoor, the best time and day to be interviewed is 10:30 on a Tuesday! That way you avoid employees gearing up for the week (Monday) or winding down (Friday). They also recommend avoiding the first or last slots of the day, as well as the slot just before lunch (the interviewer may be hungry and crabby) or straight after lunch (the interviewer may be sleepy).

Don’t overshare or talk too much
Even if the interviewer asks about your kids, cats, hobbies, or divorce…resist the temptation to go off on a tangent. Listen carefully to the questions and respond appropriately, giving just the right amount of detail in your answer.

Be ready to sell yourself
The interviewer essentially wants to know if you can do the job, and if you’ll fit in with the team (and company culture). Make sure that everything you say and do during the interview conveys this. By all means sell yourself but be honest and upfront – there’s no point in promoting skills you don’t have.

Thank the interviewer
A quick email to thank the interviewer for seeing you may not necessarily secure you the assignment but it will give you an edge – few people are immune to good manners!

Adding Value – PM Assessments

IT Project Management is a broad field, the range of activities and applications makes it incredibly hard for one PM to master every aspect of the Project Life-cycle, each project manager will have clear strengths and weaknesses when it comes to their management style.

These weaknesses are not a bad thing, and if you can identify a weakness you can improve your knowledge or work towards making it a strength. That is where our PM Assessments come in.

Administered by our training partner PMIdeas, we use these assessments to peg each associates specific strengths, and the results can be used as a tool to plan future personal development goals that each of our Project Managers can work towards.

The PM Assessments are based on the Project Management Book of Knowledge (PMBoK) which is considered the world standard in Project Management and assesses each candidates knowledge of the 10 Knowledge areas contained in the PMBoK:

The ten knowledge areas, each of which contains some or all of the project management processes, are:

  1. Project Integration Management
  2. Project Scope management
  3. Project Time Management
  4. Project Cost Management
  5. Project Quality Management
  6. Project Human Resource Management
  7. Project Communications Management.
  8. Project Risk Management
  9. Project Procurement Management
  10. Project Stakeholder Management

How do these assessments work?

Once an associate has met with us we will arrange for them to receive a link to their PM Assessment, this assessment is a series of multiple choice and free form questions, relating to specific areas of the PMBoK. Results are graded in the following form for each question:

The candidate understands this concept

Partially Competent:
The candidate understands the concept but did not explain it as it appears in the PMBoK

Not yet competent:
We are unable to determine if the candidate has fully grasped this concept.

Once completed, each candidate receives a score out of 496, the closer they manage to get to this score the more in line with the principals of the PMBoK they are. Based on their scores each candidate can then choose to expand their knowledge in areas they are weakest or focus on their strengths and work in their key area of knowledge.