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.