Each week, project management veteran Tom Mochal provides valuable advice on how to plan and manage projects. Tom first describes a common problem scenario, based on a real-life situation. He then offers a solution, using practical project management techniques.

The dilemma
The Sales Division recently decided to outsource a pilot project to create a wireless application for one of the sales regions. Tim has been assigned as the internal project manager for our company, and he has been asked to work closely with the contractor to make sure the project is successful.

“We don’t do much outsourcing here,” Tim said. “So I’m not quite sure what my role should be. I’m definitely not the true project manager. That person is running the project for the contractor.”

“You’re right,” I agreed. “Being called the ‘internal project manager’ is almost an honorary title. What do you think your role should be?”

“Well, my boss said I should make sure the contractors understand the work they need to do, and then make sure they do it,” Tim noted a little nervously. “He also said for me to beat them up if they don’t do what they’re supposed to.”

I laughed. “It’s no wonder you’re a little confused. That’s not very constructive advice. Let me throw out some examples. First, you’ll need to make sure your client lays out a comprehensive set of requirements and that the contractor’s Project Definition and our Statement of Work are approved. You’ll also need to see that the contractor has a reasonable workplan and that there are checkpoints and reviews at the end of major milestones.”

A bell went off in Tim’s head. “This is starting to sound familiar. These are the kinds of things my client sponsor does when I am the project manager.”

“Bingo,” I said. “I think that’s the key to understanding your role. You are used to being the project manager. In this case, you are representing the customer. You will need to perform a quality assurance role on behalf of the sponsor.”

Mentor advice
Most project managers are used to planning, executing, and controlling a project. If you are asked to manage an outsourced project, however, your role takes on more of a quality assurance flavor. You’ll need to make sure that there are good processes in place and that the vendor has done its work to the satisfaction of the customer.

Tim’s role is very important. On behalf of the project sponsor, Tim needs to make sure that the contractor has the same basic project and project management components that would be expected of Tim if he were the project manager. This includes ensuring that:

  • The contractor has a solid Project Definition and that all major stakeholders agree and approve it.
  • There is a clear and comprehensive set of business requirements.
  • The definition of success is clear and that it includes the criteria for evaluating interim deliverables in terms of completeness and correctness.
  • The workplan clearly describes how the contractor will do the work and what the expectations are for people in the sales organization.
  • Major interim milestones are in place so that Tim can be sure the project is on track. Each milestone should represent the completion of one or more deliverables, and there should be approval and sign-off at each point.
  • The contractor and sales clients centralize all formal communication through Tim, so he knows what is going on and can manage everyone’s expectations.
  • Any problems are communicated and addressed—not in an adversarial manner, but as partners.

In general, Tim needs to make sure that solid processes are in place, and then he needs to work in partnership with the contractor to make sure that both sides follow up on and complete the agreed-upon commitments. If that happens, then expectations will be met, milestones will be managed, deliverables will be approved, and the overall project will be successful.

Project management veteran Tom Mochal is director of internal development at a software company in Atlanta. Most recently, he worked for the Coca-Cola Company, where he was responsible for deploying, training, and coaching the IS division on project management and life-cycle skills. He’s also worked for Eastman Kodak and Cap Gemini America and has developed a project management methodology called TenStep.

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