The Role Of Expert Consultants In Project Management

Successful project management is always a team effort. However, sometimes this team isn’t all in house. For larger and more complex projects, it is not unusual for even an experienced project manager to require outside assistance to help with the planning  process or to perform some of the work. When is a specialist worth the extra expense?

The Need is Temporary

In some cases, the expert knowledge required is only needed for the project at hand. For example, a project for a large telemarketing organization might be to implement a new suite of software applications for call routing, billing, customer service, etc. The necessary IT leadership resources for such an ambitious project are unlikely to be available on staff. The current IT personnel may be generalists or might have been hired mainly for their familiarity with troubleshooting the existing system.

Creating a full time position to fill this gap can cost much more in terms of total compensation than hiring a consulting firm. An added advantage of sourcing an expert to collaborate with existing team members is that the firm can share responsibility for ensuring a successful project outcome.

The Issue is Complicated

Project management planning is only as good as the information it is based on. In some situations, contracting with an expert to collect data that will be used in scope planning and scheduling makes sense. This might be the case when industry-wide information on a specific topic is needed. An outside consultant with lots of industry networking connections may have a better chance of compiling accurate statistics and other information for use in planning than someone on your staff.

Risk identification is an example of such an area of expertise. A ‘blind spot’ in risk planning can lead to disaster. This type of mistake is particularly likely when historical information is low (e.g. when the current project has little in common with previous projects). A third party risk assessor who does not have a financial stake in any risk protection coverage purchased may be able to offer more accurate insights and strategies.

Potential Problems with Hiring Consultants

There are a number of potential pitfalls to consider before investing in an outside knowledge expert. First, this can represent a significant expense. With a tight budget, it can be difficult to justify hiring a consultant for the planning phase when (in the minds of some stakeholders) no visible work is produced. They may question why you need to pay for advice since you are the project management expert and “should already know all this stuff”. Let the consulting firm share the burden of making the case that their services are necessary and valuable.

Second, bringing in an expert may create friction with your team members. This is especially true if someone on staff feels that they are being passed over in favor of an outsider. A consultant should not be hired unless and until you have fully explored the resources available in house. Acknowledge each team member’s expertise in their field and reward their contributions. Also, make it clear that the role of an adviser is to help out – but that your team will be taking the credit for a job well done.

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