It’s common for project teams to be dependent upon (and even require) stakeholders who are outside of the team to contribute effort and expertise to ensure the overall success of your project.
But the way you manage these external project consultants will greatly impact the result you gain from working with them.
You could have a satisfied team who delivers a valued project to their stakeholders. Or, despite the expertise, you find your project consumed by constant delays with a disempowered team and a disjointed project outcome to stakeholders.
The difference between the two outcomes has everything to do with how the relationship between the team, the external expertise, and project stakeholders, is managed.
How should you manage external project consultants?
Many project methodologies offer a structure with which to manage external resources within your project team.
The most popular methodology which addresses managing external resources can be found in SAFe (an extension of the Agile delivery framework).
Within this framework, SAFe promotes forming delivery teams involving all key members who contribute to meeting delivery targets.
This means that everybody who works or contributes to the overall project’s output, actively collaborates as part of the extended team relationship.
Basically, if tasks have someone’s name next to them in the project plan or schedule, then that person belongs to the team.
Ideally, they sit with the project team for the duration of the project. They can be assigned roles and responsibilities as well as accountabilities on the project and they succeed or fail in the same way that the project team does. This arrangement also applies if the external resource is only a part time member of the project.
Managing external project resources with Prince2
Prince2 takes a much more hierarchical position when it comes to managing the external project consultant relationship.
It suggests that a Team Manager is assigned to oversee the work and facilitate the project needs between the project team and external resources.
The external resource is treated exactly as that, an outside resource. They don’t reside within the overall project team and don’t necessarily come to all the project team meetings or stand-ups (the check-in that many project teams run every morning to review the team’s tasks, blockers, and help that may be needed).
Whichever methodology you choose, you need to ensure collaboration.
Both the SAFe and Prince2 methodologies are terrific systems for managing external resources when everyone works together.
The problems I see all the time, have nothing to do with the adopted methodology. They happen because the team and the external project resources are not collaborating together to achieve the goals of the project.
Regardless of what methodology or framework you choose to follow, there are some key elements which can cause the methodologies to fail.
So instead of changing methodologies, we need to look at the key elements that make the methodology fail in the first place.
5 Ways to Improve Engagement With External Consultants
1. Have a Process for Information Sharing
Externals are not given all the critical information on the why, the who or the what’s of the project when taking on the work.
Without this information, they can only assume to know what stakeholders need. This means the need is coming from the external’s perspective rather than the stakeholders which are often not the same thing.
When you improve the way information is shared, you’ll improve communication and this will lead to less assumptions and better outcomes.
2. Clearly Communicate Dependencies
While a timeline is generally shared with externals, teams forget to inform them of the level of dependencies they have on the external work which can impact the level of urgency for delivery of programs of work.
If dependencies are not clearly communicated, and then externals are also excluded from some of the key milestone project meetings or decisions, they won’t have a full, clear picture of what’s going on. You then find that the team is reliant on external members who don’t share their level of buy-in or urgency.
This leads to externals not delivering what they committed to, or being taken away on other requests that they deem more urgent than the needs of your project, which in turn creates project delays.
3. Give Guidance Around Quality vs Speed
External consultants don’t always appreciate the quality that is expected.
This doesn’t always mean that the project team require the highest quality.
Depending on the brief, sometimes a faster and efficient solution may be more valued than a higher-grade solution that will take more time. It’s important for externals to know what they are guided by.
4. Communicate Impacts
Project teams don’t always do a great job of communicating the impacts of failure or delays to externals.
When externals don’t understand the impact of delays to the rest of the project team and reliant stakeholders, this can leave the project manager or project leaders feeling disempowered because they can’t give their team the backlog of work they’re waiting on.
Consider things like how can you clearly communicate the impact of missed deadlines? What should happen when external stakeholders don’t deliver on their commitments – is there a penalty enforced (this can simply be a more formal conversation)? And how can you get them to give you what you need when you need so your internal team can be assigned the work they’re waiting to start to keep your project on schedule? Regular check-ins and open communication can solve several of these problems.
5. Let External Consultants Engage with Stakeholders
When everyone on a project is busy, it’s much better to advise external consultants up front as to who the key stakeholders are to engage.
Project teams usually take the position of intermediary between stakeholders. And while there are several good reasons for this, it shouldn’t be assumed that this must always be the arrangement.
There are plenty of externals who liaise directly with stakeholders without compromising project team relationships saving the project team time and additional duties.
External Consultants can make your project more successful
When they’re managed effectively, external project resources can be the magic piece of the puzzle that takes your project from good to great.
So, next time you’re engaging with externals, use the tips above to help ensure that your experience is a powerful one.
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