Project Management for Consultants

So what does project management have to do with consultants? We’re proposing that project management is what consultants often do but don’t often think about.

As a consultant, you get called or emailed to do something for someone and you get paid for it, right?  If you bill someone for a conversation, that is not a project.  If you create something for someone, however, that is probably a project.  If you get a group of people together to accomplish something, that is definitely a project.

So what is a project? A project is a temporary endeavor undertaken to create a unique product, service or result. 1 This tends to be what a consultant does.  Consultants do projects.  The manner in which the project is performed is project management.  Thus, project management is the art of what consultants do.

It’s also a style or practice that once you get the hang of it you will find yourself recognizing where the principles of project management could be helpful .

Project Management is not about how the consultant markets oneself, or how to run a business.

The Principles of Project Management encompass the following.

  • what happens once a meaningful contact has been made with a potential client,
  • how the work is defined,
  • how the success of the project is defined,
  • how the project is approved,
  • how the project is conducted, and
  • how one can identify learnings from a project and carry such learnings forward into future projects

IF it sounds simple it’s because it is.  “It’s not rocket science.” The principles are easy to grasp. But when time is critical and the budget is large, Project Management is critical.  Here are a couple of examples of when project management is critical.

Landing a satellite on an asteroid.  Recall when Japanese scientists got a satellite to land on an asteroid, collected samples and brought them back to earth. 2 That sounds very challenging, like it’s going to cost a lot of money, need a lot of new technologies and when you start getting into trajectories and orbits you find you’ve got one chance to get it done.  In this kind of project timing is everything!

First Flight of the 787 Dreamliner.  Here’s another instance where project management is critical.  Boeing decides to build a new jetliner, the so-called 787 Dreamliner. And uh-oh, in May of 2009, they find they need to do some more testing before the jetliner takes its highly publicized first flight.  They rework their project plan and low and behold they need to delay that first flight. In the press release, the CEO puts the project manager in front of the press to give the webcast to explain the error in the project plan. 3 It’s a case of “Not me buddy, you’ve gotta get up there and explain what happened.”

But six months later the Dreamliner takes its maiden voyage. 4 Applause all around. You probably saw the joy in Mission Control when they landed Curiosity on Mars this last August.  OK, so there are times when you need a professional project manager to run things – someone who is trained in all the details of project management.

Training & Certification

There is the Project Management Institute, in the US 5 and the Association for Project Management in the UK. 6 You can get trained and certified as a project management professional, or PMP.

The need for certification, however, is job and industry dependent.  Certification can cost several thousands of dollars, and continuing education is required to maintain the license. You need to determine whether project management certification is necessary for your line of work.  A future employer in a regulated industry is more likely to include certification as a requirement

Hard Skills & Soft Skills

Project management includes the hard skills which are things like work breakdown structure, and project plan, while soft skills essentially involve people management.  Hard skills are easy to learn. Soft skills may be difficult for those whose personalities and life experiences have not predisposed them to being natural or comfortable in the role of project manager or project leader.  Opportunities abound for trainings in both hard skills and soft skills.

Simple to Complex Projects

It is useful to distinguish the complexity of projects from simple, to moderate complexity, to extreme complexity, Figure 1. For simple projects your client will reimburse you and sign off on the reimbursement.  There aren’t any people working with you, and there are no subcontractors. Projects with moderate complexity involve more than just you and the client. Your client’s boss may be the one who signs the check and you may get reimbursed by a billing office.  There may be a few people working with you and they may be your hires or work in your client’s company. In projects with extreme complexity, it may be your client’s boss’s boss who pays the bill through a billing office and there may be many people who work on your project coming from different departments in different companies.  And you may be a subcontractor. Clearly as you go from a simple to a complex project, the project management skills required increase. Or to put another way, if you get into complex projects, you will want to have project management skills at your disposal.

Figure 1, Simple to Complex Projects

Project Leader vs Project Manager

Usually Project leader and manager tend to be used interchangeably. But with complex projects comes a delineation of project management responsibilities.  In larger projects the leader is the point person, the one who keeps the stakeholders in line (~ CEO). The manager makes sure the project functions on a daily basis (~ COO). The project leader makes sure the team “does the right things” and the project manager makes sure the team “does things right”. Here we will use the term project leader, since we will focus on simple projects with the understanding that you will be wearing both hats.

Project Management – It’s About Improving Success

It would not be surprising if you, the reader, are looking at this and thinking “where are they coming from?  I’ve run dozens or hundreds of projects and I’ve never done any of these things.” Well that may be true.

But if any of your projects failed or you felt that things could have gone better, then this discussion might be useful to you.

In the track and field event of hurdles, runners run a distance along a track containing a number of hurdles.  What counts is who gets to the end first.  A runner can knock over every hurdle in his/her lane and win the race, as long as they don’t impede other runners.   Most likely a runner will be more successful if s/he develops a good hurdling style.

How to Set Up and Run a Consulting Project – The Hard Skills

OK so what are the so-called hard skills? It’s about how to set up and run a project.  It includes the following tasks.

1. Determining Your Stakeholders

2. Getting your project Started with Project Planning.  Activities include
– Goal Setting
– Project Planning, and
– Project Approval

3. Getting it Done or Project Execution. Here activities include
– Project Meetings
– Project Tracking
– Project Completion, and
– After Project Review

We invite you to download our white paper on this subject – “Project Management for Consultants – How to Set Up and Run A Consulting Project”.  We’ll delve into each of these activities as these are things you should think about with every project that you do.  To access this PDF file, please go to downloads.

Interpersonal, Soft Skills

If you have to deal with people in your projects, including your client, let’s face it you’ve got to use your soft skills.

Soft skills involve the following attributes of an effective project leader.

• Effective at communication and the exchange of information
• Knows how to Influence individuals and the organization to get things done
• With respect to Leadership – he can articulate the vision, deliver the strategy, motivate the team
• Knows what to expect from team members
• Motivator – he energizes people to achieve high levels of performance and overcome barriers to change
• Negotiator and conflict manager – he confers with others to come to terms with them and to reach an agreement
• Problem solver – he is an artist at problem definition, alternatives identification and analysis, decision making, and he
• Displays the Qualities of a Good Project Leader

To add a bit more about effective communication and the exchange of information, the skilled project leader
• Keeps team members and stakeholders informed of key developments, program decisions, issues, and changes to the project and the project plan.
• Provides timely reporting in any corporate project reporting system or to any corporate review board.
• Promotes and supports external presentation of scientific advances made by the team. and
• Provides relevant information to legal or regulatory groups as required.

With your team members and stakeholders effective communication can be a challenge.  In this era of laptops and smart phones getting yourself heard can be a challenge.  Insist on – no distractions in whatever situation where you need to make yourself heard.

The following sections in Project Leader Solutions deal with the following aspects of Interpersonal or Soft Skills.
Dealing with Scientists on a Project Team
Program/Project Authority versus Organizational Structure
Roles of a Project Team Leader
Qualities of a Good Project Leader
Qualities of a Good Team Representative
Program/Project Authority versus Organizational Structure

We encourage you to read these sections.  We hope you have found this discussion to be useful as you consider future projects as a consultant!

Welcome fellow consultants, to!  This blog was created for project managers in the bio/pharmaceutical industry.  Even if yours is a different industry, you may find some interesting discussions herein.  Please visit the home page for a list of topics.  You may also enjoy our blog