When the project ends and it is time for the project manager/s on contract to finish up, will your permanent staff be ready to take over? Can you be sure they are equipped with the specialist knowledge and insight needed to maintain momentum as the project moves from initiation into the business as usual phase? Will they be able to deal with problems relating to people, processes and equipment? Or is all your expertise about to walk out the door when these project managers leave?
Over the past few years, Australian businesses have increasingly engaged project managers on a contract basis rather than hiring them as permanent employees. Ever since the global financial crisis, uncertain economic times have caused companies to think carefully about their employment strategies.
The rise of independent professionals
Headcount freezes and tightened budgets have made engaging white collar contractors (referred to as independent professionals or IPros) an extremely attractive, management and shareholder-friendly solution to staffing woes.
IPros give businesses a new level of flexibility that simply can’t be achieved when hiring permanent staff. They provide an immediate additional resource, available at a moment’s notice yet when the work is done, the IPro’s contract is concluded, leaving no ongoing overhead for the business.
Because of the nature of their work, IPros are experts at adjusting to changing employers, circumstances and roles. They have to operate efficiently and don’t take long to come up to speed when faced with a new project.
Many organisations are also turning to IPros because they can bring a breadth of knowledge and experience that in-house staff rarely match, and can fill a void when your permanent employee decides they don’t want to be with you and moves on: remember, having permanent staff does not guarantee loyalty, productivity and longevity!
Many organisations also use IPros whenever they need an injection of new skills or a particular kind of expertise. Through working on many sites and across many industries, IPros are exposed to a wide range of circumstances. This is particularly evident in the use of IPros working in IT and project management roles.
The problem with using IPros as a resident source of knowledge, however, is that IPros are not residents, they move on. Their contracts are usually for defined times and when the engagement concludes, the knowledge that you’ve been relying on is suddenly no longer available.
The impact of this varies but may include lack of oversight over a project or application, the loss of critical support and uncertainty about where to turn for help. Often organisations end up paying more to third parties for assistance that should be easily handled in-house. In the worst case scenario, lack of experience leads to the project stalling or floundering, putting future development at risk.
It’s a relatively new problem for business and one that is only coming to the fore because of the increased reliance on IPros. Once upon a time, companies would train their staff in advance or hire in new, permanent employees to provide the domain knowledge necessary. Today’s faster business cycles, increased competitiveness and tight margins make such an approach difficult, yet organisations still need to find a way to develop their in-house knowledge.
The IPro Index 2011, a research study conducted by Monash University and sponsored by Entity Solutions, discovered that some organisations are finding the solution in a new, innovative role for IPros. Rather than leaving skills development to chance, companies are seeking to formally incorporate knowledge sharing into the contracting relationship. As IPros carry out their role, they begin to pass essential knowledge on to the project team, equipping them to continue after the IPro departs.
The structure and processes to achieve this don’t have to be onerous or complex. For example, the research found that in 2011:
- 75% of IPros provided ‘regular’ or ‘a lot’ of progress reports;
- 74% provided ‘regular’ or ‘a lot’ of project results; and
- 72% provided ‘regular’ or “a lot” of general overviews to group members.
(Tips to follow)