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OUTSIDE THE BOX: Client as Project Manager

Having the client manage their project is obviously an extreme position but hear me out before you pass judgment.

Open your mind to the possibilities. If client ownership of the deliverables has been a problem or if a successful implementation of the deliverables is at risk, consider appointing the client as the Project Manager. No assumption is made about the client’s project management experience or expertise. The person who would have been the Project Manager will assume the role of Project Management Consultant to make sure that the client, with limited knowledge of managing projects, is kept pointed in the right direction and briefed on management actions and pending decisions. That appointment will promote ownership and assure implementation too. The client’s reputation is at stake and they won’t accept failure. This will be disruptive of current practices but it may offer some valuable benefits too. Oddly enough this has advantages that may offset the obvious disadvantages. And there will be a learning curve for all participants. This assignment is not the default decision in all cases. This also has long-term advantages but at the cost of the temporary short-term disadvantages. What better way could there be for having the client appreciate, sympathize with and learn how to manage the problems that arise in the conduct of effective project management?

In this article we take a more considered look at how such a disruptive decision might be taken.

Who is a Candidate for Becoming a Project Manager

There are a group of business analysts and end users who show an interest in the roles that a project manager executes and tend to be more involved in projects that impact their current roles and responsibilities. They may have even practiced some of these roles on projects they were involved in. In some cases, they get in the way with their level of involvement. These are the professionals that we want to recruit to become project managers. They could begin that program by being the co-manager (see Figure 1.) representing the product being developed by the project. Their involvement in the roles and responsibilities of the co-project manager on the process side can be used and developed with their project.

This model offers a good learning environment for the OPM. As a Product Co-Manager they are positioned to share their extensive project knowledge and practice and grow their process knowledge in project management under the watchful eye of the process co-manager.

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Figure 1. The Co-Manager Project Management Model

For smaller, simpler projects in their functional area they can be put into the role of project manager with a professional project manager as mentor and consultant. Kind of like a co-project manager but with lesser project management responsibilities. They are like the teacher or mentor with a real project as their classroom and a single student – the product co-manager. The size of the team can vary from one to perhaps a dozen or so members. The project scope doesn’t go beyond the single business unit of the OPM.

Benefits of Client as the Project Manager

First, the client will have real ownership of the deliverables and will not let the project fail. The best solution will be implemented without issue. Second, the person who knows the most about the requirements is in charge of the project and so the best results will be obtained. Needs.

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Long Term Effects

The Project Support Office (PSO) will serve the Professional Project Manager (PPM) and the Occasional Project Manager (OPM) needs. The needs of these two very different types of project managers will be different needs. One uses project management as their professional attachment (the PPM). The other uses it as a support tool for some other professional area (marketing, finance, etc.) The PPM needs can be summarized as follows:

  • Software evaluations
  • PM Methodology development
  • Training development and delivery in advanced topics
  • Advanced process needs to fit a particular unique situation.

The needs of the OPM can be summarized as follows:

  • General project management methodology application support
  • Short training on how to use a basic concept
  • Consulting support on unique applications of established processes.

The Future Environment

As the OPM begins to look like the PPM project management will become a skill with distribution across the enterprise. It will be practiced by the OPM on projects of increasing complexity. The PPM will be working on projects of increasing complexity and not on the simpler projects. This is a trend that will be obvious across all functional business units.

At the organizational level project success will increase as projects are managed by those who have a closer relationship to the deliverables. These could be managers from the affected business unit(s) or business analysts from it. In both cases, the impact on project success will be positive.

While your goal is to implement a client as project manager model across the enterprise, that may not be possible. Your model is implemented in every business unit where there is one or more functional or business unit managers who are so positioned for growing into the project management community because of their aligned interests. They may have exercised similar practices in other projects or simply have contributed to the project management practices in previous projects. Another source will be those business analysts who have through prior involvement shown and demonstrated an interest. At the low end of the business unit management team might simply be managers who show an interest.

All in all, the organization will gain through an overall improvement in the practice of project management as well as an improvement in understanding project management and how it can contribute to the organization.

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