A question in the Linkedin PM Questions & Answers list prompted this posting – the focus of that question had been on identifying the appropriate time to engage a project manager in a pre-sales situation. The same question faces organizations when they are dealing with internal projects.
The ideal situation is if there are more PMs than project requests – in that Utopian situation, a PM can be assigned as soon as the gleam in a requestor’s eye is formalized into a project request. Even in a projectized organizations, this is not realistic. PM skills are in high demand and low supply and it becomes hard to justify consuming this valuable resource during the pre-commitment stages of an internal or external project.
You could draw an analogy to project risk management – some organizations refuse to commit resources to project risk management as they feel that it is not worth investing effort in managing uncertainties when there are more than enough certainties (e.g. project scope) to spend time on. Project failures and excessive firefighting at these same organizations would lead one to believe that this is a myopic approach. Wait till a project is approved and launched before PM skills are involved and you could face the same issue of “pay me now, or pay me more later!”.
It does not have to be the same person engaged before and after although this can obviously address continuity and knowledge transfer concerns. The key is that PM skills get engaged at the point in the work intake process where key decisions get made – these skills can help surface assumptions, develop or validate cost & benefit estimates and identify and assess risks so that governance bodies can make well informed decisions. It does not even need to be a resource wearing the title “Project Manager” so long as they possess PM skills.
The challenge lies in convincing the leadership team that this commitment of skilled resource up front should be considered a normal cost of doing business. In the same way as the organization pays premiums to support business continuity and transfer risk, effort spent on project analysis before launch could be considered an insurance policy. Extending this analogy, it is important to measure how much effort is expended on these activities to ensure they are appropriately balanced against the benefits achieved.
So the answer to the question “When is the right time to engage a PM on a project” is: At or shortly after the point at which the effort expended on “pre-sales” activities matches the benefits of improved project predictability.