In source or Outsource

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If you’re anything like me and the team in my office, when a client asks to do a project you have never done before, you jump on it – ready for a challenge.  Often times the best course of action may be to restrain these feeling and turn down the work for more traditional and stable jobs, but sometimes I believe it is worth the plunge.   Jumping into a project that is completely new in is a great opportunity to sharpen your critical thinking skills and put your team to the test.  This process offers promise of development for everyone, contributing to their skill set and experience along the way.  The advantage doesn’t end there either; each time we take on new work in unchartered territory its opens the door to future opportunities not yet explored.  This sounds all well and good, but as I am sure you are all thinking right now, there are a few big obstacles that cannot be ignored.  Do we have time to figure this out?  Are we sacrificing time with our current clients? Do we have the tools and skills needed to do this?

Projects that don’t have a clear action plan or a team that doesn’t has time to dedicate to it are perfect opportunities to think about outsourcing.  Outsourcing tasks and projects is an extremely valuable tool that Project Manager’s should utilize regularly.  One of the biggest concerns many companies have is simply knowing when to outsource.  All too often groups believe they can handle the extra workload or figure out the newest solution, but realistically, that might not be the best use of everyone time.  Here are a few indicators that can help you determine when you should outsource your project:

  • Project timeline is tight
  • Need an expert on a specific topic
  • PM’s and other team members don’t have time to dedicate to the new endeavor
  • Menial or repetitive work – not the best use of time for an engineer to be doing data entry in an excel spreadsheet for example.
  • Project is short term – not a long lasting strategic business move

These are just a few of the indicators that your project may benefit from outsourcing.  To some, using outside consultants can seem like a jab at their ego.  The mentality of “I can do it, I don’t need help” can be noble, but not effective.  Project Managers should be ready to outsource their projects or even specific tasks when the opportunity arises.  A general contractor working with subcontractors is common practice – the same should be true in an engineering office.  Outsourcing is a great tool when used properly, but here are some indicators that you should NOT outsource your project:

  • Pressed on budget – consultants are not cheap
  • If you are not willing to forfeit control of the project
  • Project requires confidentiality
  • High quality outcome expected

Again, these are just a few of the things to watch out for, but they illustrate important points to keep in mind.  To be completely effective with outsourcing, you need to be able to fully hand off a project and allow the team you hire to run their course.  Being involved in every detail and minutia doesn’t benefit you or your project.  Here are a few tips that help when you are thinking about outsourcing a project:

  • Have a budget – don’t allow for unnecessary additions that are not disclosed upfront.
  • Ensure the team you hire has accountability. Usually my recommendation is they are a multi-personnel office, not a single freelance agent.
  • When outlining the project be as clear and concise as possible. Layout exactly what the issue is, what needs to be done, and when you expect it done by – ambiguity leads to additional costs.
  • Outline progress checks and goals – ensure they are meeting target dates and adjust as needed. A consultant who fails to meet goals should quickly be removed – do not fall into the trap of escalation of commitment.
  • If the task that is outsourced required and expert to perform the work, add in a section for them to train someone on your team quickly how to do the work in the future. (Train the Trainer)
  • Make communication a priority. Call in meeting, or an open forum for discussion ensures problems are confronted quickly. Recall by blog about communication from earlier this year.

The team you have may be extremely competent and never need the help of an outside professional, but you still have projects that might benefit from outsourcing.  Collectively, we need to stop thinking of outsourcing as only a tool for when we can’t figure out a problem, but rather one of efficiency.  A successful business should not be afraid of outsourcing and a great Project Manager knows when it’s needed.  If your company outsources frequently or if they never have before, let me know how it’s going in the comments, I’d be happy to share my experiences as well!

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