In all my years in project management, there is always one hurdle that seems to be constant: managing internal projects. Many companies handle some projects internally to save money and keep control. The idea of paying another company for something you can do yourself often seems absurd.
For example, say you’re a design firm…that does websites…maybe your name rhymes with SchmatesPerrone. Your website looks outdated and you want to jazz it up because some potential clients may overlook you based on your website not showing how fantastic you really are. Should you hire another company to revamp your site, or should you do it internally? There are no real issues about time, and costs, and going out of scope for an internal project…right?
(Here’s where I imagine all the project managers reading start laughing/crying.)
Internal projects don’t have to be a suckfest, though. Having managed these kinds of projects at many different companies over the course of my career, I’ve learned some coping strategies that make internal projects run just as well as the external ones. Here are my three quick tips to managing internal projects:
1. Treat the project like a client.
My belief is that the number-one reason internal projects do not get finished on time (or sometimes at all) is because paying clients come first. It only makes sense. So how can you overcome this hurdle? Simple—find a point person in the company who will be the client.
If someone, or even a few people, takes on the role of client, there is a greater chance the job will carry the same weight as other projects the company is working on. The client point person does not need to be a C-Level executive, but it does need to be someone who understands the scope of the project, the purpose and the deliverable. The client role should also be held by someone not working on the project.
2. Define the scope, schedule and resources.
Often with internal projects the initial reaction is to just get working. There might be a kick-off meeting, but often there is very little in the way of planning. Forget the notion of “since money is not changing hands, why would there be a budget?”
All members of the team are paid employees, so their time is valuable. Some might even argue that their time on internal projects is even more valuable to the company because the project is making the company as a whole better.
How much planning you need will depend on the size of your company and the size of the project. Every project, even an internal one, always needs a planning process to define requirements, a to-do list, a schedule, resources and the budget (time) to help define the road map. You might not need to spend time on project acceptance criteria, exclusions, constraints or assumptions—but that can be determined by your management team.
3. Be on the lookout for risks.
The major risk that often comes up is limited resources. For example, if a designer is needed for a new project that comes in, it is always easiest to pull her from the internal (non-paying) project. So the risk is pushing the internal project further back, which can happen over and over until the project gets shelved.
Sometimes this cannot be helped. You most likely wouldn’t want to lose a client because of an internal project, but you need to be aware of the internal project falling further and further behind.
You may have to ask team members to put in extra hours on the internal project, on top of their normal workload, to keep everything on track. A positive spin to help this is to award team members for the extra work required to get the internal project finished. A half day off, lunch to celebrate the completion of the project or a cash bonus are simple ways to reward employees and keep the morale positive.
Looking back on my career, I could’ve used some of these pointers to keep internal projects in check. Also, I can see that some of the projects would have been better off if they were hired out to another company, mostly because of the lack of internal resources. So the next time your company needs to create an internal project, you might want to do the research to see if you should hire it out—and if you decide to do it in-house, make sure to plan, plan, plan.
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