Are Project Managers a ‘commodity’?

One organisation is getting rid of its pool of project managers as “you can just go to the market and buy them as necessary”.

Another organisation outsourced its project managers to a major system's implementer on the basis that “we cannot give them a career path in our organisation but they can.”

This seems to me to confuse 'function' with 'effectiveness.'

On the surface, project management is a function, a skill set, or a standard competency. Different project managers will have different types of experience that will affect their ability to work on certain types of projects. (If you’ve ever seen a project manager who has only ever implemented software packages, take on a custom system build project, you’ll know what I mean.)

But, to be an effective project manager you also need to know how the business works, who is who in the zoo, who are the real power brokers, and how to get things done fast. This is not commodity project management.

Another dimension is that the same firms that outsource their project management, whether to the market in general or to specific vendors, often have methodologies that they then expect the contractors to pick up, absorb and use instantly. This does not happen.

In conclusion

What does happen is that project managers once ‘hired’ from the outsourcer remain on successive projects ‘because they know the business’ but at a rate much higher than if they had been employees.

Is it just me or have we lost the plot here by seeing project management as a commodity?

Isn’t their knowledge of the business more important than their project management knowledge?

Topics: Value Delivery, Project Controls, Value Equation

Further Reading



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Revision History

First published: Simms, J. (Mar 2010) as "Are Project Managers A ‘Commodity’?"

Updated: Chapman, A. (March 2020), Revisions and Corrections