How differs the management approach between these two project types? And does it need to differ when you are managing a customer facing or an internal project?
Hey Crizpers, do you change your management approach when working on external and on company projects? Do you have experience in both of these project types, or are you dedicated to just one of these entities? Let me know in the comments! In the meantime, we will touch base on how differ customer facing and internal projects are from the management perspective.
Internal PM Journey
I guess many of us at some stage have been starting on the internal projects. Actually, working on the internal or external projects mostly depends on the company specifics. If this is a SaaS solution, as for a Project Manager there is a few to less probability you will collaborate with the customers directly. However, should this be custom development, most likely you will be the point of contact for all the clients you are assigned to.
But first let’s tip the internal solutions project managers. Again, I am not referring to the release cycles management. As you may remember, we have already defined that a Product Life Cycle is not a Project Management type of work. Projects are temporary and unique, while Products are long-lasting and constant. (Who the Project Managers are). However, even in the internal entity there is a wide range of opportunities for PMs to perform.
The main point I am following here is to clarify the general difference between leading internal and external projects. And the biggest mistake that could be made on the internal types of projects is the perception that on such projects there is no client.
On my first internal project I made this kind of mistake. To be transparent, I have started my Project Management journey directly from the customer-facing projects. I have always worked with clients perceiving that internal path is only for operations. However, on one of the positions that I have just taken over I was the first project for me was internal one.
Firstly, it was my trial period. Next, there was a demand to modify some internal tool. Thus, I got the first project in-house and has blindly decided that it is one of the process-improvement ongoing activities which is not even a project. Faulty was I. Although I have started with a wrong attitude, the sooner we learn the better. And even better is if we learn from the mistakes of others, but that was not my case.
In a couple of words, the person who ordered this project was the CEO of the company. I have learned very fast that not all the internal modifications are operations. And, besides, all the internal projects have clients too.
Referring to the paragraph above, I would like to outline how important it is to properly position the roles on a project. And in all the cases, no matter whether a project is internal or external, all of them have a role of a client. Basically, this role is for those who orders a project and who is the main key stakeholder there.
Although it might be sometimes tricky to define, for the clarification of this situation we need to outline who might be mostly interested in the solution realization. Once found, we need to dance from this person. In my case it was a synchronization with an alternative task tracking tool that provides a more detailed gantt chart view. The initiator of using a new tool was the CEO of the company. Obviously this person automatically becomes the Project Owner or a Client in our case.
Indeed, sometimes it might be not pretty much straight forwards, who we need to refer to in order to report on the project deliverables and to perform demos. Especially, when a project is taken from the overall company backlog. Should this be an external project, we always know who has come with an idea and who pays for this. However, it is extremely important to clarify who the stakeholders and the Project Owner are on the in-house projects too. Otherwise, there is a risks of miscommunication and a conflict of interests (How Risk Management works).
Customer Facing OR Internal
Now we know that no matter whether a project is internal or external, it always has a client – the one who orders and who pays for it. But does this mean that both types of projects have no difference at all? Sounds a bit unrealistic, and you know, they finally do have certain variances. From my point of view, the general differences are the projects priority we need to follow, and the communication approach.
Priority by Default
Priority is an extremely important and powerful tool. As a ground rule all top-priority projects should be done first and instantly. This means that if there is a conflict, all other works are being postponed by the time there is enough funds and capacity after the priority work is done. Therefore, it is vital to bring transparency in the works prioritization and in the projects priority state.
In many companies customer Facing projects usually get the top priority by default. Which is evident as external customers provide the funds inflow. Nevertheless, it is always good to clarify a situation in advance. I invoke to spell this out as soon as possible not to stick in a confusion regarding the work focus. Thus, if you have to choose which project to dedicate resources to, in many cases the choice will be given to an external one.
As usual, communication is paramount (Speaking out loud). And there are again a couple of reefs present. And you may bump into an iceberg either on an in-house project, and on an external one.
While working on the internal solution, as in my example, there is a possibility of confusion while defining the stakeholders and the Project Owner. The activity of the stakeholders identification should be essential, so do your best to clarify this instantly.
On the other hand, internal collaboration might be more facilitated than external one. Initially, you know your colleagues and most likely you already have an experience of cooperation together. As companies usually engage peers with the common values (company values), these people are aimed to follow the same policies and procedures which should significantly improve the overall collaboration process. Working internally you are aware of what to expect from your peeps, while with the external customer you never know.
External client is always a new piece of a pie. To start working you need to get to know each other and to define the best suitable collaboration approaches and general touch points. This is like tasting Fugu (Fish Fugu). You either feel well, or will need to survive.
Although a couple of differences are present, there are still a lot of common items for both customer facing and internal projects. In its general, while working on both types, we are differentiating them by the project priority, which is common in total; and we are forced to change the collaboration approach based on the project class.
In all other aspects, unless any internal company policies dictate the behavior, we should follow the overall project management methodologies using the appropriate technique that is favorable within a company. This means, all the projects should have relevant documentation, reports, progress tracking and KPIs met.
In any case, no matter whether you are on an indoor or outboard project, all of them are getting into your box of experience; and all of them provide a certain input to your professional background.
Let me know which types of projects you prefer to work on: is it Customer Facing ones, or Internal projects?