The Triple Constraints of Choosing a PM Consulting Engagement

So I’m currently in the process of wrapping up a two-year consulting engagement.  And – as a professional project management consultant - my time now has to be divided equally between two very important tasks – closing out my existing project, and – maybe a little more importantly – finding a new one.

In going through this for the umpteenth time, I have begun to put a very familiar framework around what I see as the common components each of us examine as we choose amongst (hopefully) several opportunities for new PM engagements.  In other words  – how we evaluate which project to pursue and which to avoid.   I call this decision framework the Triple Constraints of PM Consulting.  Ring a bell?  And – like our Triple Constraints of Project Management (Scope, Time, Cost, and Quality) there are four…

My Triple Constraints of PM Consulting are: Content, DurationRate/Salary and Commute.  I compare these to the Project Management Constraints not only because they are the same in number (3/4), but because the relationship between the four is similar.   Whether Project or Consulting, the key elements always work in tandem with one another. In Project Management, where one of these elements is restricted or extended, the other elements will then also need to be either extended/increased in some way or restricted/reduced in some way. The same can be said for the Consulting Constraints. If one component is judged to be coming up short, the others need to supply enough positive value to effectively negate the downside of the first. When choosing your next consulting engagement, there needs to be a balancing  – based on your own personal and professional requirements  – of all of the elements in order ensure your (and ultimately the client’s) satisfaction.  Let’s look a little further into the Consulting Triple Constraints and examine their importance in choosing your next consulting “gig”.

Content – obviously, the actual subject matter of your next project is important.  Do you want to stay in a particular industry (like financial services)?  Want to focus on systems implementation? Or software development?  Want to do Buy Side? Sell Side?  All of the information you can gather about what the project is actually about and how much it interests you will play into your decision on whether it is right for you.  I also fold into the Content area the actual client for which you will be working.  Is it a firm that you’ve always wanted to work in?  Or – is it a company that you would prefer to avoid?  All of this data will get factored into your decision…

Duration – very simply, how long is the engagement (or project) supposed to last? Is it variable/open?  How much does that matter to you?  In many of the financial services clients that I have worked with, the initial length of an engagement usually ranges from 3-6 months.  Doesn’t matter  if the project supposed to move 3 buildings and 14,000 people from Massachusetts to Madagascar…the engagement is 3 months – with the infamous “option to be extended”.   How comfortable are you in accepting the project at the stated duration?  After speaking with the client, do you get the feeling that the project will go longer, and your engagement will be extended?

Rate/Salary – will this engagement be profitable for you?  As I’ve mentioned in previous posts, we should – as consultants – expect that our compensation will vary by project, year, even geographic location.  In evaluating a potential engagement, we have to decide if the compensation we are to receive – whether it be hourly or salary – is acceptable to us for the length of time the project has been slated for.  Notice I did not say “fair” – it may not be…You may again be asked to move that data center to Madagascar for $10/hr.  Or you may be asked to be the full-time Outlook meeting scheduler for $100/hr.  Is either “fair”?  What is acceptable to you as a consultant at that particular time in your personal and professional life?

Commute – It’s important.  Where will this new project be located?  Will you drive/train/boat there like an everyday commuter?  Or do you have to fly there Sunday afternoon and take the “red eye” back Friday night?  Is domestic or international travel acceptable (even desirable)?  Or do you want to be home every night by 6pm?

Once you have an idea about how each of these elements will be satisfied by your potential next engagements, you can go through the process of choosing and committing.  It may go something like this…

Project A is really something I want to do.  I’m very interested in doing more Agile project management, and Project A is all about Agile.  It’s also supposed to last 6 months, but the VP said that it’s almost certain to go a year plus. Tough commute, though…

Project B is pretty generic…data center move.  This one will definitely last a year – the contract will say that.  Its right on the commuter rail, and the hourly rate is about 10% more than my last project…

Which one would you choose?????????

Again – it depends on where your current priorities reside…if you are more focused on professional development, then you may go with Project A.  If, however, you strive more for convenience and financial gain, then Project B may be for you.  The important thing is that you realize that there are several distinct factors that must be weighed when evaluating your next assignment.  Decide what is important to you, and choose the project that best fits your needs.

SHAMELESS BOOK PLUG!My new book has gone through its final (I hope) edit and is now being constructed into a final proof.  I hope it will be published within the next two weeks!!!  Update again next week!!!!

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