I have been offered a few permanent roles in the past couple of months and so I thought I would write a short blog about why I love contracting so much.

I started contracting as a Project Manager straight after getting my Prince2 qualification, back in 2011 (after spending several years as an Operations Manager) and I have never looked back. All of my contracts have been 3 month rolling contracts and I have always been extended at least twice and on a couple of occasions up to 6 times.

The most important thing for me, personally is to make sure I am going to learn something new on every contract. This can mean working in a new sector (public/private/hybrid), a new vertical (Facilities/Legal/Automotive/Higher Education/Finance) or a different kind of Project (Software Development/Cloud Migration/Infrastructure/Networking/Mobilisation) – or a combination of two or more of these. There must always be something new for me or I get bored … this was a problem when I was a permanent employee as my bosses wanted me to learn a job and then do it indefinitely. This is not how you keep good people interested and therefore productive, in my humble opinion.

The great thing about my approach is that I get to work with an entirely new group of people in an entirely new environment, usually once or twice a year. Every time I leave a post, I generally stay in touch with one or two of the people I either really rated in their profession or just ‘got on’ with – this has lead to me creating a fantastic network of friends and colleagues on Linkedin and this in turn leads – on the whole – to my getting a new role each time I need one.

The Barefoot PM

I once read (and loved) a book called “From the outside looking in – Experiences in barefoot economics” by Manfred A Max-Neef. From the book:

The author relates two of his own experiences in ‘barefoot economics’; as he explains: ‘The first is about the miseries of Indian and black peasants in the Sierra and coastal jungle of Ecuador. The second about the miseries of craftsmen and artisans in Brazil. The former is, in a way, the story of a success that failed; the latter a failure that succeeded. Both refer to a people’s quest for self reliance. Both are lessons in economics as practiced at the human scale.

He discovered that he had no real “language” in those environments, and that ‘we had to invent a new language’. That was the origin of the metaphor of barefoot economics, which is the economics that an economist who dares to step into the mud must practice. The point is that economists study and analyze poverty in their nice offices, have all the statistics, make all the models, and are convinced that they know everything that you can know about poverty, but, according to Max Neef, they don’t understand poverty at all.

I strongly believe that this metaphor runs true in my game, too and now I make a point of it in every job interview I attend.

Please don’t sit in interviews for an hour talking about your approach to scrums, waterfall v agile and whether or not you have migrated the specific MS App they’re looking to migrate … projects are about people. That is all.

Get your socks off as soon as you can in an interview and walk with the client, let them talk about their business. What’s important to them and where do they want to be? What does good look like?

I have a pretty big character and I take that to every contract, of course. But I also like to spend the first few calls just listening. Get to hear what everyone thinks, see how they work together, see how they operate as a business and follow up with 1-to-1 calls to dig more into individual characters. This is the important stuff and should form part of your own personal onboarding.

Experience

Once I have listened and learned all about my new client and what everyone is expecting from the new project I’ve been hired to deliver … then it’s time to use my experience and this is where the variety helps.

I have my own set of green field governance that I can use wherever I go, if they literally have none. I can also feed in little nuggets I have learned along the way and weave them in to my clients’ governance and processes – no system is above a tweak here and there.

I intend to write a blog dedicated to Agile v Waterfall but suffice to say, a combination is often your best bet in my personal experience. I also plan to write a blog on green field governance as this often gets overlooked, particularly when you’re dealing with Agile fans.

Adapt and overcome

The whole contracting life looked in jeopardy a year ago, with recruiters trying to bully everyone into accepting the ‘new world order’ of Inside IR35 … but thankfully, a few of us stood our ground and if you wanted a solid PM to come in, hit the ground running and deliver on time, on budget and with a smile – you found a way to make it work. Now there are recognised ways of hiring good PMs outside of IR35 and I think the whole period has shaken a few pretenders out of the trees (both recruiters and PMs), and thats never a bad thing.

So, why hire a contractor?

I can only answer this from a personal perspective, but primarily – people hire me to get shit done. In fact when a personal recommendation has lead to my interview – they often use those exact words! In the past people have tried to hire me to oversee BAU or shadow someone who can’t do their job but has become too important to fire. Those are not good reasons to hire a Contractor PM. A Project is separate from BAU. It has a start and a finish and a scope, and a good PM should be able to tell you quite quickly if your plans for those are realistic.

As a contractor I can come into your company and speak the truth at the highest level and if I am a good PM, I should be able to sit with your workers and get the truth from them, too. Full transparency from top to bottom.

There are all kinds of advantages to hiring a contractor to deliver your project, rather than trying to use a member of your own staff. If you’re thinking of hiring a contractor PM and you’d like to know a bit more about it, then drop me an email and let’s chat.