Moving from PM Employment to PM Contractor

A couple of weeks ago I took part in #pmchat. It’s a weekly Twitter get together for project managers to chat about.. well project management. Each Friday – using the hashtag #pmchat – a discussion on a particular topic takes place. I was asked to do one on the theme – how to move from being a full-time employee project manager to a contractor.

To set the scene a blog post is put together – followed by a short radio show – you can check both of those out on the #pmchat website

The great thing about Twitter is being able to have that focused conversation with people – and with limited characters so it’s fast paced and full of little nuggets

The downside is that it’s incredibly difficult to share that experience with other people who are not using Twitter – because there really is some great advice out there that you could be missing out on.

So I was thrilled to find that @edmontonpm makes the effort each week to produce a recap

Here’s the additional things I’ve learnt from the session

Moving from Employment to Contractor

1. @michael_greer made a great point about what drives people to consider moving from permanent to contractor, “Running from failure/frustration as an organizational citizen — You’ll ALWAYS be in an organization“. The feeling that you’ve had enough of working within a large faceless organisation that is rife with politics and that the grass would be a lot greener if you could just get away from that… It’s true that as a contractor you’ll still be working within organisations – it’s just that you’ll be working with them from another angle. The angle you choose to adopt will rely on your own individual approach and the consultative skills you’ll need to allow yourself to get on with the job in hand

2. “Thinking you’ll get to cherry pick the assignments/projects. Wrong, they go to full-time employees” a point from @PPMpractitioner which I partially agree with. There will be times when you’re just picked up to deliver the same kind of projects you’ve always managed – after all that’s what organisations are looking for in their contractors – a proven track record in their sector. Sometimes though interesting contracts do come up because they don’t have anyone available internally to do them – you see this a lot with PMO Manager type positions where the concept will be new to the organisation and therefore they’re really looking for a consultant contractor – a thinker and doer.

3. The idea of going it alone get feel too risky so the idea of perhaps pairing up with someone else in the first instance could make the transition easier. @michael_greer  highlighted that the risks are still there “solo vs. with buddies contracting: You could lose one or more buddies & end up in legal battles. Partner for ONE project as trial” An extreme example but actually I agree totally with this. It’s often hard enough trying to make the transition without having to manage someone else too – and unfortunately this is what can happen. You both have to put in the same effort to ensure no resentment because ultimately this is what will kill the partnership.

4. Plan, plan, plan – not just in setting yourself up as a contractor but also within the contract roles you take on. Another point from @PPMpractitioner  “Have 30 (or 60/90) day strategy to deliver value. Plus exit strategy (handover, mentor, learnings etc).” Being able to leave the contract professionally is not just about delivering the project and leaving – it’s also about the extras that will make you stand out as a great contractor. Great contractors are never afraid to transfer some final knowledge before leaving because ultimately this contract could lead to repeat business further down the line.

5. Finally, “Rule of thumb, any contracting: Be prepared to self-finance your life for 6 months in case too few clients or late-payers” from @michael_greer a great bit of practical advice that should mitigate a few of those risks that are floating about in your thoughts…







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  1. These are all excellent points, and of course true for many contracting roles besides PM. The one that stuck out, however, was #4. It’s vitally important that you not try to “build an empire” of specialty and knowledge (frankly, permanent employees should not do this either, but that’s often why outsiders are brought in).

    Don’t be afraid to leave the client in a position where they could technically perform your work without you. If indeed they have the skill and will to do so, you will be a drain on their resources. More likely, however, they will have the skill (a good thing, as it makes communication easier) but not the will (or rather, capability). This is the sweet spot – an educated client that recognizes your value, knows what information you will need to perform your work, but of course still needs you for whatever reason to fill the immediate need they cannot.

  2. Great and timely post. I’d also mention the transition from PM contractor to PM consultant. Contractors are hired to complete tactical tasks, whereas a true consulting PM becomes a trusted adviser and strategic partner to help an organization effect change.

  3. Hi Lindsay,

    Nice recap.

    Regarding the tweet I made “Thinking you’ll get to cherry pick the assignments/projects. Wrong, they go to full-time employees”.

    Typically organisations use contract staff to fill short term needs, often to satisfy immediate pain points.

    I have seen it happen where a contract PM is given a “juicy” high profile project (usually picked to deliver the same kind of projects you’ve always managed, so have the experience to deliver).

    Later this is transitioned to a FTE PM. Especially if the organisation wants to keep skills, knowledge, etc. gained for use in subsequent projects. In such cases the contract PM needs to mentor the FTE until a point when the project can be handed over.

    Then the contract PM is either let go or given lower profile project(s).

    I’ve seen this happen numerous times. Even had to instigate it on programmes I’ve led (for numerous reasons).

    As a contract PM you need to develop thick skin!


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