So I’m wondering whether I’ve found a niche in the market here, for what are effectively freelance managers. I’ve noticed every company or organisation has particular projects or tasks which fall outside the company’s core business, but have no resources available to assign to them full time. So what happens is they either don’t get done, or they get handed to someone to do in addition to their normal role, and often that person isn’t fully committed or doesn’t have the skills to do a proper job.
Say for example a medium-sized company making widgets wants to increase the size of its goods yard. Who would manage that? The operations manager? Doesn’t he want to concentrate on making widgets? Does he know anything about project management? Perhaps they have a project manager sitting around doing the odd project here and there, but if not, they need someone to manage it. Now the obvious response is you get a contractor in who can take care of the whole lot, but how does the widget company tender the job? Who writes the scope of work? Who manages the bids, deals with the clarifications? And once the work starts, who is responsible for managing the contractor, especially the hundred and one interfaces which require somebody to be making decisions on a daily basis. Who ensures the works don’t interfere with ongoing operations?
You can expand this problem to lots of one-off projects, especially those which pop up unplanned, such as damage repair. Looking back at my career, I ran a fair number of projects which were one-offs and nobody career-minded wanted anything to do with them, and were handed to me because I volunteered to do them. One involved making a crane to replace flare tips on an FPSO. Who, even in an organisation the size of an oil company’s, would managing such a task naturally fall to? The answer was nobody, hence it circulated for months before landing on my desk, and I did it mainly for fun.
The next obvious answer is you hire a consultant, but that’s not the same thing. A consultant will come in and give advice to the manager accountable for getting the task done. But what if there is no manager to begin with? I saw several instances of consultants hired to carry out activities without any manager being accountable, and they represented a waste of time and money. Look at ISO 9001 certification, for example. You can only hire consultants to come in and implement a quality management system once you have someone in the company with the authority to modify the business process as per the consultants’ advice, but what if they have no quality manager and all the other senior managers are 100% devoted to other tasks?
What these companies need is a freelance manager who they interview and assess like any other senior member of staff, but who they employ for a specific, finite task and who will take ownership and be responsible for getting it done, after which he moves on. Of course, there are difficulties with doing this, not least to do with incentives and accountability for both the hired gun and the firm’s existing management, but there’s a demand there, I think. What about you?