How to approach internal projects – Part 2 (of 2): The Cons

By Mike. August 13th, 2010. Posted in Off assignment 1 Comment »

Last week, in part one (How to approach internal projects – The Pros), we focused on all the up sides of working on internal projects.

This week we will be looking at the down sides of working on these kinds projects and what you can do to keep your project, and your sanity, on track.

Be sure to head over and read the up sides if you haven’t already before reading all about the potential pitfalls.

Working on internal projects the cons:

  • Lack of utilisation – Probably the biggest problem with these internal projects is they often do not give you that all important client facing time, or utilisation as it is more commonly known. This can often mean you don’t hit your targets for the year and therefore may end up being marked down in an end of year appraisal. If you have been ‘ring-fenced’ for the internal project, you will not be eligible for client work even when it does come up either. There is no solution to this particular problem and you’ll need to judge each potential project on its own merits as to whether or not it is worth taking on (if indeed you even have a choice). Bear in mind that if you are not on client work and there is none forthcoming, you are not missing out in any way. Always check with your manager to see if you are being kept back for the project or if you are free to leave when client work comes up.
  • Your work can be overlooked – Unfortunately, no matter how hard you work or how great the quality of your work is, internal projects are rarely as highly valued as client projects. This is solely because client work generates revenue for your company and internal work doesn’t. You sometimes find, however, that if there is a hint of the internal project turning fresh and all important revenue from clients, your accolades and recognition will follow. You can protect yourself and your work from disappearing into obscurity by ensuring that your line manager and other management team folk get regular updates from you (even if that isn’t your job) throughout the project. This will raise your profile and let people know what you’re doing and remind them of the project. Having the key benefits of the project in your mind when chatting with others (i.e. management) might bring a potential client application to light.
  • Work can overrun or become more complicated – A hazard of internal projects is that a “quick” one week project can easily turn into three months of hard graft. Scope creep is when the original specification/idea/project outline ends up very different from what you started out trying to get to. During the project, you’ll know when this occurs as you’ll hear the phrase “can you just …” followed by “add, change or remove” something. You should agree (and document) the scope and timescales for your project at the start and only accept changes in stages (not in an ad-hoc manner). This will allow you to know exactly what is happening and when, as well as stopping scope-creep as much as is possible.
  • The team can change often – Because internal projects do not bring in revenue, it is quite common for team members to be called away to more important client work. It can be quite difficult to keep the project on track as the remaining team members must adapt and cover the workload of the missing member, or bring a new one up to speed. There is not much you can do about the team changing. Your best option is to try and be the one selected for client work or, failing that, just try and make the best of it by networking with the new team members and accepting any new responsibilities. You can help prevent too much pain by making sure everyone documents what they are doing as they work through the project so if they get taken off the team there is something to hand over the their replacement. If all else fails, talk to the project manager and try to get them back for a day or two to do a proper hand over.

To sum up, internal projects can be a blessing or a curse. If you get to work on the right one, with the right people, at the right time, it can make you career. However, make sure you know where you stand as when they go wrong, they can make your life as a consultant a lot more difficult.

Photo by IMLS DCC

This article was written by: Mike

Mike is based in London as a Managing Consultant for Espion, a BSI professional services company. He covers a range of activities including overseeing organisational development within the UK & international markets, maintaining existing client relationships and developing business opportunities as well as defining and developing service driven strategy for the UK operating unit. He also occasionally does some pentesting.

Mike's website

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