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Managing Software Development: Internal vs. External Project Managers

We covered the pros and cons of using different server environment (company vs. remote) and discussed when outsourcing software development is a viable alternative for your company. We now would like to take the perspective of project management and tackle this question comprehensively:

“Should I work with an internal or remote person to manage software development?”

First thing first, it is essential to highlight that both types of project managers are ultimately necessary. Somebody in your organization will always need to be involved, even passively, in facilitating the work of a remote project manager, while a leader in the remote team is likely to act as the primary interface with other developers if you prefer one of your employees to be in charge. The real dilemma is thus to understand who should be given more technical control.

Internal Project ManagerExternal Project Manager
  • Broader network in the company
  • More leverage
  • Knowledgeable about the company culture and processes
  • No company onboarding required
  • Easier to focus on project
  • Away from company politics
  • Bring a fresh perspective
  • Specific expertise
  • Familiar with the remote software development team
  • Flexible solution for companies lacking resources for an internal project manager
Best when
  • Project is already at an advanced stage, and similar to, or interdependent with, prior or current undertakings.
  • Project is new, different and independent from prior or current undertakings.
Maximize success by
  • Allocating sufficient resources and time
  • Being endorsed by a senior manager

“Internal and external project managers bring along their respective set of benefits.”

An internal project manager will likely have an advantage at the beginning of a project for being familiar with how to get things done and knowing which buttons to push to convince relevant stakeholders inside the company. Besides, that person will have an extensive network to rely on, to facilitate cooperation between teams. However, an internal project manager might be too busy and might not be able to detach himself or herself from prior responsibilities easily.

An external project manager brings desirable attributes and expertise not currently available internally: experience in managing a remote team; a fresh perspective; flexibility for startups who often do not have the capacity to have their project management team, etc. Also, an outsider will be able to dedicate the necessary time to the project while remaining away from company politics.

“How close to completion is your project, and how does it relate to other projects?”

Context matters. If your project is at an advanced stage, you will probably prefer to give more control to an internal project manager. Hence, such an application development is certainly incorporating your company’s thinking, your organizational processes, and culture without you even realizing it. Similarly, if the project is closely related to prior undertakings, you can certainly rely on the know-how of an internal project manager. That is, of course, conditional to results being satisfactory.

In contrast, an external project manager is more suited for a project that starts from scratch and independent from other initiatives, for not being too influenced by what was done in the past, where an internal guy might just stick to the old ways of doing things.

“You need to maximize cooperation between the in-house and remote teams.”

To do so, you must anticipate the challenges related to both scenarios discussed. For instance, there is a risk that an internal project manager can’t get rid of old responsibilities and it is thus crucial for that person to allocate sufficient resources and time. An external project manager, on the other hand, may be dedicated to a project full-time, but lack the necessary network in an organization to influence relevant stakeholders and would benefit from an endorsement by a senior manager.

“Ultimately, you’ll need both”

Both internal and external project managers are part of the necessary team mix for successful software outsourcing. What is important to decide however, is who will be given more responsibilities to actively lead the project. As a rule of thumb, an internal project manager shall be in charge if the initiative is closely related to prior in-house undertakings or require the participation of many employees, whereas an external person is preferable when the outcome must be different from what was achieved in the past, or external expertise is required.

Download this white paper to learn more.

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