Benefits of Project Management Secondments

Kester McMorris
Seconding project managers into client organisations comes with challenges to the project manager, the delivery organisation and the client, I share my experience on how to get the best out of a project management secondment.

Often clients planned construction works face a problem – how to resource what might well be a temporary requirement whilst the works are undertaken? Especially where a role – or roles – might be full time.

Since joining Faithful+Gould over eleven years ago, I have spent over the majority of my career on full time secondments

Do you employ someone in a directly appointed role – with the knowledge that as their role comes to an end they will start to look for alternative opportunities? If you employ someone on that basis, what if they turn out not to have the skills or temperament your team and project need?

Or do you seek to fill this with a traditional consulting model where consultants are appointed on a project basis, but again by virtue of the nature of their appointment are not necessarily based in the client offices? Or do you approach Faithful+Gould regarding providing a secondment service?

Since joining Faithful+Gould over eleven years ago, I have spent over the majority of my career on full time secondments, embedded in clients offices and teams delivering a range of different projects. These have ranged from being part of the client to working within a larger Faithful+Gould team collectively working from the client’s office.

The Benefits

It is my view that this way of client and consultant engagement is potentially one that is under-utilised and brings a number of benefits (and pitfalls) to all parties.

  • Availability - A secondment sees someone embedded within your offices and dedicated to your projects – it minimises the risk of when an urgent issue arises staff being unavailable due to their other commitments.
  • Greater project awareness - From my experience to truly understand a project and achieve most benefit for it, nothing can beat working alongside the client team – understanding directly their concerns and requirements and being able to feed directly into solutions. Often the important breakthroughs can come not in the formal meetings but in the ad-hoc discussions working closely together brings.
  • Embedded expert knowledge – I have found especially where clients primary focus is not construction, a secondment can be a great assistance – having knowledge ‘on tap’ to assist in decision making with in the office can greatly assist in moving a project forwards.
  • Not just the secondee….. Unlike the model of the permanent appointment, with a secondee there are additional benefits – for example access to colleagues in Faithful+Gould and the wider Group. So the secondee can tap into other knowledge bases if required.

There are also other benefits here to be looked at – for example easier holiday or sickness cover if required, with greater knowledge transfer. Or the fact that a secondee from a company rather than an individual allows – if necessary - for changes to be made whilst continuity of work can be maintained.

The Pitfalls

Obviously with the correct secondee there are none! In reality secondment can be a challenging role for both the client and consultant – my experience has shown a number of factors need to be considered. 

  • Access to systems – physical presence in the office is one thing, but how much of your data on the project is kept on your systems, and then shared via email? This can lead to duplication of file and potentially issues with version control unless a document management system is in place and enforced. Alternatively, in my view a secondment works best when you allow the secondee to have access to your systems so that their contribution can be best co-ordinated with your own work.
  • The existing team – have you considered the existing team and their view on a secondment? I would say personality of the secondee is likely to be a big factor, however also being sure everyone knows the role is equally as important. Cultural fit is also a key factor here – will the chosen secondee gel with the rest of the team? Often these elements can be just as important as the knowledge and experience they can bring to the team. 
  • Detachment from the parent company  - it’s important however well the secondee fits into your team and works with them they still maintain contact with their parent company. That is both to maintain the access to knowledge I spoke of earlier, but also to ensure that the secondee still feels part of the team they ultimately belong to.
  • The workload – do you have the workload for a fulltime secondee? I’d suggest this may mean thinking outside the box – maybe looking at more than one project for the same role rather than having a separate PM for each. This produces another benefit across a number of projects, as your secondee builds up a better knowledge of how your processes and systems work they can use that across multiple projects.

So all in all, is a secondment a way to move forwards on your project? If you consider the factors above I think it would give you a good start to considering this, and the potential rewards to be gained from a different approach.

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