Closing Job Orders: Project Management 101

Apr 3, 2009

In the IT staffing world, project management is often a popular topic of discussion. Some of the key principles of effective project management include defining the customer requirements, project deliverables, timelines and milestones, and creating a communication plan.

To use the waterfall methodology, we don’t proceed to the next step or phase of the project until the current one is complete. These same principles apply to closing a job order or managing the sales cycle.

Let me explain.

Defining the Project Plan and Project Milestones

When you get a job order, the first step and your first obligation is to qualify the order and take a detailed statement of work from the customer. A job description is NOT a qualified job order. When capturing the requirement, you also need to set expectations with the client for the course of action that will follow from that moment forward.

Think of it as building your project plan. To do this, you need to uncover in finite detail exactly what steps and action items your customer will have to complete internally before he or she can hire your candidate and have them onsite working. This is your project plan framework.

Why must you do this?

First, because the steps and action items the client must complete (review resumes, schedule interviews, sign off on purchase orders, get other approvals, fill out job description for HR, etc) is the sales process. You need to understand the sales process in order to close business. You can’t expect to close business (with any consistency) unless you know these details and have a project plan. Additionally, you (and/or your recruiter) must also find out exactly what steps and action items your candidate will have to complete before they can accept an offer.

Having captured all of these steps and action items, you have now defined your project milestones. Each completed step represents a project milestone. The goal is to hit each milestone on time until we reach the delivery date-the day the consultant begins working.

To develop a timeline, I like to work backwards. For example, let’s assume the client says the project must be delivered by December 31, 2009, and to meet that deadline they need the consultant on-site working by April 20, 2009.

Today is April 3. When taking the job order, either on the phone or ideally face to face, walk your client through every project milestone you identified and find out from them exactly how long each milestone will take to be completed before you can move on to the next milestone. That timeline should map into the April 20, 2009 delivery date. Having assigned completion dates to each of these milestones, you now have your project plan.

At this point in the conversation, I like to replay this plan back to the client for them to reconfirm they are on board and committed to the plan. Gaining commitment from the customer is key and the goal is to get their agreement. You also want them to feel like it is their plan, not your plan. When it’s their plan, they take ownership of it. It’s real.

Here is a simplistic example of what you will wan to discuss with your client and get them to agree to.

Project Milestone —-  Delivery Date
Initial review of resumes —- April 5th
Feedback on resumes —- April 6th
Face to face interviews confirmed —- April 7th
Interviews concluded —- April 9th, 10th, 11th
Internal review & discussion of candidate interviews —- April 13th
Interview feedback provided to Dan (vendor) —- April 14th
Purchase order approved by Manager —- April 15th
Purchase order approved by VP of IT —- April 17
Purchase order approved by HR —- April 18

In this scenario, there are still many more milestones (at least in my world) that would be included and that would need to be completed before we can hit our end deliverable. Hopefully you get the idea. Going through this simple exercise, it’s easy to see how many steps your client has to go through in order to hire a contractor. It’s a lot of work on the part of the customer to hire an external consultant. Remember that.

Expect The Unexpected

Let’s be honest, projects typically don’t go 100% according to plan.

What happens if someone from the interview team is out sick for two days? How does that impact the interview and feedback schedule? How does that impact the delivery date? What is the customer’s contingency plan for that? Have they thought of it?

As the project manager, it is your job to be thinking at least two steps ahead of your customer. You need to be playing out all of the potential scenarios that could potentially jeopardize the project. The best way to do that is to play out the scenario with the customer and ask, “What will you do in this situation?”

Think of the things that are going to prevent you from closing the deal ahead of time. Let your customer tell you how they will handle it. This is your contingency plan.

Managing Expectations

In the staffing business, it’s all about managing expectations. Think about it. You are managing your own expectations in terms of what you expect to happen and when. You have to manage the expectations of the candidate and the client, not to mention the recruiters.

And oh yes, what about your manager? The ones who are always asking and wondering, when is that deal going to close? If your manager ever asks you a question about the sales process or the next step in the sales process and you don’t have definitive answer as to what is going to happen next, you are not doing a good job.

Put a project plan in place, manage to the milestones, and get your client on board, and you will be able to manage everyone’s expectations with supreme confidence. And you will put more people to work, too!

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