It’s time to ask the big project management question: a centralized operations team or an ad-hoc federation of project managers?
The quandary that modernist theorists battled to answer for more than a century comes to a head as we try to understand the efficiency of centralized planning vs. the need-knowledge of self-management. While letting each team just get on with it may sound like the easier option, a Mad Max-style world in which each PM is battling for their own resources may not be the best idea in the long run. On the other hand, if you start centralizing, you run the risk of creating a removed-from-reality ops team that doesn’t know the individual employees or their needs.
So what do you do in this battle of dystopias? Are centralized operations teams necessary, or should solo project managers be let loose into the Thunderdome? Let’s look at the pros and cons of a centralized operations team vs. project managers.
Every Project Manager for Themselves
Probably the biggest benefit of project managers having control over the distribution and scheduling of employees is that these are the people who best know what they need. Project managers should have a very firm grasp on every aspect of a specific project and thus know what and who is needed and when.
Another benefit of getting project managers to schedule staff is that they tend to be closer to the rest of their peers than centralized operations teams generally will be. They should know each individual’s strengths, weaknesses, and character, and will therefore be in a position to pair people up for the most cohesive team possible.
Without almost unachievable communication, there will be clashes in staffing and schedules when more than one project manager needs the same employee (everybody demands a design at the same time and suddenly everything falls apart). This is less of an issue in small companies, but as you grow it may become increasingly problematic. Solving this early on by having a centralized operations team could stop problems appearing further down the line and ensure your business is able to scale.
Centralized Operations Teams
When your company has a dedicated centralized operations team, they are able to step back and see the bigger picture. While project managers are focused on their specific needs, an operations team can look beyond this to see the needs of each individual project and the company as a whole. This should make for a better functioning company overall, since the whole firm, rather than just one team, will move with greater cohesion.
This is also beneficial on the other side of the table, since giving the big-picture view to an ops team frees up project managers to focus on more specific goals – getting a project finished, for example. They will no longer need to worry about the whole business, and thus push forward their own tasks with greater gusto. This also gives PMs the freedom to voice independent views, since they can do so without worrying about general operations.
This big-picture view that an operations team will have also makes it easier to know when to allocate resources and when not to. Every project manager may want to bring an expensive freelancer on board, and when working independently they may well do that. A centralized team can note that doing so could seriously negatively impact overall cashflow and come up with a more realistic solution.
Furthermore, a centralized operations team means consistency and standardization across all projects. Instead of a wild west of requests from different project managers, all employees know what to expect regardless of the project they’re working on. This not only helps project managers, but also individual creative employees, since they won’t have to change their working style as much as they move from one project to another.
Additionally, a centralized operations team will hopefully stop fights breaking out in the corridors of your business. Project managers will no longer have to resort to fisticuffs over double-booked team members and stolen ideas, since everything will be well allocated and efficiently managed from the centralized ops.
As your company scales, a centralized operations team will need extremely robust project management software that every employee finds easy to use in order to efficiently track time of employees, their various projects, and how these connect to clients. A comprehensive solution such as Productive is a good choice, so long as all team members are trained to be able to deliver the best results. This allows an ops team to plan every employees time in a easy to digest yet powerful visual format as well as assigning specific projects to them, so nobody loses track. Furthermore, the centralized scheduling automatically becomes a time-tracking suggestion for your team members, so they’ll never be out of the loop.
There is the possibility of accidentally creating some kind of panopticon nightmare whereby everyone is under the control of an ops team they don’t really know – especially if your team is remote. This can be countered by opening strong, transparent lines of communication and ensuring every team member feels empowered to explain their needs, strengths, and weaknesses. And, of course, making sure the operations team takes this into consideration.
So: centralized operations team vs. project managers… What’s the best option? Both have pros and cons, and chances are your agency will end up with a mishmash of various ideas. However, it seems considerably better, especially when thinking about scale, to get an efficient centralized operations team in place and then overcome the potential problems with tech solutions and good management practices. Afterall, it’s better to have a healthy, functioning company than one full of battling team members – nobody wants to see Kevin the Project Manager decked out in a leather jacket and face mask.