Project managers are critical to complex business processes. They can help improve workflows, save money and time, keep deliverables on track, and coordinate teams around the globe. Whether they’re guiding products for a mobile app development company, an advertising agency, or a tech company with distributed development teams, project managers can take a lot of the guesswork out of how things get done.
If you’re about to embark on a big project that you think could use some guidance from an experienced project manager, you might be wondering what it will cost you. That will depend on the complexity of your project and what specific expertise you’ll want your project manager to have.
In this article, we’ll look at those and a few other cost factors to consider when drafting a project description and reviewing proposals from potential project managers.
Project managers at a glance
As projects gain more steps, components, and team members, project managers become increasingly important to keep everything running smoothly. They can help you budget, estimate timelines, and gather all the appropriate resources and talent you need. Then they can corral those professionals, ensuring everyone adheres to the timelines and milestones, keeping an eye on the budgets and the calendars to ensure you stay on track.
All project managers follow certain strategic principles. During the course of a project, a PM will take part in
- Defining the business goals, using the SMART paradigm (specific, measurable, ambitious, realistic, time-bound)
- Keeping stakeholders in the loop
- Structuring the project and steps
- Maintaining transparency about the progress
- Assessing risks and creating strategies to address them
- Managing any roadblocks along the way
They help answer the question “What do I need to do to accomplish this goal?” and then ensure you get it done.
First step: Define your project management needs
Before project managers can go about planning and estimating, they need a clear idea of your goals. They also need to know as much as possible about your company, assets, resources, talent, and mission.
The key here is writing a clear, detailed project description that project managers can review to decide if their skills and experience are a good match. Veteran project managers can likely assess your project scope and give you a quick estimate of what to expect from them and a reasonable timeline, but the more information you provide, the more accurate their proposals will be.
Cost Factor #1: Project scope
If you already wrote your project description, good news: You’ve tackled the first major cost factor by beginning to identify the overall scope and complexity of the project. This can be more of a budgeting factor for project management than for other roles for a couple of reasons. First, the more moving parts you have, the more of a project manager’s time you’ll need to keep them all on track. Second, the more complex a project, the more likely it is that risks and roadblocks will derail progress, which will mean you’ll need the project manager’s expertise more frequently to step in and resolve issues.
Also, not all projects are created equal. A complex software development project might require a project manager to be heavily involved in the day-to-day, while other projects might only require him or her to periodically check in and submit milestones. This is another reason to include in your scope everything a PM might need, such as an org chart of everyone on the team who will be involved and any hard-and-fast deadlines.
Time is another variable to consider, and one you can likely look to your project manager to help you determine.
Cost Factor #2: Experience and expertise
Project management can be as complicated as the projects themselves. What you want to look for first and foremost is experience related to projects like yours and someone familiar with your industry who can step in and take the wheel without having to learn the lingo.
Choosing the appropriate level of expertise is important. Say your project is for an iOS app. You wouldn’t need a senior-level project manager to help with a bug fix and App Store resubmission. Hiring a less experienced PM who can manage the workflow and coordinate team members for a lower rate will get the job done and save you a lot of money. But if you’re starting an app from scratch, you’ll want someone who knows when and how each component fits together, from UX and UI design to coding and testing. Likewise, if you’re an advertising agency that needs someone to handle a project from launch to the final legal review, you probably don’t want a first-timer.
Other specialized experience might come into play as well. For example, if you’re using agile or waterfall processes, it’s crucial the project manager knows the methodology. Also, you want to make sure you specify any project management tools or apps your team uses to track projects, whether it’s Asana or Basecamp.
The following table breaks down the rates of project managers you can find on Upwork.
Typical Rates Charged by Project Managers*
|Level of Project Manager||Description||Average Hourly Rate|
|Basic||PM fundamentals: soft skills (Leadership, Cost/Task/Risk MGMT, Writing, etc.), Microsoft Office Suite, Google Docs, at least one PM tool like Asana, Jira, or Trello, and basic industry-specific experience.||30-60$+|
|Intermediate – Advanced||Beyond fundamentals, 2+ years of industry-specific experience. Working knowledge of PM methodologies (e.g. Agile) and frameworks (e.g. Scrum). Proven track record for obtaining key industry-specific metrics (e.g. boosting conversions)||60-100$+|
|Certified PM Practitioners||Advanced PMs who have one or more certifications in education, industry, or PM. Examples of PM certifications include: Certified Scrum Master (CSM), Project Management Professional (PMP), Six Sigma, Agile Certified Practitioner (PMI-ACP), etc.||100-150$+|
*Reflects rates charged by freelancers on Upwork in North America with more than 1,000 hours and 90% success rate.
Tip: Experience isn’t everything when it comes to project management. Interpersonal skills and good leadership abilities are crucial for helping your team rise to the occasion.
Cost Factor #3: Certifications
There are plenty of project management training programs that might indicate a higher level of experience or commitment to the profession. Certifications cover everything from entry-level expertise to specialization in multiple, concurrent projects, risk assessment, and scheduling. Project managers with certain certifications are likely to command a higher rate—and be a bigger part of your budget. For some projects, a high level of certification might be essential.
Say your organization is shifting one team at a time to the Agile workflow methodology and you need a PM who is able to not only manage a project but also help train a team on the process. In this instance, you might need a Certified ScrumMaster® to ensure both that the project goes smoothly and that the principles of the methodology are being properly conveyed and adhered to.
Note that when you’re engaging project managers overseas, there are often different international certifications and programs.
Cost Factor #4: Location of talent
Location is another variable that can impact a freelance project manager’s cost. A big advantage to working with freelancers on Upwork is the access to a talent pool that spans the globe. This can mean leveraging different costs of living around the world to get yourself a better deal on a skilled freelancer.