Interim assignments vary in scope and requirements, encompassing change management, ‘gap’ assignments, project management and turnaround management. The following stages of the ‘assignment lifecycle’ are typical of how interim managers enter into an assignment, reach and carry out the actual implementation, and finally exit the assignment. The assignment should include a plan for making resources available to meet the longer-term goals.
The early stages have much in common with consultancy, as do later stages with project management, but the accountability and responsibility that interim managers have for successful analysis and delivery of a fitting solution, is what makes these stages uniquely typical of the interim management approach.
1. Entry. The prospective client and Interim make initial contact and explore the requirement sufficiently for the client to be able to decide to engage the interim manager (or not) to address the situation. This is likely to involve a ‘preliminary’ assessment of what the client thinks they want and the scope of the interim manager’s contribution. It is also likely to involve a due diligence and interview process to make sure the interim manager is the right fit for the business. Typically the entry stage takes place over one or more initial meetings and results in the interim manager’s provisional engagement.
2. Diagnosis. The interim manager researches the current situation in order to understand it, how it came about, what are the requirements of the varying stakeholders. At this stage a more detailed understanding of ‘what the situation is’ is formed as well as approaches to address it. Differing issues or problems may come to light at this stage than initially highlighted by the client. On a ‘gap’ assignment this diagnosis may run concurrently with the handling of immediate issues. Typically the diagnosis stage takes a few days.
3. Proposal. The interim manager presents a more detailed proposal that serves as an interim assignment objectives and plan. If this differs significantly from the preliminary plans determined at ‘entry’, the solution may involve different requirements from the interim manager or possibly the ending of the assignment. It is common that this ‘proposal’ may challenge the client's understanding of the situation, on the basis of the interim manager’s expertise. The interim manager takes the responsibility to propose a solution most likely to be effective, not automatically the one originally requested. In the case of a ‘gap assignment’ such a proposal may simply outline how the interim manager is a ‘safe pair of hands’.
4. Implementation. The interim manager manages the intervention, project, or solution, tracking progress and conducts periodic feedback reviews with the client. During this stage, interim managers particularly exemplify their expertise, accountability and effectiveness. Depending on the assignment, they get as close to the situation as is necessary, whilst remaining an independent practitioner. They may manage teams and projects, deal with crises and changes, or simply ‘holding the fort'.
5. Exit. The interim manager, approaching project end, ensures that objectives have been met, that the client is satisfied. This stage may involve ‘knowledge handover and training’, determining and sourcing ‘business as usual’ successors, and ‘sharing lessons learnt’ in the process. The interim manager is focused on the success of the assignment and not simply the length of his/her own tenure, which means that this stage can be carried our professionally and objectively. Often this is the end of the interim manager/client relationship. Sometimes interim managers may continue to give occasional 'ad hoc' consultancy. Sometimes the interim manager is re-engaged on a follow-on or further assignment, starting the ‘lifecycle’ again.