When the IR35 train pulls in!

(written and posted prior to lock-down & IR35 reversal)

I’m just going to ‘call it’ right now and say I really didn’t see this coming! I mean I knew the IR35 liability shift was coming to the private sector and I had planned for that making sure we were watertight to demonstrate how and why projects were outside of IR35 of course. But who knew that so many businesses were going to make these ‘policy decisions’ (not to be confused with blanket decisions, which is what HMRC is advising against!) not to use PSC’s or Limited Company Contractors?

I’ve written about it a lot and it’s not that exciting a subject so let’s not go into the technicalities of what IR35 is – because what it is technically bears no relation to how many businesses are reacting – its absolute pandemonium!

Don’t get me wrong, I’m not being flippant about IR35 here – because it’s a real issue and a real concern for pretty much all the contractors I am supporting, but its not an issue because of what it is, it’s an issue because of how companies are reacting.

So, when the market reacts so adversely what can you do?  You change! You change and you adapt!

I still believe that the majority of the big corporates – typically the big banks, law firms and more risk averse sectors – are being short sighted and will have to reverse these decisions for the sake of keeping their programmes and projects on track, but for now let’s be clear on what options are available for hiring managers and contractors:

If you must go INSIDE IR35 The Project Bench can offer:

For all contracts OUTSIDE IR35 The Project Bench can offer:

Wherever I can I am encouraging all businesses to take reasonable care to make correct determinations about the type of contractor they need but I accept that neither myself, the contractor or the end client (hiring manager) can always influence that – so whilst we need them, here are your options!

To discuss any of these options in more detail and how The Project Bench can help you please contact anna@theprojectbench.co.uk or call 0333 123 2823







How connected are you really?

(written and posted prior to lock-down)

As we enter an unprecedented era of uncertainty about our very being and social freedom (well in the short term anyway), one thing that has come up in the meetings I’ve been to this week (that haven’t been cancelled) is how ill-prepared a lot of businesses are for the whole workforce working remotely.

I have spoken to global businesses this week who have been testing the entire business on the VPN network for the first time to see how that would hold up, as well as businesses who still think that working from home is a bit a of a ‘let off’ and are willing to accept that productivity will drop off as a consequence – despite having the sophisticated tech to support remote working.

To make one thing really clear here, I am not trying to capitalise and see the opportunity in a dire situation, my first thought is that I hope and pray for us all that we all stay fit and well and my heart goes out to anyone struggling themselves or with more vulnerable loved ones.  I am, however, completely, unashamedly, trying to ask businesses how ready they are for what will be a fundamental shift in how we work.  The shift itself is a good thing and if we are forced to implement / encourage more remote working at a quicker rate than we were planning, then that’s good for people and their flexibility and good for our carbon footprint and a bit of a silver lining!

The Project Bench recognises that the whole contract market has been hit hard by policy decisions on IR35 but the impact on business from the covid-19 pandemic demonstrates rather starkly why businesses need to buy in short term expertise to make step changes to how they operate.

Remote working and being connected relies on three distinct streams:

If any of these are not geared up to supporting a more remote way of working, then you are on shaky territory and each one is equally as important as the next.

If you have the system capability/IT infrastructure for people to work from home but people just don’t get it, it’s not the ‘done’ thing to work from home, or, its still seen as a privilege then of course you will have decreased productivity from your workforce.

If you have the right trusting culture and IT capability but no controls and governance such as long-lived habits of being less connected and communicative when working remotely then, despite good intention, you will end up with missed / duplicated or disconnected outcomes.

Finally, and probably most urgently, if your network / IT infrastructure isn’t scalable to support a remote workforce both in terms of functionality and security this needs urgent investment and must be supported by people and process changes too.

Here are just some of the consultants on The Project Bench that you may benefit from:

To speak to me about any of the talent on The Project Bench that could help move your business forward please email anna@theprojectbench.co.uk or call 0333 123 2823

The year that changed my life!

Wow where has the last 12 months gone?  I cannot believe The Project Bench is about to celebrate its first year in business.  Reflecting on the last year makes me feel proud on the one hand of how much I have achieved in a year, I have completely transformed my life in just 12 months.  Yet on the other hand, I need to keep coming back to the plan and pushing forward to achieve the scale I set out to achieve…. or do I?

“It’s not a lifestyle business!”

A year ago, it was suggested that I was starting a ‘lifestyle business’ – to me that was not my plan at all.  To me the term ‘lifestyle business’ conjures the image of keeping your ‘hand in’ with work, whist not being entirely dedicated to the cause.  A business that ‘fits in’ with one’s home life, not one to be taken too seriously, but a business to be admired in prioritising what’s most important in life. I know lots of people who have lifestyle business – they don’t need to work; they’re typically retired from their ‘careers’ and no person or lifestyle would be affected if they worked or not.

So, I set out with a quiet confidence and an attitude of I’ll show ‘em! 😊 I was absolutely determined to make The Project Bench a well renowned recruitment business – which I would scale and invest in quickly.  I would take the first year to prove myself and get some capital behind the business, demonstrate to the banks that I was able to secure clients and business only normally associated with bigger more tenured businesses and then take The Project Bench to the next level – employing more people, and getting city centre premises.

It’s been an amazing year!

In year one, I’ve won business that I wouldn’t have expected to have won, invested in to the right tech to future proof the business, got the financial backing I needed, joined a trade body, got legal support, outsourced my back office support – I’ve done everything I intended to do by this point (quick check back on the trello board) and I’m exceeding my financial projections.

I’ve stuck to my plan of building a business that is about the authenticity of different people, their different skills, and strengths their personalities, their desires and matching that to the business leaders in my network who will benefit from their experience and help move them on to the next level. Everyone on The Project Bench is interviewed and fully qualified.  And its turns out, I was right – that’s what’s missing in the market.  When businesses need some external support with project recruitment, they don’t need a resourcer – they need proven professionals with knowledge of the market, long standing networks and demonstrable successes.

So, what’s it all about, a year in?

I work hard, I am dedicated to the people I represent, and I know the impact I have on people’s lives so, that part, I take very seriously.  I love what I do, and the people I meet, and I have a great time. I now spend far more time with my family, I work how and when I want to work and now really understand the meaning of flexible working and I have never been happier!

Proudest moment?

Reading a simple line in a school textbook, written by my 11-year-old son which said: “My Mum has started her own business and its going great!”

So, is it a ‘lifestyle business’?  You’re damn right 😊  Who knows what the future holds but right now I am grateful every day for what I have and what I’ve achieved!


Hold tight, close your eyes and jump!

I am super proud to launch my new business The Project Bench!  After all these years I’ve finally found the nerve to go it alone!  I can’t pinpoint the moment I knew the time was right – turning 40 maybe, the kids growing up, the sudden loss of my Dad, the need for something more – perhaps it was a combination of all of these, who knows? It certainly wasn’t an easy decision because I wasn’t miserable in the job I was doing, but I knew in my heart of hearts professionally I needed to challenge myself.  Like a friend said to me recently, “the timing will never be perfect and sometimes you just have to hold tight, close your eyes and jump”.

The Project Bench was born out of a desire to provide a dependable, dynamic business that is a ‘go to’ for interim / contracting recruitment. My slogan says it all: ‘The Project Bench is reserved for impactful players who can make a difference to the interim market and start to set the record straight on what a professional interim can deliver’.

My journey so far….

I have spent the best part of September (when I haven’t been dealing with IT challenges – what I don’t know about ‘port clamping, fixed IP’s and VPN’s isn’t worth knowing!) meeting, qualifying, and advising some fantastic professional interims – all of whom are now on, or soon to be on, The Project Bench!  This truly is my favourite part – meeting people. I purposely haven’t done a scratch of business development yet because without qualifying which skills are in demand and who’s available – it’s pointless, I’d end up over committing and under delivering – and we wouldn’t expect that from a recruiter would we? 😉

What its like out there?

As I strongly suspected, professional interims are more in demand than ever, driven by all sorts of pressures: time, resources, the level of uncertainty of our future economic state, costs and then of course the need for a short-term expert to deliver on a project.  The interim market place is still confused and difficult to navigate but the good news is there is some exceptional project talent and some decent demand to match.  I won’t spend too much time on the technical stuff because they’ll be plenty of that to come but briefly the skills I can see are in demand in the project world are:

Process Improvement / LEAN Six Sigma experts

Business Analysts

Programme Leads / Directors

Project Managers

Transformation PM’s

System Implementation Leads – particularly SAP, Dynamics and Workday


I know who the best project / interim professionals are and when they’re be available – I now just need to let people know about them!

So this is me – this is my business, the future is exciting – bring it on!


I’d like to say a special thank you to everybody that’s helped me so far – you’ve been amazing – Lianne Butterfield, Kerrie Thackeray, Jane Wood, Jo Banks and the guy at UKFast who, despite it not being a server issue nor me even being a customer of theirs, called me back with some technical advice just to help me out! Thank you!

Why we can’t see the wood for the trees in the North!

For as long as I can remember we (agencies, interims and businesses) have been talking about the North of England interim and project market being completely flat! There simply aren’t any day rates needs and businesses are only interested in hiring people on a fixed-term contract or permanent basis.  Businesses want to grow stable teams, invest into the long term and, let’s face it, day rate interims are way too expensive! Right?


There’s so much expansion, movement and change in the North that for most businesses, investment into the right talent (and that means the right interims) is crucial to achieving their business goals. You simply do not need to hire a permanent candidate to deliver a change programme – you need qualified, assessed, expert project professionals: “INTERIMS”.

And that’s what’s happening. Interims ARE being utilised – but just not in the guise that we might think. Many businesses rely on the big 4 consultancies to deliver their key programmes and projects, or they source in London-based interims or contractors because of the perceived lack of good interim talent up here.

The problem

So, what’s the problem?  This is 2018, the UK market is nationally and internationally accessible, and programmes are getting delivered, aren’t they?

The first problem is we are paying through the nose to use the comfort of the consultancies (and apparently mitigating risk) but are often left with a glossy recommendation but little tactical support to deliver this into the business. Put simply, businesses get an off-the-shelf package with no regard for any cultural/communication nuances that enable it to be embedded effectively.

Secondly, most of the North’s best interim talent is heading to London to seek better prospects there. That’s frustrating when we clearly have the needs and could be supporting them here.

So what’s been going on up here and why is the perception of the interim market up North so out of kilter with the rest of the UK? And why are we still looking to use less experienced consultants from the big 4 or London when we have some amazing talent right here on our doorstep?

Blurred perceptions

In my opinion, the North is still under developed in how we operate and support the interim market. Over the years what is ‘interim’ has become completely blurred – for a whole host of reasons:

The solution

So what can we do about it? Good professional interims are expensive but when used in the right way, they deliver excellent value for money. Their expertise helps businesses deliver faster, more effectively and in the best position to grow and succeed with their permanent staff.

Finding an interim isn’t as simple as browsing LinkedIn for a LEAN expert, a People Transformation Lead, a Project Manager, or a System Implementation Specialist… you need to partner with a recruitment business with a robust assessment process and that knows how to spot the chancers from the experts. It takes time (many years, in fact!), expertise and effort to meet all of the available interims, and speak to their references to understand what they delivered as opposed to those that were just on the ride.

Understanding your needs/Supporting your business

We’re building a recruitment business called ‘The Project Bench’ dedicated to supporting the professional interim market. Every single person on the bench is fully assessed around their project strengths. We probe around the key deliverables and the ‘so what’s’ until we know their personal impact. Then we carry out in-depth references. The Project Bench is reserved for the impactful players who can make a difference to the interim market and start to set the record straight on what a professional interim can deliver.

For more information on how The Project Bench can support your business, contact info@theprojectbench.co.uk or call 07951 271 405 for a no obligation discussion.

Have you got what it takes to be a professional interim?

An interim career path should not be a route taken lightly. It’s often a case of “feast or famine” and so the uncertainty of this career choice can put a lot of people off. However, if you are right for it and it is right for you, the interim career path can be incredibly rewarding both financially and intellectually.

Why would businesses choose to hire an interim as opposed to a permanent candidate?

Therefore, good interims need to be:

What interims are not:

To uncover the professional interim market, you need access to the right network, and to be promoting your skills and attributes in the right way. To arrange a confidential discussion as to whether this could be the right choice for you or to further expand your interim network, please email: info@theprojectbench.co.uk or call 07951 271405.

The Project Bench is reserved for  impactful players who can make a difference to the interim market and start to set the record straight on what a professional interim can deliver.

North West Names On Tech Track 100

A software development, a price comparison site and a peer-to-peer lender are among the North West companies to appear on the latest Sunday Times Hiscox Tech Track 100 league table.

Read Full Article

It turns out you can take a horse to water and get it to drink…

I’ve just met a truly inspiring Process Excellence / LEAN / Six Sigma expert who made some sound points so thought I’d capture a few of them in a blog whilst they were fresh in my mind.

The difference between ‘change’ and ‘transformation’  is people!

For any Programme or Project to succeed your project / programme directors need to do three things:

But without contribution, ownership and engagement from the people already in the business these changes won’t stick.

Sadly, I have seen big programmes fail, time and time again, whether it be a system implementation, or a people or process change! Time, Money (£m’s) and effort invested only for the project to potentially be delivered on time but be the wrong iteration of the system, process or structure for that business.  One simple reason – the people!

Project Managers and Directors should not be judged on their ability to land a solution but on how well that solution is received, understood and embedded into the business.

Last year a large successful professional business implemented an exciting company-wide change that was 100% backed by the executive board, well-funded, and lead by a renowned consultancy business. It had all the right elements to succeed. The consultancy business made its recommendations on the right solution for the business, the board and SLT were fully engaged and digging deep to get the right change in. They brought in professional interims to deliver the changes and conduct more technical roles – all in all a best-in-class team. Fast forward 18 months and the programme was delivered – against the odds it was on time, almost on budget – and was a massive ……DISASTER!


Because the whole team that was hired in to make this change for the business had forgotten one major factor – THE PEOPLE!  The mechanics of any business is its people!  Not just the Exec and the SLT and a few reluctant employees who had been ‘seconded’ to work on this project and told what to do.  A major change programme needs a multi-functional, multi-cultural intricate mix of people that really understand the impact of the change to the business. Whether you’re running the programme or just contributing to the delivery – you can’t apply a one size fits all approach to change.

The people in the business need to shape the change.  Yes, a PM needs to understand the symptoms, yes, they need to validate and qualify and yes, they need to direct and deliver the change – but it should never predetermine ‘how’ that is shaped and ‘how’ that is delivered before they have taken their lead from the people in the business.

As the gent I met this afternoon said to me – technically he knows his onions – he’s been leading business excellence programmes for well over a decade – there’s not a lot more he can learn about process improvement and process excellence.  But, what he never professes to know, is what is right for any business, nor will he be drawn on it – only the people within will know that.  His skill is helping them get to that and then deliver it.

That brings me on to his second point that resonated with me…he said that he heard on several occasions board members blaming the people and the culture for not embedding or embracing change, to coin the phrase – ‘you can take a horse to water, but you can’t make it drink’

His philosophy on this was that if the objective is to get the horse to drink – why not leave the water with the horse and let the horse decide how they drink the water! 

The trap that a lot of consultants / contractors and interims fall into is that they think that they need to provide all the answers and so come to a project with the solution already determined. When in fact any complex change programme requires a layered working-group made up of diverse skill-sets, different pay graded individuals, applicable to all the different work-streams, prepared to contribute to the ‘how’.

Simple stuff – rarely executed well though.

Anna Chenery, September 2018

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