T&M vs. Managed Work

May 12, 2022
Kate Walton

Hello from Steyer!

In the previous installment of Workings, I defined some key terms of art: unicorns, bluebirds, and silver dragons. Today I want to explain two more important terms: “T&M” vs. “Managed Work.”

T&M Engagements
“T&M” stands for “Time & Materials” and, unlike “silver dragons,” it’s not a term that Steyer created. “T&M” is used far and wide and refers to any business engagement that is billed on the basis of hours worked (time) and legitimate expenses incurred (“materials”). In the content world, T&M engagements are often referred to as “contract engagements” or even more simply, as “contracting.”

About 60% of Steyer’s business involves finding, staffing, and supporting T&M engagements. Here’s how it works:

  • Our business development people find a client who wants to attach a contractor to their team to create some extra capacity for a period of time.
  • Our recruiters identify (we hope!) the exact right talent for the job.
  • Once we have a client offer and candidate acceptance, that talent (a “consultant” in Steyer’s lingo) joins the ranks of Steyer’s beloved COB (COB = Consultants on Billing).
  • Our clients are billed for COB work based on an hourly bill rate, and the consultant is paid based on an hourly pay rate. The spread, as discussed here, has to: a) cover the consultant’s benefits, taxes, and equipment b) make a contribution to the costs of running Steyer’s back office and c) generate a profit.

For consultants, the main attractions of T&M—or contract—engagements include:

  • The chance to produce good (portfolio-building) content—without the politics and ancillary duties that can often accompany permanent positions.
  • The opportunity to check one’s fit with a new company, team, or area of focus—before committing to a permanent position. (Important: there is no guarantee that a contract role at a client company will turn into a “perm” role at that company—and in fact conversions are relatively rare—but there’s still no question that the work samples and references that a successful contract can yield are useful to people who then choose to pursue perm roles (also called “staff” roles or “FTE” positions).


Managed Work Engagements
Whereas T&M engagements involve providing our clients with a person (a content professional of some kind), managed work engagements, which comprise about 40% of our business, involve providing our clients with the content itself, i.e. a distinct set of deliverables. Here’s how that works:

  • Our business development people find a client who needs content of some kind, but doesn’t have the bandwidth to manage the process themselves.
  • In this case, we’ll have one of our Content Strategists a) scope and price the project and b) identify the right PM (Project Manager).
  • After that, our recruiters send potential candidates for the project team to the Steyer Project Manager, who assembles the right crew for the tasks ahead.
  • Managed work engagements typically have a fixed price per deliverable—so accurate scoping/pricing is key to managing business risk. Steyer consultants working on managed projects are most often paid hourly, though we are keen, more and more, to experiment with deliverables-based payments to talent, if and when the talent is open to such an arrangement. (It’s tricky: people who work fast love the idea. People who do good work but need more time tend to hate it. And all sane/seasoned content professionals want at least some hours-based protection from scope creep, endless review cycles, and other occupational hazards.)

For consultants, the main attractions of managed work engagements include:

  • Relief from the “term limits” that exist on most contract roles at enterprise tech firms. For reasons I’ll attempt to explain in another post, most contractors have to take a six-month “break” after working on the same contract for 18 months. Managed work engagements are not subject to these same constraints. Some of our managed work consultants have worked continuously for Steyer for years.
  • The chance to be more deeply immersed in Steyer’s culture (which we work hard to make a healthy one) vs. floating between Steyer and one’s client team ... as is the case on even the most wonderful contract engagements.

Okay, that was a lot. I’ll stop there—and stand by to be corrected. Those of you who’ve done both: what do you see as the respective advantages of these two types of engagements? And what would you flag to newcomers as the downsides? As always, I hope to hear from you (email kwalton@steyer.net) and I promise to share what I learn!


Photo by Malvestida on Unsplash