Inarticulate ramblings of a management consultant

the day to day experiences of a consultant operating in weird and wonderful client situations

Bringing project management into the mainstream

With thanks for an excellent seminar last night by Thomas Martin of Forward Intelligence Group and previously Microsoft, and also a reflection from a number of other clients and colleagues, I’ve been observing an interesting series of phenomena in the last few months.

  • A redrawing of some of the traditional boundaries between transformation and business as usual activities, specifically when it comes to allocation of CAPEX. It seems that there is a move to give investment responsibilities to the business as opposed to a separate transformation capability within the organisation. This reflects perhaps a couple of challenges which companies are facing, firstly one around resourcing where simply put, the amount of transformation activity has swamped capacity…what I’ve called ‘transformation constipation’. Secondly, it might also reflect the need to create a sense of ownership and accountability in the business unit where ultimately the new capability / product / territory / technology is going to reside.
  • A move to make organisations adopt some key project management skills on a broader basis. A former colleague of mine, Peter Brown, often remarked that good PM skills were basically good general management skills. Beyond that, I suspect that the attractive aspects of these disciplines rest around the ability to work across silos to clear deliverables where success or failure is easily identified and rewarded, there is well documented and demonstrated accountability, a focus in execution and the ability to form productive and highly motivated teams. Apparently this new approach has led to another piece of consulting speak, the ‘projectization’ of organisations which personally makes me cringe…note I’ve spelled it with a ‘z’ so as not to suggest any responsibility on my side of the pond / Atlantic (!)

I see some challenges with this approach which we should consider:

  • The institutionalisation of project management capability is extremely difficult and I can think of only a few examples where there has been some success with this approach, notably AXA. The challenge in my view is that good PMs occupy a position outside of the corporate structure, indeed their ability to operate outside of the boundaries of hierarchy and restrictive reporting lines to find and galvanise resources, get decisions made, work with diverse stakeholders is often the primary reason for their success. Whilst some might say that even for non project based activities, these skills are important, I would only suggest that that is at best uncomfortable for function owners and at worst something to be blocked at every turn.
  • From a cultural perspective, It also represents an enormous shift for organisations to encourage a project management culture. I suppose the key dimensions that would present the biggest challenge would be firstly decision making which is a mix of collaboration but also decisiveness and personal accountability, based on very specific circumstances and needs, and secondly a high level of autonomy where beyond the initial consideration of scope of work, deliverables and governance structure, there is an expectation that individuals take personal responsibility for their tasks, the need to coordinate with others with relation to dependencies and report openly and honestly re progress, issues, risks and challenges. Whilst I see the attractiveness of these cultural dimensions, they represent a significant shift for many organisations.

Thomas made some very interesting observations notably the increasing dependence globally on temporary or contract resources as the cost of full time employment rises and the perceived need for flexibility in large corporates becomes more paramount. It is very clear of me that as this trend continues, the restructuring of organisations into highly task orientated businesses where pockets of activity are clearly defined and are deliverable in comparative isolation will lead to the ‘p’ word! However the path there is very challenging and fraught with danger, and most importantly represents a new way of working from the most basic aspects of the nature of the workplace to the most complex aspects of strategic direction…all of which are major roadblocks for even the most enlightened of corporations.

Categories: Complex transformation, Consulting, Functional Leadership, human behaviour, Organisational design, Project Management, Transformation

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2 replies

  1. Ben, I may have said this before but I always enjoy your ‘ramblings’ or perhaps I should say ‘philosophical musings’.

    Project management I often see is an activity that works on the business rather than within the business. By necessity, it would sit outside the usual organisational hierarchies and operate on the objectives and tasks in a way that allows as much objectivity as possible.

    A project management culture is one I see based on authenticity. While authentic behaviour can be observed in small organisations, it doesn’t often scale well. But this will change as organisations change.

    As our global economy continues to evolve into a ‘digital economy’, the notion of what an organisation actually is will also change. Services normally normally performed within the organisation can more easily be outsourced. This will only increase leaving only a core nucleus where the specialist IP resides. For this reason, I think the project management function must rise to help organisations rearchitect their business to remain competitive in this new era. ….I’ll stop there as I think I’m ‘rambling’.




    • Great to hear from you Toby, and many thanks for your comments. The ‘rambling’ thing must be catching.

      Agreed completely re your last point in particular…the nature of crowd sourcing everything from financial, analytical and implementation work will start to impact on organisations more and more, either as they continue to try and downsize their fixed cost base…or they recognise the new reality. Managing and controlling these various external activities however is going to be an interesting and complex project management challenge!


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