Inarticulate ramblings of a management consultant

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

The project based organisation

Recently I’ve had a few conversations with colleagues around the ‘projectisation’ of corporations, an ugly but appropriate phrase to explain the next stage in corporate development. This is as a result of a blog which I published last week focusing on the perfect storm convergence of a disengaged and therefore unproductive workforce, an increasing pace of change and a significant uplift in complexity.

So, how to deal with this. Well, it won’t surprise you that I think the solution lies in the discipline and structures of programme and project management. What are the key aspects of this discipline which will help to deal with these new challenges? I can think of three but no doubt you’ll have others:

  1. The discretionary and discrete delivery based focus of a programme of work enables highly diverse (geographically, demographically, and functionally) teams to work together on a common goal. When performing at their best, teams form, execute and dissipate quickly and efficiently. There is built-in flexibility to counter the pace of change.
  2. From a cultural perspective, decisions are made at the point of knowledge..rather than always escalated as a result of a hierarchical structure. This creates a culture of personal accountability and responsibility which is attractive for more corporates. It also corresponds with the pace of change
  3. Risks are managed locally but also across programmes of work…the risk management processes in projects are proactive rather than reactive, risks tend to be viewed in a positive way which enables sensible and realistic mitigation and if that’s not possible, proper financial and business based planning. This starts to address the need for flexibility and the management of increased complexity. (As an aside whilst the risk management focus in most corporates has increased significantly in the last 10 years as a result of external challenges and in some cases, regulators, the tendency has been to centralise and therefore manage risks at an unrealistic level, ie one which uses too little applied information, and is often too influenced by legal as opposed to business based understanding)
  4. From a productivity perspective, the single purpose, potential for mastery and autonomy create an environment which generates high levels of engagement and productivity.

How will this change take place? Rather than think of a complex conversion of organisations through some process of change, the change will take place as what is currently peripheral becomes mainstream. This is important because that kind of wholesale change is extremely difficult and unlikely to succeed in an existing structure where there are so many vested interests.

Most corporates already have parts of their organisation that are project based. Their characteristics are often as follows:

  • They are newly formed or at least quite young.
  • The task that they are engaged in is singular…ie, they have been formed to deliver a single product or service
  • The latter is potentially disruptive and certainly challenging to the status quo of the rest of the organisation, hence their separation from the BAU part of the business.
  • Their population is often a voluntary one by which I mean that both the leadership and the employees have elected or asked to join.
  • There is a strong sense of purpose which unifies the organisation and creates a dynamic, change orientated and enthusiastic culture.

Over time, it is the proliferation of these little businesses under a corporate umbrella which will create the project based organisation.

What do you think? Have you seen this type of journey in your experience? Would love to hear from you.

Categories: Agile, C suite leadership, Complex transformation, Consulting, Disruptive Innovation, Functional Leadership, human behaviour, Methodology, Project Management, Strategy, Transformation

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3 replies

  1. Ben, yes let me respond. I would also need to be clear regarding your blog so I can properly interpret..

    So organisations can cope with this ‘perfect storm convergence’ the solution can be found through the ‘projectisation’ of organisations through disciplines and structures that project/program management has to offer. But rather for it to be a deliberate top-down approach to ‘projectise’ the organisation, you suggest it should emerge within little businesses under the corporate umbrella.

    It’s interesting because I’ve heard this line of thought, and frankly there’s not enough space here to cover it well. Largely because the notion of the corporation and the nature of work itself is changing. These are indeed weighty topics! But agree that project management is, and will become more so, a critical management philosophy and discipline in future years. I should also add that product management is also a critical management skillset. Something that doesn’t always get full recognition.


    • Hi Toby, thanks for your great comment…much appreciated. You’re right, it’s a huge subject and I’d like to explore it in a bit more detail…particularly perhaps looking at companies that are already on the journey. An obvious example which has been much quoted in the past is WL Gore…but I wonder whether there are others I might explore…any ideas?



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