The Role of the Project Management Consultant can be a complex one. The role has many different aspects and means different things in different organizations. So before we go further lets define, for the purposes of this article, what we at Daysha believe the role involves, and agree what we mean by Project, Project Management, and Consultant.
For me a project is simply a planned series of activities designed to solve a problem. There are many other definitions of projects but this seems to encompass the majority of what we do at Daysha Consulting.
Next, what is a Project Manager? This is probably the first place I diverge from the norm. I see a Project Manager as a Designer and Problem Solver. Huh!!? This might seem like a stretch too far…after all we simply want the project manager to ensure the project gets done – right? That might be the case for some projects (see sidebar), but for the majority of complex projects I believe more is required from project managers.
The types of projects I am talking about are what I call Change Projects (vs ‘Routine Production projects’). In a Change Project there is a great deal more problem solving involved. These projects, by their very nature, are unique. They are trying to implement some change that has never been done before with this particular organization or group of people. A unique solution must be designed. In fact I believe the project itself must be designed. We don’t often think of project managers as designers and we definitely don’t have an explicit phase called Project Design.
You might think design is traditionally the domain of the creative types that came from art college. But today the concept of Design is permeating all aspects of business. If you don’t believe me I encourage you to check out the Design + Thinking movie here.
So what do we mean by Designing a Project? For us the definition of design is simply “devising a course of action aimed at changing existing situations into preferred ones”. Indeed this could also define the purpose of any project. But in IT in particular, most projects = change. And each project is a unique mix of people. The change being implemented is unique. Ergo the optimal process to devise the solution and manage its implementation should also be unique.
But what about our current project management methodology and standards? Many will argue that having a rigorously applied standard = productivity and predictability. But this argument is not reflected in the statistics. Something needs to change!
My view is that when applying your project management processes you should pick and choose the techniques that apply, and be mindful of what is needed to achieve the project objectives. We should not be driven solely by the need to comply with standard operating procedures simply because they exist.
It is the job of the project manager to design his project by selecting those tools that will work best for the unique situation that is bounding the project. There is a little more to this than just selecting the tools. You have to bring all the stakeholders along with you and we will be discussing this in more detail in a later article – How to Design Projects to Succeed.
So if this is the job of the project manager, then what role does the project management consultant play? Some regard Consultant as another word for Contractor. I consider a Consultant a specialist. Whether I do business with them as a contractor or whether I directly employ them is really irrelevant. I think it’s somewhat analogous to Medical Consultants. These are specialists in their field. When you have a heart problem, you want to see a specialist and not a general practitioner. Similarly in project management, if you have a particularly challenging project or project management issue, you really want to employ the services of an experienced specialist.
So a Project Management Consultant is a specialist is delivering projects. They approach projects with a problem solving and design mind-set. They bring their years of experience, objectivity, and domain expertise. They provide leadership and impartial, objective advice. And whilst they are ‘hired guns’, a true professional will put his employer’s interests first.
There are some other benefits of Project Management Consultants, such as:
- Return on investment. Consultants add value by using their skills and expertise to help deliver an outcome, solution, service or mitigate risk that provides a meaningful ‘return on investment’ to a client.
- Speed. Since consultants are already experienced and trained they can be deployed rapidly – sometimes within days as opposed to weeks or months. Their experience means they can engage promptly with the situation, and can quickly become effective in the client organisation. Also, since they’ve been ‘around the block’, their experience allows them to complete assignments quickly. Their experience and expertise enables them to be productive and make a noticeable impact from the outset, maximising the likelihood of success.
- Expertise. Project Management Consultants typically come into an organization at a relatively senior level. They are expected to provide expertise and leadership. Indeed sometimes they might even be over-qualified for the roles they take on. They often bring skills and knowledge not otherwise in place, to address a specific skills gap or problem.
- Objectivity. Since they come from outside the client organization they are unencumbered by company politics or culture, and can provide a fresh perspective. That is not to say they ignore the politics or culture, but their independence allows them to concentrate on what’s best for the business. Being independent operators, they are able to contribute honestly without constituting a threat to the existing team.
- Accountability. Project Management Consultants are not simply advisors. They are also practitioners and will take responsibility for and manage a project or programme. They expect to be held accountable for results. Typically they derive job satisfaction from being instrumental in an assignment’s successful delivery. An experienced PM consultant gives clients the peace of mind that he/she has the project in hand.
- Effectiveness. Ideally, in order to be effective, a PM consultants will need to work well with senior management in the client company and also be granted some authority and credibility to effect significant change or transition within a company. Unlike a ‘temp’, they’re not just there to ‘hold the fort’. They actively add value to the client organisation as a result of their expertise and approach, even when the work and the decisions to be made are difficult.
- Commitment. PM consultants should maintain high professional standards. They rely on their reputation and know that future work relies upon referrals and a successful track record. So PM consultants have a stake in the success of the assignments that they undertake.
I hope this article has given you some insight into the Daysha view of the role of the project management consultants. Of course this is a somewhat idealistic viewpoint and we need to take into account the reality of the individual environments our consultants operate in. What do you think? Let us know in the comments below.