Project Management as a Service – Worth paying for?

As project management gains more acceptance as a dedicated profession, its value as a billable service becomes even more important for professional services organizations. Sometimes viewed as “a cost of doing business”, project management is a critical success factor in delivering products and services to external customers. More of the responsibility for delivering these products and services is shifting away from sales people onto professional, certified project managers, and the cost of providing these services places an even greater burden on the bottom line. The cost of not having a professional project manager lead the delivery of a product or service is often much higher in the form of a failed project.

Project management has gained almost universal acceptance within the internal IT and Finance shops of large organizations. It has also made significant inroads in other departments, such as Marketing and HR, where the realization that a professional approach to managing projects is preferable to the ad-hoc approach of assigning whoever is available to lead a project that has some free time.

When it comes to delivering products and services to external customers, some sales organizations are having difficulties justifying the additional expense to their customers. This is paradoxical since these same customers have internal PM functions and often understand the value of project management, but to hear the sales reps tell their side of the story, you would think that these customers expect the delivery of a product or service to “just happen” or to be managed by the sales rep.

The typical sales rep, while extremely skilled in many areas, may not always have the same level of proficiency in delivering projects as a trained, certified professional project manager. Assigning such a skilled resource to a project incurs a significant cost. That cost has to be borne by the customer, either as a separate labor line item in the bill of sale, or somehow included in the cost of the product or service being delivered. There is no such thing as “free” project management. Some professional services organizations would also like to make a profit selling project management as a service. Imagine that!

As a customer, I would be very concerned if I am not seeing a project management expense in the quote for a product or service being delivered to my organization. Who will lead the delivery? Will it be the sales rep? Will a project manager be assigned? What is the experience level of this project manager? Is he or she certified? Project Management is a critical success factor in the delivery of any product or service. The application of project management knowledge, tools and techniques to service delivery activities will help ensure the successful outcome of the project. Yes, that is a very valuable thing, and yes, it is worth paying for.

As a professional services organization, have I formalized my project management function? Do I have dedicated, trained, certified and experienced project managers? Do I have a product and or service delivery methodology that I can articulate to my customer to prove to them I have done this before, successfully, and I can do it again? Yes, this is a very valuable thing, and yes, it is worth billing for.

There are many similarities between project management performed as part of an internal corporate function and project management as a service. But there are also some key differences. Professional services organizations wanting to sell project management as a service need to focus on value added processes and activities, and invest time and resources on developing, maintaining and marketing a PM methodology that can be easily understood by customers and applied to projects. The traditional approaches to IT project management may prove to be not nimble or responsive enough for many paying customers.

If the expectation is that a customer will pay for project management services, the value of these services must be clearly articulated as part of the sales cycle. Traditional marketing concepts come into play here as with any other billable service. The customer needs to understand exactly what they are paying for, what they will be getting, and why project management is important enough that they need to pay for it. This last one needs to draw on the almost universal acceptance of the value of project management as a necessity for the successful delivery of projects. Draw on, but not solely rely on. A simple but robust methodology, a strong and fully staffed project management team, and an unwavering commitment by the sales management staff are also important factors in closing this sale.

Why I chose to become a project manager

The original title of this post was “Why I became a project manager”. But I noticed it implied happenstance. It just happened. And that is not true. I chose to become a project manager. Through many decisions along my career I always chose a path that kept me tied to this profession.

Why? Because I like to get things done. It’s as easy as that.

I’ve been involved in technology project management for over 20 years. I started at a time when this role was ill defined in the technology industry. Salespeople managed projects. Engineers managed projects. Product trainers managed projects. The concept of a dedicated, professional project manager was foreign to many people. But there were some who took up the cause. I admired them. Why? Because they got things done.

Project managers are a rare breed. We are often responsible for getting things done but are rarely given the authority or resources to do it right. We have to beg, borrow, and steal resources, and we have to lead. We have to deliver results. We have to communicate with everyone who has a stake in the project and keep them informed. We have to escalate issues, we have to manage scope, and we have to demonstrate an uncanny ability to negotiate, navigate the rough political waters, and drop the hammer when necessary while maintaining good relations with everyone.

It’s a tough job. Not everyone is cut out to be a project manager. You need superior organizational and communications skills, you need to be able to juggle multiple conflicting priorities, and you need to keep your cool under pressure. Your authority comes from your ability to lead others and convince them you’ve got what it takes to get the job done. It’s all about getting the job done.

Despite the challenges, project managers are driven by the need to complete their project on time and under budget. The satisfaction that comes from a post implementation review where everything went well is great, but rare. Something always goes awry. What separates a good project manager from a great one is how they handle change. A change in scope, a realized risk, or a change in environment that challenges the project. These are common. Project managers that rise to the occasion and steer their projects true are not.

I’ve had the privilege of witnessing great project managers throughout my career, and my desire to be like them drives me to constantly challenge myself, learn new skills, and strive to be the best project manager I can be. I’ve learned through the years that great project managers strive to deliver results to their key stakeholders. It is the pursuit of this greatness that fuels my desire to keep working at this, to keep getting better.

Project managers are truly special people, especially in a technology environment which requires a steady hand and leadership to ensure technology delivers clear business results. I am humbled and grateful for the opportunity to be in their company.