When companies identify a capability gap in one of their business areas, it is common to bring in outside assistance to help assess and fill this gap. Generically, this would seem to be common sense – if I know that I need to improve my knowledge of plumbing, I am likely to fare better if I hire a professional plumber than if I try to figure things out on my own (even if there are some really good YouTube videos available on home improvement)!
However, when it comes to project management effectiveness, the merits of this practice are questionable. No doubt, a consulting firm that specializes in delivering such services is likely to have more focused capability improvement experience than the knowledge of your project management team but your gap is rarely about tools and techniques (which are easy to fix) and more about behavior modification at multiple levels of your organization.
The companies that may benefit the most from a focused consulting engagement are those at either the lowest level of project management maturity, or those at a higher-than-average one. At the lower end of the spectrum, they may not have the shared knowledge to institute even the most basic project governance and management practices, and yet, if there is internal support from the top-down, they could achieve some quick wins by adopting some “out-of-the-box” generic practices coupled with some foundation PM training for all project-involved staff. For those near-world class organizations, a consulting gig can help to identify and address the few remaining areas for improvement or could ensure that their self-assessment of capability superiority is, in fact, accurate.
For the larger group of companies that have instituted project management practices and tools but are struggling with achieving the behavior changes essential to realizing project management’s true benefits, utilizing external consultants is unlikely to provide any more benefit than an internally staffed improvement initiative. For such organizations, the value of project management is conceptually understood by all but the challenge exists with “walking the walk”. It’s a sure sign of this state of limbo if the majority of the lessons captured in post-project reviews are behavioral reminders.
Don’t get me wrong – significant value can be delivered by an external firm that provides executive coaching and training to your leadership team to help them truly absorb the value of project management and can facilitate the implementation of standard practices. However, unless your organization is ready to engage these consultants for a long-term sustained on-site (i.e. costly) campaign, it is unlikely that they will be able to truly influence positive behavior changes.
Unfortunately achieving higher levels of project management maturity is often a case of “Physician, heal thyself”!