If We Already Have In-House Project Managers, Then Why Do We Need An External Perspective?

Bringing in an external project manager creates an environment where improvement can be made by creating discomfort, challenging assumptions, and bringing a fresh perspective to an environment that may have become stale, or that is constrained by an unwillingness to draw attention to the very issues that need addressing for fear of repercussions on the “whistleblowers.”

It’s always going to be most beneficial to bring an external project manager in at the project outset rather than wait until things are falling apart. The second-best time is always going to be now. It’s never too late to get a second opinion.

Tolerance Levels

With large organisations, particularly institutions such as government and universities, projects will often go out of the designated lines of the playing field. Initially, an exception is created—the intention is that it’s going to be a “one off.” However, over time, these exceptions are given out more and more frequently

All of a sudden, projects are way out of tolerance because the discipline and scrutiny that was applied in the first instance is no longer being applied. The project is just veering off course because there’s no rigour, accountability, or hard work taking place to keep those projects on track. In the end, they’re not even really deserving of the name “project.” They simply become poorly run activities.

Example – Going Under

The Australian Government took the decision to purchase 12 Attack Class submarines for the Royal Australian Navy. The promise that they made was to buy the submarines. The project was originally estimated at $50 billion. Subsequently, a revised estimate of $89 billion was communicated. The delivery schedule has never been firm and has suffered several delays. To date, it is still not clear when the submarines will be delivered.

This means that there are no real consequences to increasing the amount of money originally “estimated” or extending the time frame in order to secure the purchase. Their only priority is delivering on the promise to supply the submarines.

By never pulling the pin on the project, so to speak, they can deliver on that promise. Even if pulling the pin was the right decision in terms of cost and efficiency, the Government would have broken their promise, and this is going to be more damaging to them than spending ever-increasing amounts of taxpayers’ money.

This kind of problem is endemic in institutions such as government and universities. For this reason, when creating the business case and the project plans, it is essential to create the constraints. So, when an exception needs to be made, you can evaluate whether or not the project is still viable.

If you exceed the constraints, you need to re-evaluate. Is the project still worth doing? If you keep going outside those boundaries, and you have to keep re-evaluating, and the answer as to whether the project is still worth doing keeps coming back as a “yes,” then either the project limits that were established at the start are wrong, or there isn’t the discipline or bravery to pull the plug. NBN is a classic case in point.

Example – NBN

Back in 2009, the Government announced the national broadband network (NBN) rollout, declaring that every premises would get fibre, under the Fibre To The Premises (FTTP) scheme. The cost was set at $40 billion, and the delivery time was set at five years. Thirteen years later, most premises still don’t have fibre. They’ve got fibre to the node. The costs have gone from $40 billion to $100 billion, the speeds that were promised haven’t been delivered, the time to rollout is seven years late, and there’s competing technology which has now made the NBN redundant.

An external project manager could have resolved this. However, the corporate mentality is that the project needs to be pursued, even when the project thresholds have been greatly exceeded and the organisation is no longer acting in the interests of the ultimate client, which is the taxpayer in this case. “Group think” means that no one is prepared to raise the flag and say, “This isn’t going to work.”

In instances such as this, the function of an external project manager may simply be to say “stop.” A good PM will tell you when you’re doing something you should no longer be doing. It can require a lot of bravery from an organisation to be prepared to let go of a project. It can feel like failure. In my opinion, this is the wrong mentality. In fact, by letting something go, you are simply acknowledging that the original business case was incorrect and whatever planning went into that was based on incorrect assumptions.


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