Has the time come to outsource project leadership and if it has, how do you find the right external delivery capability for successful projects?

Anyone in business knows that most organisations are undergoing rapid and expansive change – the operative word being ‘change’. While there may have been a time when much of an organisation’s workload remained relatively static, one thing is quite clear: that time has long since passed.

Few organisations retain the same customers, the same processes, and the same outcomes year-on-year. As technology speeds up the pace of change, customer demand for new and nuanced products and services grows, and industry after industry experiences disruption, the concept of a steady and predictable BAU is being seriously challenged by a world thirsty and expecting ‘something new.’

Given that change is now a constant for most organisations, the imperative of achieving successful change means that successful project delivery is now a necessity for all organisations. And if successful project delivery is the barometer of an organisation’s longer term success, what happens if in-house capability is not yet mature enough or lacks the capability and/or time to take on such change?

It’s a question that is highly relevant in today’s world of outsourcing vs in-house expertise.

While many services are readily outsourced, such as help desks, moving applications into the cloud, or moving customer services outside the traditional norms, the real question is no longer about logistics (the who, what, when, and for how much) but whether we can also outsource the leadership required to deliver change and successful projects?

It’s not About Giving the BAU Team More Work

By their very nature, the skills that work in a BAU construct do not necessarily translate into the realities of project delivery, a domain which creates constant change and uncertainty as projects unfold.

BAU teams are generally ill-equipped to drive change, if only because they rely on known (and understood) processes, repeatability, working with certainty, and stable teams. Thus, BAU activities are resourced accordingly in terms of skill set.

Moving into a project delivery model is a step-change and our experience is that BAU teams often lack a change mindset, basic project delivery skills and are already time-poor enough dealing with their ‘here and now’ challenges. Adding to their plate project issues– which may not manifest themselves for months to come – usually means that BAU wins and these issues get the time and attention to the detriment of the project.

So, we Should Invest in an In-house Project Delivery Capability?

The short answer is … maybe. Creating any team or capability from scratch, regardless of the subject matter, requires time, money and patience.

Organisations that have been delivering projects for a long time may already understand what is required in terms of a delivery approach and have skilled in-house teams. When there is a level of project delivery already in existence, outsourcing delivery is often a straightforward augmentation model designed to get over delivery spikes. Incoming consultants can work within the existing delivery construct and learn the organisation’s approach.

However, when an organisation has no real delivery capability, then the decision to build from within or buy the expertise is a complex one and should be made by looking through a series of lenses such as:

  • Is this big change a one-off?
  • Is the project considered high-risk and thus we do not want to learn on the job?
  • Do we want – or need – a long-term internal delivery capability?
  • Does the business have the energy to last the distance to develop internal capability or is it better to remain focused on what it does best (i.e. servicing their customers) and outsourcing the project or change delivery?

These questions are rarely easily answered, and this is where a cost-benefit analysis can be highly beneficial. It is also an opportunity to engage expertise if this isn’t an exercise that can be conducted within the business.

But What Will I Get With a Consultant?

Assuming you have completed your due diligence, you should get a number of things from engaging external delivery professionals, and many of the positive outcomes will go beyond the simple response of the project being delivered on time and to budget.

For example:

  • Delivery thought leadership: Organisations often don’t know what they don’t know around project delivery and external consultants with the right skills can help identify and shape a successful outcome
  • Capability uplift: Delivery consultants should, by way of osmosis, show what good looks like. An example may be that they can improve an organisation’s delivery skill set whilst on the job that can benefit an organisation long after the project team has gone
  • Challenging the status quo:  Leadership from contractors/consultants is counterintuitive to BAU. Managing challenges that arise when a fresh perspective meets ‘what we always do’ can add lasting value to an organisation by showing a different way of doing things
  • Focus on scope without distractions: Consultants will be laser focussed on delivering a holistic outcome for the project unencumbered by any BAU worries or conflicts.  This holistic approach encourages an eyes-up approach to delivery which promotes a better understanding of the risk profile across the business
  • Deliver news without fear or favour: Consultants can deliver news without prejudice or internal politics flavouring the realities of how it can impact and channel change.

Who Should be in the Driver’s Seat?

Outsourcing is never a black and white decision and it is no different for project delivery. There are always pros and cons around cost, effort, risk and many other factors that may be particular to the organisation.

However, having the best capabilities available should always be a consideration as developing all the required skills in house every time is neither cost effective nor scalable.

Change, and thus, project delivery is here to stay which means that ensuring the right mix of delivery capability exists – be it in-house, outsourced or a hybrid – is critical to helping deliver successful project outcomes and ensuring the right people are in the drivers seat.

As project specialists, we develop fit-for-purpose strategy and change management capability.  Contact us here to find out more about how we work with your teams or call 02 9098 6300.

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Quay Consulting
Quay Consulting is a professional services business specialising in the project landscape, transforming strategy into fit-for-purpose delivery. Meet our team ...