Project Management Institute

The paradigm of consultative project manager


Business leaders increasingly like to see a shift in the way Project Management contributes to their success. The evolutionary process of the Project Head from being a manager to that of a business- facilitator-manager is increasingly gaining prominence.

In this presentation, we elaborate the role models of Consultative Project Managers, describe how they become catalysts to business transformation by ensuring strategy alignment to their Projects and by the way they manage Projects for the overall organizational advantage.

The themes postulated herein are equally applicable for a Program or a Portfolio Manager. The skillsets applicable and the evolution process are outlined in the presentation.


Organizations spend billions of dollars annually for Projects. Successful Project Management has become indispensable for robust growth of many companies. Business leaders are increasingly acknowledging the value of successful Project managers, who are able to close Projects smoothly. Runaway Projects cost organizations dearly in terms of missed opportunities, late to market deals or prove to be a drain on resources.

In this paper, we articulate the model of the ‘Consultative Project Manager’ – who aligns himself/herself to the business goals of the organization, evangelizes Projects to achieve the business objectives and achieve them.

Project Manager's Business Role

Organizations undertake Projects for a multitude of reasons. Strategic intent drives most of the Projects. This is especially applicable for large Projects, wherein organizations put in considerable stakes. Business disconnects of the Projects have been a major source for Projects not realizing intended results or having scope creep or scope churn resulting in significant schedule and cost overruns.

For the business facing Projects, it is imperative for the Project Manager to understand the end-benefits the Project is expected to confer. It has been the common experience that Project Managers get immersed in the technicalities of the product and not able to relate to why the Project was intended in the first instance. This phenomenon is more pronounced in Information technology Projects, wherein Technical leaders sometimes get promoted to Project Managers in Projects requiring business orientation.

The value proposition of the Project Manager is more realized from looking the Project from a business perspective and it does require a business mindset to appreciate this. Though it is often quoted in Project Management legends, it is not often realized.

In this presentation, we portray the model of the Manager, who looks at the business requirements, translates them into Project objectives and ensures the Project results realize the intended benefits.

Model - Consultative Project Manager

A Consultative Project Manager is one who bridges both business and Project interests. It could be a Project Manager who acquires business expertise or a Business manager who can translate vision into action through Project execution. In either case, this person becomes a valuable organizational asset who could handle end-to-end roles from visualization to execution. The value proposition we are putting is to groom Project Managers to fit into this role model.

Challenges facing this transformation

The challenges facing this transformation are easier articulated than managed. The challenges emanate from disconnects appearing from the way different stakeholders look at the business. Typically, the Business users are able to articulate the business needs at a broadbrush levels. There needs to be a process, which could map these 30000 feet level articulations to 15000 feet level project objectives and execute it at the ground level.

The first level issues appear when the strategic objectives need to be achieved through Projects. The Consultative Project Manager needs to find a proper mix of Projects, which can support the business objectives of top level Management. This is of course requires business suaveness, which can be fulfilled by someone who has a deep domain knowledge, who can resonate to the pain-points of the top management and who can articulate what needs to be done to focus on result areas.

In quite a few cases, this transformation transcends classical Project Management. Stakeholder management, Change management and capacity enhancement at the organizational level are very integral to the endeavor.

In most of the cases, it is not technology, which limits the business transformation, but the skill levels and perceived ‘fear’ factors. The business community, both from at the Top level and the end-user level, have seen through many ‘failed projects’ and could have a disdainful attitude towards Projects. For many Projects, this represents the biggest challenge, which would need the attention of Consultative Project Managers, who take on themselves, the role of ‘Benefit seller’ and ‘executioner’ to the relevant stakeholders.

Consultative Project Managers usually don't get involved in micromanagement of the Projects – but for most of the Projects, they operate in an Executive Sponsor role or the Product owner or the Benefit owner. However, they could be involved in Progress tracking, benefit realization or risk management as the case may be. They also get involved in staffing and resolution of high-level conflicts with top level Business owners- apart from upskilling the Project Team as needed.

During the Project execution, the Consultative Project Manager may be involved in a coaching and mentoring of the team performing actual delivery. They also foster communication linkages, which need to flow across the stakeholder community for the Project progress, resolve issues, do risk mitigations and chart the way forward. Their role extends beyond actual project execution upto actual benefit conferment.

Consultative Project Managers- multidisciplinary Project champions

The conceptualization to benefit realization can be a frustratingly long cycle for many Projects. The Consultative Project Managers exhibit diverse skills during the end-to-end cycle. The techniques adopted by them could include articulating the business value of appropriate Projects to stakeholders, facilitating a Project Management Office (PMO) or similar institution for knowledge sharing and abstracting, documentation of lessons learned across Projects to reduce rework etc.

What skillsets they need to exhibit?

Strategic thinking mindset and innovativeness are very distinguishing characteristics of Consultative Project Managers. At the best, they need to be in league with top-level management, connect with them by speaking business language and understand their ‘real’ needs. If the above characteristics are not exhibited, the Projects they envisage may get cutoff from realities. In this context, market and business forces to a greater extent impact the success of such Projects and this represents an additional risk for management.

Projects following robust processes have a higher likelihood of achieving their objectives. The Consultative Project Managers understand this and pay attention to detail. This is not exactly micromanagement – but making sure people are adhering to processes and the Projects meeting their goals. Process improvement – especially of dispensing away of non-value added activities and enhancing robustness is quite high in their agenda.

Consultative Project Managers ought to be lifelong learners, have drive to seek out new knowledge and also know which practices needed to be discarded, when they become redundant. Also considerable degree of venture management is needed, as quite a few Projects undertaken by Consultative Project managers venture into hitherto uncharted territories. They also are adept in bridging the chasm between Business/ Project Manager divide, affecting many Projects.

Consultative Project Managers are also catalysts and change agents. We know People in a way don't resist change but resist being changed. The soft skills of Consultative Project Manager are a definitive asset in seeing the Projects forward. Continuity, Accountability and a strong drive for achievement are their inherent traits.

How their Performance gets measured?

Since the Consultative Project Managers have end-to-end involvement, the performance measures need to span the entire spectrum. One can possibly put performance metrics through a structured approach like Balanced Scorecard. The performance measures will then cut across multiple metrics like Project benefit realization, enhanced competitiveness, Improved Service quality and responsiveness, institutionalization of best practices, knowledge transfer process and talent management.

Summing up

In this presentation, we looked at the archetype of Consultative Project Manager, who takes on multiple roles and portray diverse responsibilities – from Project conceptualization to its closure, for the organizational benefits. As Projects increasingly get more strategic, the Consultative Project Managers can play a key role in their successful execution.

©2007 Sankaran Ramani, PMP
Originally published as a part of 2007 PMI Global Congress proceedings – Hong Kong



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