To bastardise author Jane Austen, "It is a truth universally acknowledged that a well-heeled client in possession of a good cash flow must be in want of an expensive consultant."
Or so it would seem, judging by some of the expensive and lacklustre project portfolio management (PPM) implementations we've seen in the past decade. The disquieting reality is that in more than a decade of project consulting, we've been engaged more often to fix or scrap previous PPM attempts than to implement or tweak well-functioning ones.
We've also come to one inescapable conclusion: Despite all the claims of capabilities and experience made in marketing collateral, on websites, in RFIs and pitches, many of these consultants do an expensive and substandard job.
For the sake of advancing what is a critical and core organisational capability, we believe that PPM consultants must radically change their approach or perish.
So what's happening here?
In the past two years, we've asked executives about their PPM implementations and the results were disheartening. Of the 50 companies we polled, each one reported either being disappointed with the results of the implementation or disappointed with the performance of their PPM environment and project management office (PMO) or both.
Nearly all companies reported that PPM failed to realise the scope or objectives set at the beginning of the engagement and most said it cost much more than agreed or anticipated.
Most also reported that they found it hard to pinpoint, let alone measure, the value their project environment or how their PMO contributed to operational efficiency, cost reduction, corporate strategy or competitive advantage.
This poll result came as no surprise. C-level executives, especially CIOs, have been quietly telling us that while PPM serves a general purpose (executing projects and reporting on their status), their project environments and PMOs are often viewed as costly and burdensome overheads which they, at times, find ways to avoid.
We've seen this scenario several times: In one example, when we replaced a "generalist" consulting firm at a client site, we asked why they had implemented more and more process, meetings, reports, rather than fixing project environment fundamentals.
The firm responded by saying, "The client wanted more process; we gave them more process."
As absurd as it sounds, this is not an uncommon approach. Our view is that the client didn't fully appreciate what a streamlined and integrated PPM operating model could do for them and was opting for improving on what they had, rather than undertaking fundamental, transformative change. And, in truth, neither did the PPM consultant we replaced.
Where PPM consulting differs from most generalist consulting engagements is that PPM, and its mother ship, the PMO, are known disciplines and can operate cost-effectively and efficiently from a well-understood operating model.
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