Written by David Lyon

Project Management – When do You Need Specialists?

In every procurement activity, there is an element of project management.  Increasingly, the opportunities we identify go beyond simple sourcing projects. When you get into large-scale business change projects, businesses may choose to use dedicated project managers.

In this article, we explore what you can do to make your procurement projects as effective as possible.

Over the last few years, I’ve seen the rise of professional project managers. Coming from outside the organization, they bring a host of tools (LEAN, Six Sigma, Prince 2, Agile, APM etc.) that can make projects effective.

The logic goes… experts in running projects generally, can take a helicopter view, without getting stuck in delivering tasks. If the project is large or complex, these PM’s manage the core delivery team by coordinating activity, identifying gaps, deploying project management tools, managing change and reporting on progress (honestly).

The downside is that they might not actually understand the product or have the urgency to deliver.  In extreme cases, their position as a “overseer” might mean that they lose sight of what needs to be achieved. The process becomes the driver, not the outcome.  

So what can procurement do, to ensure that the organization gets the best from its investment in project management resources?

1. Train your procurement team in project management

Not every project needs a dedicated person to manage the team or deliver a smaller change initiative. Often, a Category Manager or a Supply Chain manager can take the lead 

Having a pool of procurement individuals, qualified in Project Management, builds functional competence and can reduce the cost of externals.

When they understand the tools available, procurement can also play a more influential role by working with specialist project managers to steer and influence large change programmes. 

2. Don’t use a specialist project manager when you need subject matter expertise

In some projects, the person leading the project must be up to date with the subject matter and output required.   I’ve experienced an IT Project Manager appointed to manage a P2P implementation, but without a clear understanding of P2P.  As a result, every step involved explaining the basics.

Use business consultants, or interim contractors that have a successful record of delivering a similar projects.  The CV of the individual is more important than the process capability.

3. Bundle initiatives into programs

Sometimes you may have a large number of initiatives underway.  As a leader, you should take time to look at the whole portfolio.  Sometimes it pays to bundle these smaller initiatives into a programme of work that reports to a steering group.

A steering group, working with a specialist PM can make sure that the right resources are allocated and that progress is made.  

Consider creating an umbrella project brand that will benefit from the senior business support and business-wide visibility.   You can use terms like “Project Accelerate” or “Outside-In”, or “Fit for the Future” to give the whole programme of activity an identity that drives your teams.

4. Don’t get carried away with the latest project management fads

Like all business departments, Project Management has its fair share of fads and fashions. Each specialist brings their own history of using structure and project management tools … but these may not necessarily be appropriate for your project or your organization.

Take time when appointing a specialist PM to understand their favorite techniques. Make sure that they are adaptable and can fit your organisational operating style.

A PM who is detailed focused to the point of being picky, can delay, slow down and cause your simple change initiative to snow-ball into an overspending monster.   But a PM that does not enforce some sort of structure may lead your project down and endless road of not delivering a result.  Like Goldilocks’s porridge, there’s a spot that is not too hot and not too cold.

In summary

Project management is something that every procurement manager should understand, but for key business change projects, you may need a specialist project manager.

These individuals can work with a cross-functional steering group to oversee and drive progress…. but they need to be carefully selected and managed so that the structured process they bring does not overshadow the need for the result.

A great procurement manager, trained in the art of project management, but working alongside the specialist is a really good compromise to keep the project grounded and delivery focused.

And remember, if project management is difficult in your projects, just how much more are the same issues happening across your stakeholder groups? 

One thing you can do is to have your Professional Services and IT category managers document a clear decision process to help stakeholders decide what type of project or project management support is needed.   

They can then pre-prepare frameworks that can bring in the right type of project manager for each different type of project, at a competitive price, and make sure that the supplier of your project management resources knows exactly what type and style of project manager will fit your organization.

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David is a CPO with experience across multiple industry sectors. Having started his career in textiles and retail, he has since had senior roles in the Electronics, Pharmaceutical and Financial sectors, including Global Head of Corporate Procurement for Pharmaceuticals at Novartis Pharma AG. David led the Cancer Research team that won the 2015 Procurement Leaders award for Transformation and has since delivered "Transformation of procurement" in several well-known multinationals. David is a multilingual professional with over 25 years of Procurement and Supply Chain experience.

David Lyon