Contractors and consultants need to be asking if they truly understand client’s businesses to avoid problems


How often do you hear a groan when working with clients – especially those in the public sector – that if something goes wrong “It was the client’s fault” or “their procurement team were just not living in the real world”?

It was refreshing earlier this year to read the paper “Building Government’s Commercial Capability” published by the Institute for Government acknowledging some of the past government failures to properly manage its contractors and consultants, leading to major financial losses.

It is a clear acknowledgement that there are often failings in procuring and managing projects – accepted that they are not always construction projects – and that they must tackle the problems to improve.

This is further reinforced by the Government Construction Strategy 2016-2020, the latest document seeking to make the industry more efficient.

The various components of the strategy include smarter procurement, improving digital skills and increasing client capability, which if embraced could potentially save the government £3.7bn.

The last point on increasing client capability, is perhaps the key element. Does the client, or the professional who the client has employed, have the all-round understanding of the business and what is needed to guarantee a satisfactory project outcome?

And this is the point that ultimately becomes the clincher. Contractors and consultants should be asking themselves whether they have truly understood the client’s business in a way that might have avoided the problems in the first place.

One useful piece of research from the Project Management Institute (PMI) highlights the fact that technical skills are clearly of utmost importance in delivering projects on time and on budget but they are not enough in today’s increasingly complex and competitive global marketplace. Companies are also seeking added skills in leadership and business intelligence — competencies that can help to support longer range strategic objectives that contribute to the bottom line.

The PMI found that 71% of those surveyed around the world, strongly believe that special leadership skills are of crucial importance for the success of a project.

The evaluation and feedback from this research by the PMI, resulted in its ‘Talent Triangle’ methodology, where the three sides of the triangle represent the talent necessary for successful project management. Project managers do of course need technical project management proficiency, but they also need leadership, strategic and business management expertise as well.

The key word is ‘agility’ where project managers’ skills evolve into a comprehensive approach. Even at the technical, prescriptive level, they will need to be aware of innovative ways of thinking and modern technologies.

It is easy for government to beat itself up for not having the commercial skills that come naturally to the private sector, but in some respects, why should it?

They need to be creative and inventive and to keep abreast of technological developments that will enable them to be a cut above the rest. After all, technology is all about doing things faster, better, quicker, and cheaper.

The skill sets of the project manager don’t only focus on the technical aspects they should also understand the client’s business model and what the client is aiming to achieve. This brings us back to that triangle of skills.

It is important for the project manager to interpret a client’s strategic objectives and missions – how to implement a strategy and not just to act as a delivery manager.

Some would argue that architects many years ago, lost the opportunity to secure the project management role for themselves because in many cases they only focused on design leaving their project management role to other professionals who were able to think on a wider playing field.

Of course, it is right that the public sector should be looking at ways of improving its procurement processes and better managing private contractors but it is a two-way process.

It is easy for government to beat itself up for not having the commercial skills that come naturally to the private sector, but in some respects, why should it? Let’s work on becoming more useful advisors to our clients.

In conclusion don’t always assume it’s the client’s fault, “look to thyself” and be honest – could you have better understood your client’s business and provided solutions that reflect the needs of its business?

Andrew McGuigan is senior associate project manager for Pellings