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Partnership in project management: what we can learn from The Lord of the Rings

Today we often talk about operating in partnership. This is seen as an ideal way of working together – involving a mutually respectful approach, with client and vendor working together for mutual success and benefit.

Yet, in the project space, most projects are still run using a traditional supplier model wherein the client installs a project manager (PM) and the vendor supplies a PM. The PMs then act as the interface between the two organisations.  In many cases this leads to a segregation of teams and can contribute to an "us versus them" sentiment.

The question is: Is there a better way?

I believe the answer is yes. I have been fortunate to experience both the typical and the atypical approach to project management. In the atypical scenario we took the theme of partnership to its full extent and worked jointly with a client on a large complex project. The difference in this project was that the vendor PM was the sole project manager. Together we agreed to operate as one team, jointly responsible, with direct communication.

Yes, one PM managed the whole project from both the client side and the vendor side. Think of The Lord of the Rings: “One Ring PM to rule them all; One Ring PM to find them; One Ring PM to bring them all and in the darkness bind them.”

You may be thinking about why this would be done. Well, there are several reasons:

  1. It's cheaper! You only pay for one PM.
  2. You have a clear leader who is responsible for the whole project’s success. This avoids a successful delivery but an unsuccessful change management element, for instance.
  3. It works! It reinforces deep and meaningful partnership. You have to be honest and trust each other.

This may be scary for some people to accept but in this scenario you are trusting your partner and giving them not only visibility of your budget and resources but actual control of them.

So the next logical question you might ask is: How do you keep control?

To me, the answer is simple and is what I believe is the most important factor in any project. I am talking about governance. If you have strong and engaged governance that involves both the client and vendor, then control is simple. Governance is the key to any successful project (and also the reason behind most unsuccessful projects).

What better way to promote partnership and successful delivery than by working as one team with mature and robust governance controlling the project? Yes, one PM to rule them all is real – not just the stuff of fiction – and it can be done.

Posted by: Myles Buckland-Jones, Practice Manager | 02 June 2016

Tags: Project Management

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