Project-Facing or Customer-Facing?

05 Oct 2010

By: David Hart

E AND H / Project Management / Rant

The phrase ‘becoming a project-facing organisation’ seems to me to be appearing in discussions across the project management community with increasing frequency.   Also, and perhaps associated with this, the focus on the importance of portfolio management has generated a perception in some circles that there should be a structured hierarchy in a project-facing organisation, where a project manager reports to a programme manager, who in turn reports to a more senior portfolio manager.  Why does this worry me?

I suppose the main reason is my uneasiness about the concept that an organisation should be ‘project-facing’.  My experience from both project and operational management has been that organisations need to be customer-facing, and that once we lose our focus on the customer things can begin to go wrong.  For example, few would argue that effective financial control isn’t vital – but what would we think of an organisation that was described as ‘accountancy-facing’?  Yes, there are obviously organisations that need to be project-focussed where projects are the core of the business – construction for instance – but should an organisation whose business is about operational service delivery or process improvement be project-facing?  An argument often made is that we live in a rapidly changing world and that projects are the means of delivering strategy and the changes needed to keep us competitive.  Is this necessarily about making an organisation project-facing and structuring it in a portfolio/programme/project (PPPM) way, or is it really about ensuring organisations have the capability and are agile enough to respond effectively to changing customer needs and environmental influences?   Are we in danger of putting too rigid a framework around what we feel is good PPPM and not taking a wider contextual and ‘systems thinking’ approach to change?  Organisations need to possess the project management skills and capabilities needed to deliver change, and more importantly they need to know how and when to use them.  Isn’t it a key responsibility of our profession to develop the science (or art) of PPPM and Change management in a way that contributes to organisational effectiveness and adds real value for the customers, consumers and shareholders?  To lose our focus on the customer risks a resurgence of the negative aspects of ‘professionalism’ that we’ve sometimes seen in the past in other areas.