The DNA of project management consultancy Projective

16 February 2015 Consultancy.uk

Projective, a project management consulting firm focused solely on the financial services industry, has become a key player in the consulting landscape. In eight years, the firm grew from two to more than 90 professionals in the UK, the Netherlands and in its home base Belgium, with clients across Europe.

To uncover the secret of the firm’s success, Consultancy.uk looked at Projective’s history and spoke to Stefan Dierckx, co-founder, and Andrew Jackson, Head of UK Insurance of the advisory firm.

The brainchild of Stefan Dierckx and Filip Bosschaert, Projective launched in 2006. After eight years serving clients in the banking and insurance sector with Capco Belgium, Dierckx and Bosschaert felt there was a gap in the financial services consulting landscape. They established their own firm. “There were dozens, if not hundreds, of traditional consultancies, system vendors and integrators. A company that focuses exclusively on managing and delivering projects seemed to be lacking,” said Dierckx, recalling the most important driver for starting the consultancy.

Projective - Consultancy Firm

The firm’s niche–project management in the financial services industry–quickly paid off. Within months Projective expanded its team; by the end of its first year, ten project managers operated out of the Brussels office. The client portfolio, in the beginning consisting mainly of large banks, gradually expanded to the Insurance and Financial Infrastructure sectors.

Projective offers a wide range of services. “No matter the implementation or transformation programme a financial service client had—we have the capabilities and people to outdeliver,” says Dierckx, adding that hands-on experience is the driver behind the firm’s staying power.

“There is no substitute for experience. In a complex environment such as financial services, experience is key, so we opted for a business model based on experienced resourcing. Our professionals combine broad project management skills with a deep understanding of the financial industry.”

The majority of Projective’s employees average 10+ years of project management experience—a clear distinction from the pyramid-shaped staffing model prevalent in the consulting industry.

Projective - Services

Footprint and headcount
Success multiplied quickly. On top of the growing portfolio, Projective’s reach expanded to 92 professionals in three countries; employee growth this year alone surpassed 50%. In 2009, at the height of the financial crisis, the first international office opened in Den Haag, The Netherlands. “Moving to the Netherlands was obvious; the market is similar to Belgium and many of our clients have operations in Holland,” says Dierckx.

At a time when consulting firms felt the brunt of the crisis–with profits under pressure and external consultant spending slashed–Projective continued expanding internationally with an office in London a year later.

“The Belgian and Dutch market appeared to be shrinking,” says Jackson, “Given our aspirations and growth targets, it was a no-brainer to enter the London market—the most important hub for financial services in Europe.”

The UK activity started as an extension of the work in Belgium, but it immediately became clear that the large market and the well-conceived brand of Projective created more opportunities. “Our uniqueness comes from what we don’t do” explains Jackson. “Because we only do project management, we have no incentives to land in a project and expand with business analysis or general advisory work. This was also a missing link in the UK market.”

The ninety-plus project managers were not just the result of organic growth. In the summer of 2012 Projective acquired ProDone, a Dutch firm with a similar speciality in project management services; in Q4 2013 W.I.K. Consulting was added, bringing roughly 15 project managers to its Belgian operations. “With the acquisitions of ProDone and W.I.K. Consulting we secured two businesses with a similar portfolio and culture,” says Dierckx.

Projective - Nurturing Growth

The Cultural DNA
It has not always been a smooth ride. “Early on, like most start-ups, we faced a number of glitches, and later during the crisis we found ourselves facing tough decisions,” says Dierckx. Despite the challenges, the firm’s financials reveals an impressive financial track record. Between its 2006 launch and 2014, Projective’s revenue grew with a double-digit CAGR. More notable is the fact that it saw sound profits every single year—including during the crisis period when the financial services consulting market shrank by more than 15%. 

Projective uses a lean and mean business model. According to Dierckx, “We operate with a healthy margin combined with low overhead. Profitability is our chief financial KPI.” Jackson adds that, on top of the positioning, service portfolio and resourcing factors discussed earlier, the firm’s “unique culture” is vital. He explains: “While everyone comes from different backgrounds, our consultants are never pigeonholed into a particular domain or industry. Working for Projective is like a breath of fresh air, landing with the people you most like to work with.”

Projective’s DNA is characterised by a flat organisation structure and shared internal responsibilities. Consultants are encouraged to manage areas such as marketing, HR, and finance. Jackson points out, “It creates continuous engagement. The team is motivated to contribute to the company's success.

“Running a consultancy is a people’s business. The challenge is to find people who are better than elsewhere. That’s your brand. But at Projective we have the advantage of having a flat structure and a strong like-minded culture. There is no one in your way, no one thinking it is their job to make you suffer.  The only limitation is myself, my time and my effectiveness. It’s about quality of people, and quality of delivery.”

Future of the firm
In the coming years, Projective will focus on the brand, reputation and reach. Asked about their goals, Dierckx replied “To be recognised as the leading independent provider of programme and project management to financial services institutions across Europe—and beyond.” Dierckx elaborates, “We may consider expanding to financial hubs such as Paris, Frankfurt or Zurich in the long term.” But Jackson makes clear, “We want to grow across all sides. Not just in size or volume—broadening quality of service towards our clients is equally important.”

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Managing the demand for change in project management

16 April 2019 Consultancy.uk

The forward-looking nature of project management means that regardless of the type of project, thorough planning and risk assessment are essential to ensure it is delivered on time, on budget, and in line with the client’s requirements – while delivering the expected results. Consultants Eman Al-Hillawi and Peter Marsden elaborate in the article below. 

However, it is important to recognise that in this fast-moving working environment, and with projects increasing in scale and complexity, a degree of change is inevitable. Putting the right mitigation strategies in place early on can provide project managers with much-needed agility, allowing them to respond quickly to any new issues that arise.

When the goalposts move or project managers are issued with an unexpected client request, adopting a holistic approach is essential to ensure that changes are implemented successfully the first time around, reducing the risk of any problems arising in the future. Rather than considering the demand for change in one area of a project in isolation, it is important to conduct a full impact assessment, taking into account any knock-on effects on people, processes, systems and infrastructure. For example, a sudden need to digitalise a key HR process may have implications for recruitment, or the need to upskill existing staff through new training programmes, or both. 

Implementing a Portfolio Management Office (PMO) can also enhance project managers’ ability to spot interdependencies and better manage unforeseen changes. Where a number of projects or programmes are being undertaken simultaneously, this function is particularly useful, providing stakeholders with increased visibility and driving intelligent decision-making. For example, spotting an unexpected delay to a particular project could enable resources to be reallocated across the portfolio at an early stage, helping to drive efficiencies within the business and keeping budgets on track. 

Managing the demand for change in project management

As part of their efforts to make the most of available resources while keeping costs under control, project managers should consider using blended teams wherever possible. By combining the organisation’s existing employees with different skills and experienced project managers, it is easier to ensure that the correct levels of skills and resources are utilised at each stage of a project. Furthermore, this method can provide the additional flexibility needed to respond quickly to new developments without unnecessarily prolonging project timelines or increasing costs. 

It is worth bearing in mind that introducing some mitigation strategies may require an initial cost outlay and, as such, effective communication with stakeholders from the very beginning of a project is key. One example is to allocate a contingency budget to the project. This helps to facilitate the project manager’s ability to address key issues that require unplanned spend, without the need to undergo a time-consuming budget approval process. By educating all involved parties about the inevitability of change during projects, it is possible to put buffers in place, both financially and in terms of the project timeline. Over the course of a project, this should enable project managers to react quickly to change and take effective action without compromising on the timescales and delivery of client objectives. 

Likewise, where project delivery is reliant upon large and diverse teams, clearly communicating the impact of unexpected changes, and the required response, is also vital to ensure everyone is on the same page and disruption to day-to-day processes is kept to a minimum. When curveballs to project delivery occur, a failure to brief the team on how these should be addressed could also have a significant impact on levels of motivation and morale, which in turn has the potential to have a negative impact on productivity across a project. 

While meticulous forward planning will always be an essential element of project management, it’s equally important to recognise that to a certain extent, change is unavoidable. The ability to respond effectively to new developments as they occur is therefore vital. By making change a central part of discussions with stakeholders and clearly communicating with all parties on a programme, project managers can take new issues in their stride while continuing to deliver exceptional results for clients. 

Eman Al-Hillawi and Peter Marsden are principal consultants at business change consultancy Entec Si.