28 Dec

Project Practitioner vs. Project Consultant

leadershipIf you mention the word consultant, it is interesting to watch the faces and listen to the responses of people.  Some glaze over in disenchantment, while others will peer over the edge of their laptop with interest.  Undoubtedly, your experience with a consultant tends to fall into one of two categories: lots of charts, lots of dollars and little value – or- specialized skill/knowledge that really added value to our organization.  This post isn’t an attempt to prove the value of consultants or even provide guidelines on how to select the right one. We are going to tackle a more specific problem that we feel has a tremendous impact on your new initiatives.   Just as the word consultant conjurs up a broad array of feelings and expectations, so does the title of Project Manager.  A common issue comes in when the two titles start to merge and here is how that conversation sounds…

  • John: “So what do you do for a living”
  • Larry: “I’m a consultant”
  • John: “Really? What kind?
  • Larry: “Oh, I am a project manager”

Maybe we are playing semantics here, but we believe there should be a clear deliniation between the Project Manager (practitioner) and a Project Consultant.  Just as there are project coordinators, project managers, and program directors there are key differentiators between the Project Practioner and Consultant.  While most folks use the term to speak about who cuts their check (employee vs consultant), we believe the skill and role needs to be clear. The KPS heritage stems from pure project management (practitioners) and much of the business is in this space, so this is not designed to diminish the value of such a role in the organization.  To the contrary, a project manager plays an integral part in an organization executing and realizing the benefits of their roadmap.  Additionally, a PM allows the executive team and innovators of the organization to step away from the day-to-day and continue looking forward, analyzing trends, and watching competition.  With that said, some project practioners can not effectively act in the consultant role and vice versa.  Just as a project manager may not be able to analyze an entire organization and then provide guidance on how to effectionatly implement a PMO within the organization, a consultant may not have a clue about how to develop a detailed project schedule.  It is a matter of using the right tool for the right purpose.    If you hire a consultant and then ask them to mnage a project, do not be upset if they didn’t help create mroe scalable processes or standardize the methodology across the enterprise.  The table below is certainly not a comprehensive list of difference, but should help you draw a line and understand the differences between the two roles.



Manages a specific initiative

Provides guidance on project intake & portfolio management

Manages the day-to-day tasks of the project

Designs & Implements a project framework/process

Responsible for validating the project against the enterprise strategy

Has a seat at the table in helping develop the enterprise strategy

Manages the vendor selection & on-boarding process (RFx)

Provides insight & guidance on key industry players

  The reason it is key to understanding the roles comes down to resources and costs.  We are often asked by clients to help secure a project manager.  After talking with them about the initiative, what they expect the project manager to do, etc we find that many folks really only need a project coordinator.  In addition to the salary from a coordinator to project manager being significant, so are the impacts of having the wrong resource leading your efforts.