A Better Way To Manage Site-Based Chemical Projects

To harness growth, make a meaningful investment in your project management capacity. Here’s how


If you’re a small or medium-sized chemical company and you’re growing, chances are you’re hiring contractors. If you’re growing fast, you’re outsourcing even faster. This is standard practice and it often makes good sense, but the choice to hire out work has a dark side that few executives pause to consider: If your in-house team is working overtime to keep contractors on track, who is managing your business?

It’s a fine balance, to be sure. Outsourcing is certainly the right choice for many growing businesses. But your in-house team knows your business best, and they’re personally invested in your success. Long-term employees have an intimate understanding of your work, past, and present, and you should be leveraging their insight and expertise as you develop your strategic plan for the future. At a certain point, smart Owners realize they need to liberate their best people from daily oversight so they can focus on laying the groundwork for growth — but how?

The answer: Invest in your in-house project management capabilities.

Investing in your project management capacity solves a lot of growth-related problems. You can continue working with existing contractors, benefitting from established relationships and shared knowledge. You won’t have to disrupt internal or external workflows with new hires. Investing in project management capacity liberates your best people while simultaneously building your company’s ability to successfully manage increasing workloads, so you can grow even faster in the future.

Here’s the problem: Most companies don’t know how to upgrade their project management capability. It’s not enough to simply hire a project manager; if you truly want to position your company for growth, you need to take a step back and revisit your entire project management system. The processes that served you well as a small or medium-sized chemical company simply will not be robust enough to handle the increased demands as you grow.

Here’s a simple approach that works with many of our clients. 


The power of an independent gap analysis

We start by conducting an independent gap analysis. The idea here is to look for inefficiencies in your project delivery system, specifically as they relate to your most important business objectives. We ask: Does your project delivery system meaningfully support your operational, sales and growth goals?

These are critical questions because the essence of building a strong business strategy is choosing what not to do. Killing unnecessary or misaligned initiatives is especially challenging in organizations that have their sights set on growth. As Michael Porter said in his seminal Harvard Business Review article, What Is Strategy: “Among all other influences, the desire to grow has perhaps the most perverse effect on strategy. Trade-offs and limits appear to constrain growth.” Precisely the opposite is true, he says: A leader’s job is not to orchestrate “operational improvements and make deals,” but rather to be focused on “defining and communicating the company’s unique position, making trade-offs, and forging fit among activities.” That’s what we’re talking about here.

What does this look like in practice? You already know that your business manager and other key players are constantly making trade-offs on every project and initiative. How do they know what to prioritize, and what to let slide? If you haven’t provided a clear strategy to guide them, they’ll decide for themselves based on whatever factors are in play at the moment. Not only is this an incoherent and ineffective approach to business development, but it’s also bound to create epidemic levels of decision fatigue in your team.

Further, a proliferation of small-cap projects that don’t support your central strategy are like leeches on the business, sucking out time and energy that would be much more valuable if applied to critical initiatives.

The gap analysis is the first step to solving this problem. You’ll take a deep look at your project delivery systems and ask whether they’re aligned with your key goals. If you want to get to certain markets faster than your competition, or you want to get your contracts signed faster, what do you need to do to get there? Another key question: How does your project delivery system compare to bigger, stronger organizations that are already doing what you want to do? The answers to these and a host of other key questions form the basis of a comprehensive analysis.


Does your project delivery system meaningfully support your operational, sales and growth goals?


A Project Management System Upgrade Plan

From here, we develop a Project Management System Upgrade Plan that will help you streamline your efforts, cutting out unnecessary and misaligned initiatives and focusing on mission-critical work.

For the next two or three years, you work with a partner that will supplement you with external resources while simultaneously helping you to build your internal capacity. This approach has two benefits. First, the impact is immediate: Because your partner brings in external resources, you’ll get quick relief from your heavy project management workloads. Second — and more importantly, in the long run — your partner works alongside you to execute the Project Management System Upgrade Plan and to build the integrated, internal capacity you need to manage that growing workload yourself.

This collaborative work must be finite. The goal: In two or three years, the partner company is gone, and your internal organization is more robust and capable of scaling to accommodate the right kinds of growth. This is what effective change-management looks like.

Invest in yourself. If you’re a small or medium-sized chemical company and your best people are focused on managing contractors, it’s time to take a step back and figure out how to get those people focused on strategy. We’ve provided the road map, all you need to do is follow it.

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