The Mythical Millennium Legacy

A Tale of Happiness and Sadness, Wealth and Poverty

Have you wondered why it seems to be more difficult today to find a good senior project manager than it did 10 years ago?  Well 10 years ago they might have been junior PMs in a consultancy.  So what happened to them?  Where did they go?  The Mythical Millennium Legacy is a fairy tale of joy and sorrow.

The Mythical Millennium Approach

Once upon a time from the mid-1990s through to the end of 2002 (consultancy) project management saw massive growth, initially caused by Y2K programmes.  Although initially ‘easy’ money could be earned, many (aspiring) project managers became trapped in a cycle of Y2K projects. 

However in our story there existed Partners who earned steeply escalating commissions as PM billing rates rose exponentially compared to their salaries.  Promoting these junior PMs would bite into the Partners’ ever-increasing bonuses, so many remained in junior roles with proportionately small but nonetheless generous bonuses.

As the millennium approached PM work remained the same as did Partner numbers.  Only the size of Partner bonuses increased, as companies paid extortionate amounts to consultancies that only passed on a relatively tiny amount to the PMs doing the work. 

Some seasoned PMs claimed they saw the future.  Recognising promotion was not within their grasp they departed: many to a “safer” operational role and some to independent (freelance) work.

But it didn’t matter that a large proportion of the more senior PMs left the consultancy.  In fact it helped because costly PMs could be replaced by eager inexperienced junior PMs sold on similar fees and increasing, even further, the size of the Partner bonuses.  Hurrah! And three cheers for the Partners’ business acumen!  (Never mind the clients – they won’t notice the difference).

The Mythical Millennium eBusiness Boom

In our story however, once the millennium had occurred consultancies were suddenly overstaffed with junior staff.  But joy of joys (ours is a happy tale) a new internet boom provided “jobs for the boys” and the youngsters were redeployed to deliver “transform or die” strategies which, in reality, were ad hoceBusiness developments and learning at the clients’ expense.  Indeed, the absence of (senior) PMs was marketed as a strength, not a weakness; because they were not needed in the rush to the eBusiness marketplace.

And “Oh frabjous day, calloo, callay”: remarketing these juniors provided another two years of massive bonuses and no incentive to promote anyone.  How good could it get?  Time to retire?

The Mythical Millennium Reorganisation

But in our mythical tale of seemingly unending joy, there were evil Regulators who changed the face of consultancies and an evil Economy that went bust more or less simultaneously. 

Consultancies downsized: the need for junior staff disappeared (as so they did).  Clients tightened their purse strings.  eBusiness developments stopped.  Recruitment agencies began to acquire a bigger supply than demand; and the need to speak to freelance consultants disappeared almost totally as buzz word searches could return hundreds of matches for every opportunity, and commission-making an automated process devoid of intellectual input.

Worse still the older and wealthier Partners could see their life-blood (bonuses) ebbing away: time to retire and get out while the going is good and leave the younger Partners to face the music – but what was left?  Consultancies now needed reorganising.  A large slice of senior staff were no longer there.  A diminished, demotivated (not to say worried) and massively inexperienced junior element remained.  And though they were very good at Y2K fixes and eBusiness developments, nobody wanted to buy those services?  What to do now?   With little choice, consultancies started to build again (almost) from scratch and slowly focusing on more specific services that they knew clients needed.  Some became focused on specific products (such as SAP); others on a particular process (like Supply Chain) or again others on a specific niche (Governance and Risk).  Some transformed their brand, other merged and still others dropped their consultancy arm completely; but all had to re-establish themselves in a world where Partnership was no longer a right to print money and PMs had to commence training again at clients’ expense.  And that would take time.  It would probably be 2010 at the earliest before these juniors could be treated as serious PMs.

The Mythical Millennium Legacy

But of course this is a fairy tale.  If it were true (which it isn’t) we would have been able to observe the following:

1.     Consultancies forming alliances, partnerships, merging and taking over other consultancies.

2.     Consultancies re-branding and desperate to hire; especially senior people.

3.     Consultancies sub-contracting senior freelance PMs to fulfil contracts of work they had won.

4.     Junior PMs covertly learning their trade within consultancies and rarely visible to clients.

5.     An increased number of recruitment agencies but a decrease in human intervention through search engines.

6.     An increase in the number of independent (freelance) senior PMs, Programme Managers and Project Directors who were not interested in returning to the avaricious Partnerships that, 10 years earlier, exploited rather than promoted them.

7.     A steadily increasing difficulty for organisations wishing to get hold of high quality independent senior PMs because they would only use agencies as a last resort. 

8.     A consequent absence of senior PMs in the marketplace.

But like I said: this was just a fairy tale.  The Mythical Millennium Legacy has left us with easy access to an overabundance of top-quality Senior Project Managers right at our doorsteps…hasn’t it?


2010, PeopleKatie MayerComment