Project Management Consulting is All About Communication

Project management consulting is about more than just delivering on time. In this exclusive interview with project management expert Gina Abudi, we learn why effective communication is the real key to project success.

Gina Abudi is president of Abudi Consulting Group, a woman-owned management consulting and training firm. She’s been working in project management consulting and change management for over 25 years. We asked her to share some of her expertise and experience.

What benefits can project management consultants offer clients?

We offer a different perspective, an ability to look at the client organization, the project team, and the project holistically from an outsider’s point of view. For example, a client CEO brought me in and said, “Our projects are finishing on time and within budget, but something’s just not right.” 

When I came in and talked to everyone, I discovered that the “not right” part was that the company’s project managers were very efficient on budgets and timetables and scope, but were not effectively engaging and communicating with the stakeholders, the people being impacted by the projects.

You can have a project rollout on time, on budget, and in scope, but the project will still fail if impacted people aren’t effectively engaged. It took somebody coming in from the outside and not being afraid to ask tough questions to identify what was going wrong and help fix it.

What should clients consider when hiring a project management consulting firm?

When clients bring in project managers, they too often focus exclusively on technical skills such as creating a budget, creating a schedule, identifying risks to the project, and more. Technical skills are essential, but what really drives a project to be successful is the people skills. Project management consultants need the ability to communicate up, down, and across the organization and adapt communication approaches to the needs of different stakeholders.

You need to engage everybody who’s impacted by the change and communicate with them regularly, not just engage the leadership team. Clients might do a great job upfront communicating about the change and then a month or two later, you’ll hear people saying, “Oh, are we still doing that thing?” Just because you’ve rolled a project out doesn’t mean everybody’s accepted it. 

When hiring change management consultants, clients should never forget that change management is about people, having conversations with people who support the project and people who don’t. The change management consultant needs strong emotional intelligence to facilitate difficult conversations, because you’re dealing with people who may get angry because they don’t like a project. 

What communication skills does a change management consultant need?

They need the ability to take what an executive says, such as ‘we’re launching this change project because we have to reduce costs and be more efficient’ and then connect that project’s rationale with people’s emotions. 

I have a client that would launch change initiatives by setting up an all-hands meeting where the CEO would show everyone the spreadsheets, the detailed financials, multiple graphics and then say, ‘this is why we have to launch this project.’ Then I would come in, push his charts off the stage and say, ‘let’s talk about us as people. Why does this change matter for us? What’s the impact on you as an individual?’ Clients need to bring in change management consultants who can facilitate those deeper, more human conversations around the change.

When is the right time for a client to bring in a project management consultant?

If your change initiative is a simple one, impacting maybe a handful of departments, bring a consultant in a few weeks before the launch to start developing a strategic change plan. If you’re driving a more complex initiative, something like a merger or an organizational restructuring, bring the consultant in 2-3 months beforehand. Because you’ll need more time to start shaping the change and getting impacted employees involved. 

Moving impacted employees from being change resistant to saying, “Well, I’m willing to learn more” takes time. When I’m brought in later in the process, I take a step back and say, “Yes, we should have involved the employees earlier. That was a mistake.” Then I give people time to vent, before saying, “Help me understand where you’re struggling, where you think we need to give more information or maybe tweak what we’re doing.”

Can you describe a particular change management project you’ve worked on? 

The client was a global medical device company that had to change because the European Union’s medical device regulation (MDR) was changing. As a result, they needed to change all their products to be compliant with the EU’s new MDR. If that wasn’t complex enough, they also decided to standardize processes across their global organization. They had acquired a number of other companies, but primarily let them work on their own. 

So we had two projects: the MDR compliance and the standardization of operating procedures. The change management part was the bigger piece because it meant engaging all of these international sites, communicating with them about why the HQ were standardizing processes. We spent a lot of time explaining the project’s reasoning, getting people engaged, diving into discussions about everybody’s processes. That project was really a matter of coming together and saying, ‘how do we work through this as one organization?’ And then engaging and educating people as to why we were doing what we were doing. 

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