Recruiting best project managers

Nicole Smith founded Programme Recruitment in 1996 in a response to her perception that the way organisations used project and programme managers could be improved.

Before then, change projects were often outsourced to consultants on short-term contracts and the result was a cost-driven piecemeal approach that sometimes failed to meet expectations.

Generally speaking, an area in desperate need for change was IT, where the goals of the department – even the individual – were regularly divorced from the goals of the business. To combat the problem businesses would bring in outsiders.

Adding to the need for a new approach was the realisation among big organisations that change is an ongoing feature of business and not something that happens every now and again. So dedicated teams started being created to lead and manage projects, programmes and portfolios.

“At that time IT departments drove the change and that would cause problems because instillations happened without establishing whether there was a requirement,” says Ms Smith. “People didn’t think too hard about cost, training and disruption.

“Project management has evolved a lot in the last 20 years because of how organisations manage their change and who they use to see the job through. The value of project managers is still only just being realised.”

Programme Recruitment prides itself on a consultative approach – a far cry from firing CVs at the client and hoping for the best

Ms Smith says she identified a gap between an “outsource provider and a generalist supplier”, and realised there was room for a new business that really understood project management and could supply top talent to businesses with a long-term view.

The problem wasn’t a lack of skilled individuals, it was that organisations often found it hard to categorise them or to match required skill-sets with live projects. Large organisations needed to find out who they had internally before they could recruit fresh talent.

Programme Recruitment began helping such organisations to evaluate project managers in order to spot skills gaps and measure skills linked to different levels on the career ladder. It helped them benchmark, promote and allocate tasks much more efficiently.

“We piloted this system ten years ago through NTL/Telewest, who are now Virgin Media, and then used that evaluation to start recruiting where there was a need within the organisation,” Ms Smith recalls. “We put external candidates through the same evaluation process and it helped us deliver exactly the right candidate for each role.

“On top of all that is the cultural fit; in a way it supersedes everything. Someone could be the best project manager in the world but, unless they are right for the business, it simply won’t work. So we run ‘soft tests’ too.”

Programme Recruitment prides itself on a consultative approach – a far cry from firing CVs at the client and hoping for the best. According to Ms Smith, the approach saves clients money too because they can see exactly what they need and not over-hire.

The service also caters to organisations that do not have a mature approach to project management or are relatively new to the concept. In these instances it’s all about instilling fundamental project management principles within teams such as finance, marketing and sales.

She says: “There are different levels of maturity. Organisations like Virgin Media are well on their way to the perfect approach, but we are still working with very immature companies where project management is still not used to its full effectiveness and companies are still losing money hand over fist by implementing stuff that is not properly prepared.

“It’s because this skill-set has only really taken off in the last three years and it’s only now that I can tell organisations to cut down on contractors and hire top managers, who can cover multiple disciplines, save money and help push the business further.”

And it’s not just large organisations that can benefit from the project management approach, small businesses with big ideas can also take advantage. Programme Recruitment works with companies across the size spectrum.

Recruiting good project managers who can help build businesses is clearly a primary concern for ambitious organisations. Hiring the right people, offering skills commensurate with the needs of the business makes simple sense. The alternative is more waste and less direction – and who needs that?


Mike Hesketh, programme manager, Hermes Europe

As a turnaround programme manager, my job is simple enough – take accountability, get the programme back on track and put in place a competent team to deliver it when I’ve moved on. The first two are my stock-in-trade, but the latter needs experience and knowledge of the market.

In the last 15 years, I’ve worked with Programme Recruitment exclusively. The real cost of recruitment is trawling through hundreds of potential candidates’ CVs and then interviewing many of these, just trying to find the perfect match. Programme Recruitment is the only recruitment consultancy that seems to understand that.

Whether I’m working on a new executive terminal for Virgin Atlantic, restructuring retail bank operations for Barclays, rolling out cutting-edge video on-demand technology for Virgin Media, or building hubs and depots for Hermes Europe, Programme Recruitment always finds the right people with the right experience to build a strong delivery team.

Mark Paden, head of group services, Towry

I needed to bring in project management and business analyst resource for a number of transformation projects, operating across the organisation, in a very short time-scale.

Programme Recruitment helped by considering the organisational, cultural and team fit, balanced with the core skills and capability for delivering the projects required.

The up-front qualification of the role requirements complements their approach to suitable candidate qualification, assessment and short-listing for interview. The assessment has also been extended to the current team to aid personal development.

The competency-based assessment ensures my time is not wasted when interviewing and that I have all the necessary supporting information to enable a like-for-like comparison of a candidate’s strength and their areas for development.

I successfully recruited interim and permanent roles delivered in a short-time frame to meet the needs of the transformation project, successfully delivering the outcomes and moving the organisation forward.