Building the Project Management Office of the Future

In this article, our CEO, Paul McManus, explores the past, present, and future of localisation project management. Paul has more than 25 years of experience in the localisation industry, having held executive positions in a number of LSPs, working directly with investors, and also supporting other localisation companies with their staffing and also their learning & development needs.Read this article to find out what challenges are associated with localisation project management and how companies can create a cost-effective, competent, and engaged PMO.


A New Challenge for all Language Service Providers

It was over 25 years ago when I made my first significant career change, from working as a Quality Manager in a manufacturing company to managing a Business Unit in a Language Service Provider (LSP) company. With this switch, I had moved away from a world which was full of structure, processes, Japanese manufacturing principles, and what used to be called Total Quality Management. This new world was unstructured, wild-west-like, and almost everyone I met had a strong view that “Quality” only referred to translation quality. It was a world of high-velocity, complex projects and global markets that needed to be managed. There was an ongoing need for new talent, with the skills to fill a range of emerging roles, including Project Management, and it was clear to me that Project Management, as a key service that all LSP’s sell, needed much more quality management.

The Changing Nature of Project Management

When any business unit leader takes control over a new portfolio of projects, or a group of clients, they will quickly learn that their success is dependent on the Project Managers who work in their group. The translation industry has many roles, e.g. Translator, Engineer, Business Development Manager, etc., all of which contribute to the success of any customer engagement, but none more so than the humble Project Manager. 

Good Project Managers make the difference between a successful project and a failed one. They “Actively Manage” their projects to ensure that the LSP in which they work can develop a reputation for consistently delivering for their customers. Growing revenue from customer accounts is particularly dependent on good project management as their consistently excellent work invariably gets rewarded by the customer awarding more business to the company. 

It has long been the established conventional wisdom that Project Managers are responsible for the classic ownership triangle consisting of: TimeCost and Quality. In my experience, from building and managing PMO teams all over the world for over 25 years, I would also suggest a fourth element, i.e. People. This fourth element has emerged strongly in the last number of years, as the industry has evolved. As companies try to “Do More With Less” and “Increase Operating Leverage” the net result is that everyone is much busier, and this has a particularly profound effect on the Project Manager.

… what has now become normal is that Project Management is as much about managing People, including stakeholders such as customers, colleagues, team mebers, suppliers, etc., as it is about focusing on Time, Cost, Quality.

In many companies in the language industry, the Project Manager has now taken on the additional responsibilities of an Account Manager. They very often have revenue goals to worry about, on top of managing the deliveries. Some have even morphed into Customer Success Managers, partly because modern Language Service Providers also provide Software to their customers and so on-boarding and maintenance have become part of the engagement. Whatever their title is, from one company to the next, what has now become normal is that Project Management is as much about managing People, including stakeholders such as customers, colleagues, team members, suppliers, etc., as it is about focusing on Time, Cost or Quality. 

The competences, which are now required to be a good People Manager, are often very different from what was once expected to be in the ideal profile for a Project Manager. The result is that people who used to be a perfect fit for Project Management, are sometimes no longer a good fit. Often they have to find a company that still works in a way where they can feel at home. Perhaps they may leave the profession and sometimes even the industry.

Hiring new project managers is now much harder, as finding people with the right blend of competence, personality and experience is a more difficult task. Millennials and Gen Zs are not as attracted to the role, as their predecessors once were, due to the excessive workload, long hours, sometimes insane levels of pressure, and a lack of professional development opportunities in some companies. All service industries, including the Language Services industry, are now experiencing a global shortage of good Project Managers. Companies are competing aggressively for each other’s resources in a talent-war, similar to the one which exists in the Software industry, where companies constantly struggle to recruit the best Developers.

Post-Covid, the need for staff in localisation will continously increase, making it even more difficult for companies to hire project managers that have the right blend of competence, experience, personality and cultural fit.

Finding the right people is not the only challenge for LSPs. According to the latest data from Slator, so far, 2021 has registered the highest number of jobs available in the language industry, surpassing years such as 2018 or 2019. Post-Covid, the need for staff in the translation industry will continuously increase, making it even more difficult for companies to hire project managers that have the right blend of competence, experience, personality and cultural fit. Bringing all of this together, it is clear that the industry already suffers from talent shortages. These shortages will also get worse as time goes on, right across the world.

The lack of talent has also had an impact on employee-engagement levels. Through higher rates of engagement, companies can reduce the costs associated with recruitment, selection, and onboarding, and benefit from the added value that an engaged employee can bring.  Globally, the level of employee engagement decreased in 2020 to 20% (down from 22% in 2019), according to Gallup’s State of The Global Workplace 2021. The pandemic has added a new layer of challenges for companies, associated with managing a global remote workforce and a stronger focus on employee well-being. 

Leaving the pandemic aside, the data available on employee engagement shows that on average only 1 in 5 employees is highly-engaged, so apart from hiring new resources, who may become more engaged, the challenge associated with project management is now “how do we keep and motivate our best resources and also how do we make project management an interesting and attractive role?

The Future

So, if these last few paragraphs show us what has happened in the past and what the present looks like, then what does the future hold for those tasked with building and growing the PMOs of the future? According to the Project Management Institute’s recent publication, entitled: “Project Management Job Growth and Talent Gap 2017-2027”, there is a worrying trend in the shortage of project management talent, which will continue to grow over the next 9-10 years. The authors claim that “Across the globe, there is a widening gap between employers’ need for skilled project management workers and the availability of professionals to fill those roles”. It goes on to claim that the expected growth, between now and 2027, in project management-oriented jobs will be as follows:

What is clear from this data, is that the current shortage in the Project Management profession is not going to get better anytime soon. Following this logic, we can also expect that, as the talent gap widens, the cost of hiring Project Managers will go up and up.

One of the most difficult aspects of managing a PMO is that the internal fixed cost of Project Management is rarely exceeded, or even matched, by the revenue that is directly derived from this vital service.

One of the most difficult aspects of managing a PMO is that the internal fixed cost of Project Management is rarely exceeded, or even matched, by the revenue that is directly derived from this vital service. This has always been the case in competitive service industries, and it forces many companies to try to automate the role of the Project Manager, or at least some of the more administrative elements of the role. This places an additional development burden on the company and often has very mixed results in terms of delivering any actual savings, in real Project Management costs. Many companies simply move their Project Management roles to low-cost locations but not all companies have the luxury of being able to set up offices in strategic cost-effective locations and have no choice but to continue to hire as they have always done.

The salary costs of Project Managers clearly vary from one location to the next but when a company decides to hire, they also incur costs such as job posting, recruitment, on-boarding, benefits, equipment, management, HR, IT, etc. This burdening can add as much as between 85% and 120% to the actual base salary, depending on the company and country, to give the true cost of employing an additional person. As this talent gap widens, the problem will become unsustainable for companies who are already struggling to maintain or improve, tight operating margins in competitive and often commoditised industries such as the translation industry.

… the PMO of the future will have to embrace at least some outsourcing, but this outsourcing should be only trusted to experienced, secure, specialist partners who have a proven track record and strong core competence in building global PMOs.

The cost of Project Management will therefore continue to rise, against a backdrop of pricing pressure in most service industries. The PMO of the future will need to be staffed by people who have the right blend of competences to handle both the task-oriented and people-oriented elements of modern project management. The PMO will have to be global, with cultural integrity, serving customers in their own languages and time zones, in order to maximise differentiation and service. The service delivered by the PMO will need to be quality-managed, to ensure that it is fit for its purpose and that it is delivering the expected value. Finally, the PMO of the future will have to embrace at least some outsourcing, but this outsourcing should only be trusted to experienced, secure, specialist partners who have a proven track record and strong core competence in building global PMOs.

The PMO of the Future – the 3 key ingredients

Based on this data, I believe that there are 3 key elements that will have to be considered in the PMO of the future:

1. A new blended-cost approach

The cost structure will end up being a blend of internal fixed-costs of full-time Project Managers being combined with external variable-costs from outsourced Project Management. This does not mean simply hiring contractors to act as Project Managers, as they usually have a very high loading percentage, as well, mainly due to being onsite. This means finding a reliable partner that can support a translation company to access and manage multilingual talent in a cost-effective location. This partner would then build a white-labeled Project Management team that would become an extension of the internal PMO structure and that would reflect the values of the translation company.

2. Improved Job Design

For localisation companies that opt to rely mostly on an internal FTE team, there is a need to make project management a more attractive role.  Making project management a more interesting job, with growth opportunities, may reduce the cost associated with the high attrition rate in the industry. It also helps to solve another pain experienced by many companies i.e. poor employee engagement. 

A more interesting  project management role must involve some or all of the following concepts for the project manager:

  • A clear professional development plan established by the manager of the PMO with each project manager individually, including KPIs, competences to work on, skills to develop and an overall growth path to a sustainable career.
  • Periodical one to ones, to discuss existing issues, progress on professional development plans and to build a trusting relationship between the PMO manager and each project manager in the team. 
  • A management-style which is adapted to the project manager’s personality, will get the very best out of the project managers by maximising their strengths and improving their weaknesses. 
  • A culture based on quality, integrity, humamity and teamwork will inspire loyalty in the PMO and help the project managers to grow to become the best professional versions of themselves.

3. Continuous Learning & Development

The evolution of technology and the rising demands of customers in terms of rapid, yet cost-effective and professional, services puts a lot of pressure on project managers and makes their roles even more complex.

Although most of the basics in terms of localisation project management are covered during induction and through the ongoing support from the PMO manager or from colleagues, this may not be enough. To make sure that project management processes are aligned across all customer accounts and that each project manager is consistently delivering great customer-service, there is a need for continuous investment in learning and development, focused on improving competences, processes and performance as well as instilling a stronger commercial-view into the PMO team. 

How we can help

XTENSOS has a range of solutions that can be accessed by companies who wish to outsource some or all of their project management, or those who want to continue growing and developing their internal project management team:

  1. Outsourced PMO Services

XTENSOS operates an Outsourced PMO Service for companies, in various industries, including Language Service Providers. Our multilingual Project Managers can conduct business in several languages including English, French (both for Canada and France), German, and several other European languages (including several Nordic languages). Once we are engaged by a company, our Project Managers become a seamless extension of the Customers’ own PMO, but the service comes at a fraction of the cost that the Customer would incur in hiring the same number of people directly. 

We offer in-time-zone support for the United States, all of Europe and we have a significant overlap window for Asia every day. In addition, given our European locations, our Project Managers are very close to our Customers’ main supply chains, making it much easier to manage deliverables each day. Our dedicated teams are segregated to ensure that information security is maintained at all times.

  1. Go-Active Management Training & Coaching

This learning & development programme helps PMO managers to better understand how to manage more effectively, as well as how to motivate and engage their team members. 

We use DISC profiling combined with our own proprietary competence framework to help managers understand the behaviour of their team members and the stakeholders that they are working with. With these tools, managers can develop approaches for different work behaviours and learn how to adapt their management style based on these behaviours. 

This training is focused on building specific active-management skills and tools that will contribute to an increased level of employee engagement and productivity. 

  1. Project Management Professional Training

This advanced programme helps project management leaders in building an effective Project Management organisation. 

Adapted for industry needs, our Project Management Training follows the 7th edition of the PMBOK Guide, launched on August 1st, and the updated ISO 21500:2021, bringing a blend of the latest trends, methodologies, and best practices. 

It focuses on building interpersonal skills, identifying solutions to improve workflows and processes, sharing best practices, and defining internal PMO standards. 

All of our own PMO processes, programmes and people follow the XTENSOS Competence Framework, which has been built with all of our years of global PMO management experience in the language industry. We also use a specific approach to in-depth Behavioural Profiling, that helps us find and hire only project managers that are a good fit for the customer.   

At XTENSOS, our core values are HumilityIntegrityPeople, and Service. We try to live by these values, in everything that we do, and we bring these values to our Customers in all of our services.

To find out more about these services, which we offer directly to Language Service Providers as well as to companies outside of the language industry, please get in touch with XTENSOS on, or feel free to connect with me directly on LinkedIn or Twitter and we can start a conversation about your PMO of the future. 

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