Balancing project management and business development

Successful project management is the linchpin of organisational growth and sustainability in today's dynamic and competitive consulting landscape. Although project managers are traditionally responsible for planning, executing, and closing projects, they also have an important role to play in business development. In this article, we’ll explore how project managers can support a company’s business development efforts while also identifying client needs and closing gaps in service.
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What is business development?

Business development is a strategic approach that aims to identify new business prospects and create and nurture opportunities for an organisation's growth. Though usually led by a business development team, winning new business takes a broader team effort supported by project managers and other company staff.

What can a project manager do to identify business development opportunities on their projects?

Project managers have a unique vantage point since they are intimately involved in service delivery and communicating with clients. They play a crucial role in developing and managing client relationships throughout the life of a project. They also act as the client's main point of contact, ensuring clear and frequent communication, managing expectations, and addressing concerns promptly. This puts project managers in the perfect position to cultivate lasting client relationships and identify new business opportunities.
Some of the things project managers can do to support a company’s business development efforts include:
  • Listening strategically to understand how micro requests can reveal big-picture challenges.
  • Identifying and assessing gaps or pain points in current operations and product or service offerings.
  • Identifying additional needs: Where could service improve? Is the client missing critical skillsets on current contracts? 
  • Becoming a trusted partner by offering innovative solutions to client challenges and developing an industry reputation as a thought leader.
  • Developing relationships with potential clients outside their project teams. 
  • Doing great work to prove their company can be counted on to deliver quality services on time and within budget. 

What should a project manager do after identifying a potential business development opportunity?

After identifying a potential business development opportunity, a project manager is faced with the important task of strategically utilising this opportunity. To do this, they should consider the following steps:

Connect with leadership. Once project managers identify a potential business opportunity, the next move is to connect with the portfolio manager or director (depending on a company’s organisational structure) to strategise next steps and how to further engage the client. Based on how contracts are structured, it is vital to communicate early and often with leadership to ensure the project managers offer the best and most appropriate solutions to clients.

Work with the business development team. Project managers should work closely with business development teams to assess the feasibility and viability of future business opportunities. This includes analysing resource availability, timelines, and budgets to determine whether a proposed project aligns with the company's strategic objectives.

Prepare the right materials. Some opportunities may require a white paper with research and justification. Others may require a short write-up to justify need. Each project team may have different requirements and the solution may depend on the relationship between the company and client. 

Be patient and persistent. Often, budget constraints or executive leadership decisions may interfere with a client’s ability to act quickly on a good idea or solution. When working with clients, project managers need to be tactful, patient, and committed to nurturing relationships over time.

What types of solutions could result from identifying a business development opportunity?

Project managers successful at business development may reap positive outcomes for their company, including:
  • Project extensions and expansion
  • More staff added to current projects
  • Additional projects stemming from the original project or effort
  • Entirely new projects
In conclusion, because project managers are often the ones most intimately involved with clients, they may be the first to recognize client needs and pain points. From this perspective, project managers can drive company growth, foster client satisfaction, and ultimately contribute to a company's long-term success.

Balancing project management and business development
Author: Donna Jones is a senior associate at Aptive and leads Aptive’s Project Management Community of Practice.
Keywords: Project management, Business development

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