Here comes another phenomenal venture, Project One, distinguished as a leading management consultancy in the Financial Times rankings which excels in executing business-critical change and transformation initiatives for global organizations. The success narrative of Project One is intricately woven with its commitment to maintaining independence—a remarkable feat for an organization of its size and stature, considering its expansive client base. In James O’Sullivan’s tenure, only the third CEO in the 25-year history of Project One, he has been fortunate to witness and contribute to the company’s growth for nearly a decade. His journey began as a consultant and progressed through roles in client account management and leadership of the sales team, affording him invaluable insights into the inner workings of the organization across all core levels and functions.
James views his role as one of guardianship, recognizing that the company’s character and essence have been shaped over the years by the collective efforts of all who have been part of its journey. In an era marked by business models that often veer in different directions, Project One stands as a key factor in its ability to not only attract and retain top talent but also nurture future leaders from within its ranks. Additionally, their distinctive operating model resonates with customers who appreciate the organization’s ceaseless focus on their success, unencumbered by the pressures of promoting or cross-selling other products or services typically associated with group or parent company relationships.
The Business Portfolio
Twenty-five years ago, Project One emerged with a distinctive mission: To disrupt the status quo, challenge the established norms, and present an alternative to the mainstream management consultancies dominating the market. The journey began with a meticulous search for a market gap, with a laser focus on providing a unique service to the ultimate beneficiaries—large corporate organizations. The goal was to deliver substantial, tangible change that would not only transform their businesses but also enrich the experiences of their customers.
The core ethos of Project One is centered on simplicity, transparency, and efficiency. It sought to eliminate unnecessary bureaucracy and champion a straightforward approach to doing business. With a structure built on straightforward principles and an environment fostering freedom and growth, Project One stood apart. At that time, no other company in the UK offered their bespoke vision. Rather than compromise, they took the bold step of crafting a company tailored to perfection.
This tailor-made enterprise aimed to align seamlessly with the needs and aspirations of potential clients and customers, excelling in the delivery of business projects and programs. The key differentiator lay in their unwavering commitment to deploying only senior change leaders and experts—individuals boasting over two decades of experience. These seasoned professionals were entrusted to provide a steady and secure guiding hand to navigate the challenging terrain of change.
In a nutshell, Project One aspired to optimize the effectiveness of its clients’ change and transformation endeavors. They aimed to become not just service providers but trusted advisors, deeply embedded in their customers’ journeys. They understood that by fostering robust relationships and executing this approach flawlessly, they would earn profound respect and loyalty, solidifying their status as the preferred supplier for project expertize.
The Service Portfolio
Within the expansive realm of the Management Consulting industry, characterized by its vast array of services and offerings, Project One has opted for a path of simplicity and clarity, owing to its boutique stature. In straightforward terms, they stand as a Change Management organization, specializing in the delivery of Project and Program Management services tailored for significant blue-chip organizations, often of global reach, with headquarters rooted in the UK.
Project One excels in furnishing the change leadership—seasoned change experts equipped with extensive experience in steering large-scale, complex transformations. Their primary focus revolves around deploying compact teams to occupy the upper echelons of program structures, orchestrating the customer’s necessary change initiatives. This entails managing a blended resource ecosystem, encompassing both in-house personnel and an array of vendor and supplier teams, each contributing their unique expertise. As an organization, Project One adopts a streamlined hierarchical structure with only a few layers, steering clear of the vertical or horizontal practices typically found in the industry.
Every member of their team arrives as a specialist in driving change and transformation agendas, regardless of the specific subject or context. They operate across diverse industries and within various functional domains of organizations. Their engagement is geared towards shaping and delivering change, a majority of which in contemporary times hinges on technology deployment. However, Project One extends beyond the technological facet, encompassing the equally crucial realms of people-centric change and business transformation, acknowledging the inherent challenges in fostering behavioral change and ensuring seamless technology adoption—an aspect often elusive for businesses.
In addition to their roles in program leadership, technology implementation, and business transformation, Project One provides a governance and control function as a service—a role sometimes erroneously equated with Project Management Office (PMO) responsibilities. They prefer to view it within a broader framework, considering it more akin to an assurance function that steers programs on the right course while furnishing key stakeholders with an unvarnished view of progress and challenges alike.
The evolution of Project One over the past seven years has seen them refine their approach to marketing and communication. They’ve struck a balance between showcasing their value without divulging the intricacies of their client engagements. Their presence in the market has never been stronger—they have consistently secured a place on the Financial Times UK’s Leading Management Consultants list of the top 1,700 firms for the past four years, with the last two years seeing them break into the top 20—an exceptional feat for a boutique firm comprising of 100 individuals. Moreover, they recently garnered recognition as the second go-to organization in the industry for Project and Program Management, as independently assessed by Consultancy, trailing only behind a prominent big-4 consultancy. This acknowledgment underscores their foresight in identifying a niche that resonates with the market.
At the core of Project One lies a profound commitment to their people, a fact validated by their threefold recognition by Great Place to Work in 2023—first as a ‘Best Workplace,’ then for ‘Wellbeing,’ and finally for ‘Consulting and Professional Services.’ These acknowledgments underscore their dedication to fostering a culture and environment that empowers their team, ultimately translating into exceptional support for their customers—a testament to their boutique’s core values.
Overcoming The Challenges
In James’ career, events unfolded like a sequence of challenges, not unlike in the realm of business. It wasn’t so much about the nature of these challenges as it was about his response to them and how he tackled each one. Concurrently, he recognized the paramount importance of continuous learning, for it equipped him with the knowledge to confront future obstacles with resilience. Among the most formidable challenges he encountered was the art of building, leading, nurturing, evolving, and expanding a business, especially within the boutique domain.
As a service-oriented enterprise, they remained acutely attuned to the ebb and flow of external market dynamics. Over 25 years, they navigated the tumultuous waters of significant events—the financial collapse, the complexities of Brexit, the disruptive impact of COVID-19, and the current challenges posed by the Cost-of-Living crisis. These events held considerable sway over their clients’ landscapes, directly influencing the scale of investments made in their change and transformation initiatives. Their mission remained unwavering: to stand by their customers, whether on an upward trajectory of development and growth or amidst the more demanding terrain of cost reduction.
At the core of their business lay people, and their reputation was a reflection of the quality of their work, which hinged on the trust their customers vested in them. The challenge they faced was unique—operating a business that exclusively harnessed the talents of high-calibre consultants. These individuals, far from being commodities, were a scarce and sought-after resource. This scarcity mandated tireless efforts from their people team to identify and recruit the best talent for the company. The journey to assembling this exceptional team often commenced with the cultivation of long-term relationships with prospective team members.
Undeniably, the business landscape was rife with challenges, but to James and his team, that was precisely what made it captivating. In a world where complexity abounded, their business thrived on the art of problem-solving, and internally, they relished every opportunity to confront and conquer these challenges.
The Words Of Advice By The CEO“The ability to build a solid network of connections and relationships across all levels throughout your career is highly valuable and will ultimately act as an enabler to many aspects of business over the years ahead. In building your network, you must be yourself and build genuine trusted relationships, based on the real you and what you stand for. These relationships will likely be multifaceted over the years, at times information sharing, at times a sounding board, and other times a support network. You would be amazed where people end up working and what roles they take on – a true relationship lasts the test of time.”