The Story of The Project Lab

Celebrating a decade of The Project Lab

The origin story of The Project Lab is not uncommon to Tasmania. In fact, it is typically Tasmanian. It is the pursuit of something beyond what has been before, beyond what we can achieve alone, beyond the normal. It is the pursuit of the extraordinary.

Our story started a little over 10 years ago, up a mountain in Africa. Our CEO, Ben Cashman and his wife Kate were travelling across Africa and had decided to take a five-day hike up Mt Kenya in Eastern Africa. A local man, John Abassi was hired to be their guide. John’s family provided a team of sherpas who walked Ben and Kate up the mountain. The high altitude meant the Tasmanians stayed quiet to conserve oxygen, which gave them an opportunity to listen to John’s story. In their conversations, they learnt that John earned $100 from leading the five-day trip, whilst they knew they had paid $2,000. It was clear John was missing out on a business opportunity, so at the top of a mountain in Kenya, on their 10” laptop screen Ben and Kate created a simple website for John that would enable him to market to tourists from across the world and take bookings directly. At the peak, almost 5,000m above sea level they launched the website to the world. John’s first step towards extraordinary. Ben and John kept in touch and a month later John reported back that he had secured his first booking for $2,000 from an American tourist. With that money, he was able to pay his family a decent wage for their services and funded a new hydro power generator for his village. By solving one problem of customer access for John, other problems were solved for a whole community.

CEO Ben Cashman with his wife Kate in Kenya. Their guide, John Abassi, is third from the left.

This was the seed planted for The Project Lab. Help businesses who help the community where they live and work. Apply our skills and expertise to problems that will have the greatest impact. Make it matter.

The other part of this origin story is that during his travels, Tasmanian boy Ben realised that there was no place like home. He was given a new appreciation for the privilege it was to have grown up on an island of half a million people. Where the air and water are clean. Natural beauty is preserved. Good food, education, housing, sport and culture are available. He understood the unique opportunity there was to have an impact on his own community by helping organisations that made Tasmania the great place it is.  

The vision to make Tasmania the most liveable island in the world became something worth pursuing. A lofty goal and one that cannot be attained by one person alone. It was the beginning of the story of The Project Lab. A purpose that has been in every season and iteration of the company. That purpose of making it matter, of working together to help our island be the best it can be, of pursuing the extraordinary, never changes. The ‘how’ of the pursuit does change. It adapts and bends as the world changes around. New people, new opportunities, new technology, new understanding, new pandemics…they have all moulded The Project Lab into the company it is today.

In 2013, Ben and a number of other independent project managers and business consultants decided to join forces. The idea was that by becoming a collective they could do more. Still working with their own clients, they would share lessons learnt and their individual knowledge to improve their services and offer a wider set of skills to the companies they were each working with. Whilst the model of how they worked was still to contract themselves or sub-contract each other to clients, they were sharing the same direction and ethos. They ran masterclasses to share knowledge and empower everyone to be the best they could be.

During this season they worked with Aurora Energy, Hydro Tasmania, several small SMBs and government departments on a wide range of projects including large IT system upgrades, company mergers and operational improvement initiatives. As with any start-ups there were lots of learnings, challenges faced and opportunities identified so The Project Lab could grow and adapt to better meet the needs of its clients.

Three years in and The Project Lab was recognised in the market for helping organisations execute plans, deliver projects and progress strategies in a positive way. Together they had built a strong client base and were solving important and interesting problems.  

Ben Cashman repping the old Project Lab branding in a Masterclass of 2017

The business grew and new people brought on to the team to support the activities of the consultants and project managers. This meant they could focus on clients’ work whilst the financial, administrative, people care and marketing functions of the business were looked after by people in dedicated positions. This laid the foundations to The Project Lab of today where specialised management consultant teams are supported by the corporate services division made up of operations, people and culture, finance, legal and risk, research and development, technology, and marketing, brand and communications.

Six years in and Covid hit the world.  

Everyone will have their own story of how Covid impacted their business. Sadly, for too many organisations, lock downs, supply delays and distribution problems were unsustainable, and they had to make radical changes, moving into survival mode or worse, shutting down.

This was a very real decision for The Project Lab – do they also move into survival mode? Problem solvers at heart and with a conviction that helping businesses was how to best help Tasmanian communities get through, the team looked for opportunities that would help companies and organisations to learn and grow through the tough season.

One example was a local gym, who of course had to shut its doors to their customers. They could run online classes for people to follow in their homes, but this wasn’t utilising all their assets. They had a warehouse of unused exercise equipment sitting in their gym. With some inspired thinking, The Project Lab encouraged gym owners to hire out the equipment during the lock downs. Customers restricted to their homes could have state-of-the-art treadmills or weight machines in their homes. They stayed healthy and fit, and the gym continued to use its assets and maintain paying memberships. Win, win.

It's the classic Covid anecdote that people rediscovered simplicity and found clarity, starting a new career, reorganising life to prioritise around what really matters to them, learning how to make sourdough. For The Project Lab, they realised their place in Tasmania, to be agile, problem solvers, developers of simple solutions that benefit others, exhausting opportunities and being resourceful and generous.

Stepping into a new post-Covid season the question was how can The Project Lab be better positioned to serve Tasmania? At this point, there was a wealth of knowledge, expertise and strong relationships with businesses, government and charities held by the individual consultants, and a corporate services team that was enabling them to do their best work.  The vision was to build a team, sharing common values and a singular focus of making Tasmania the most liveable island in the world.  

The values that characterise The Project Lab are Care, Be bold, No waste, No heroes, Do the right thing and Fun. The kind of values you might see on the wall in a family home. Which is indicative of the new season for The Project Lab. Building a team that will outgrow and outlive the individual.  

In 2020, The Project Lab stepped into a new season with a newfound understanding of who they were. A management consultancy that worked shoulder to shoulder with the client. Having proven, global experience, and yet on the ground, rolling up sleeves and working alongside and within the clients’ teams. Tasmanians working for Tasmanians. To set The Project Lab apart from the blue and white crowd, they chose bright pink for its boldness and its playfulness.

With this clarity in identity, and the desire to create a company for the future, the leadership team embarked on structural changes that would establish a foundation from which they could build a high-performing management consultancy. This required a robust internal process to ensure everyone was brought along into the next season.  

10 years in, and The Project Lab has grown to a team of over 80 people sprinkled throughout Tasmania, with HQs in downtown Hobart and Launceston.

From late in 2022 to 2023 the vision for the next stage of growth for The Project Lab was shared with the whole team, who were invited to be part of refining the strategy. After careful consideration and research to identify a business model that would position the company to not only continue serving existing clients but also open up opportunities to diversify their work with them and other organisations, The Project Lab launched a new organisational structure.

Management consultant teams including a wide range of expertise, industry knowledge and skills, supported by corporate services divisions of finance, legal and risk, research and development, operations, people and culture, technology, marketing, brand and communications. A year in and already the team has been seeing exciting business growth through focused teams understanding their market and maximising on a greater capacity to deliver opportunities and each team benefiting from the shared learnings that are part of a library of solutions they tailor to specific client needs.

Most importantly, The Project Lab is clear on its purpose: to make Tasmania the most liveable island in the world.  

What this will look like for our island is still being discovered but it will include everyone having equal access to quality education, individuals given control over their own healthcare, Tasmanian products reaching all corners of the world, businesses and homes benefiting from sustainable power produced locally from Tasmanian’s own natural resources.

How this comes about and The Project Lab’s role in this is clear – their team enables and improves Tasmanian organisations to achieve their goals which leads to a stronger, happier state where everyone is able to pursue their own extraordinary.

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