Strategic Project Management is Key to Executing Strategy
by Dan Knights, on Nov 21, 2019 6:38:47 PM
We've talked in the past about how building a strong Strategy Model is core to executing your organization's strategy. At the heart of the model are typically Objectives (what you're trying to achieve), Projects (what you're going to do to achieve it), and KPIs (how you're going to measure the success of your Objectives).
The focus of this article is on actually doing things (your Projects) to move you towards your Objectives - that may sound like it should be obvious, but we've all been in the position of looking across our organization, and seeing a combination of these things:
- Key strategic Objectives that don't seem to have enough (or any) activity supporting them
- Active Projects that don't clearly support Objectives
- A lack of coordination across the organization to identify or change any of this
What is Strategic Project Management?
Strategic Project Management (SPM) is the process of thinking about your Projects in light of their connection to your strategy. In other words, Strategic Project Management is about forming clear links between your Projects and Objectives.
The premise of Strategic Project Management is that 'Projects' should be the 'actionable' arm of your strategy.
This is why thinking in terms of strategic project management is key. Strategic Project Management isn't just about the process of project-managing big and important projects, it's about designing and managing your portfolio of Projects to ensure that it supports your strategy, by ensuring that:
- The mix of Projects is appropriate and sufficient to deliver your Strategic Objectives
- Your Projects are appropriately resourced
- If timelines and resourcing have to be changed, Projects are prioritized accordingly based on the strategic plan, and impacts reflected in the plan.
We've outlined the key elements of creating an effective Project, but how best to ensure that you are building a portfolio of Projects that will help you execute your strategy by actually delivering on your Objectives? In this article, we've outlined the key things you need to do to make that happen.
"Projects that support strategy" vs "Operational Projects"
Here we're talking about Projects that are supposed to be supporting your strategy, which for simplicity we'll call "Strategic Projects" . You may have operational projects that are key parts of delivering your day-to-day business, which although essential, aren't part of moving the organization forward - and that's how to tell the difference between the two: if it supports an Objective in your strategy, in our context it's a Strategic Project.
The key thing to note is that Strategic Projects in this context don't have to be huge - pretty much all your big Projects should be Strategic Projects (otherwise why all the time and investment?), but you may have many small to medium Projects that are, in their own way, crucial to delivering on your Objectives.
What's the Difference Between Strategic Project Management & Project Management?
There's a lot of overlap between traditional project management and strategic project management. That's because the 'strategic' part of the phrase is essentially talking about applying a 'strategic lense' to your existing portfolio of projects.
That means that you'll still apply all of your traditional project management skills and processes to strategic project management, but in addition you'll be articulating upfront the connection between your projects and your strategy.
Think of Strategic Project Management as an extra sub-discipline within the broader discipline of project management. In the same way that managing dependencies or resourcing are today.
How to Ensure your Projects Support your Strategy
Your Projects are the meat of your strategy - they are where things actually get done and progress gets made. It's also where all the time and money gets spent. So how do you make sure that your activities are well aligned to your strategy?
Make sure your Projects support your Objectives
- Every active Objective needs at least one Project - This is the obvious one. You may have future Objectives that haven't "started" yet, which is fine, but any "active" Objective must have Projects - otherwise you're not actually working on it. Depending on how big your initiatives are, you may find you need to have sub-Projects under Projects to best represent how you intend to deliver the work.
- The Projects must deliver on the Objectives - For each Objective, you need to be able to say that if you do a good job of delivering all its Projects , you will achieve the Objective. If you can't say that, you need to look at the Project mix and identify your gaps.
- The Projects shouldn't "overlap" or be redundant - Look carefully at your Project mix under each Objective and across your strategy. Generally you should not be able to fully deliver on an Objective without a particular one of its Projects - if you can, seriously consider whether you actually need that Project. Maybe that effort can be better spent elsewhere? You have to be prepared to remove or reduce scope on Projects. Equally, make sure that you don't have Projects within or between Objectives that "overlap" in scope, essentially duplicating work.
- Every Project must have a clear link to one or more Objectives - Even if it isn't directly linked to an Objective (e.g. it's a sub-Project within a parent Project under an Objective), it has to clearly support what you're trying to achieve. If you can draw a clear line from your Projects to the KPIs it will improve, that's an excellent indicator of fit. Note that once in a while you might find that you have a Project that clearly demonstrates strategic value, but doesn't align to a specific Objective - that can be a sign that you need to revisit your Objectives and make sure they themselve give you the right coverage.
Make sure your Projects actually happen
- Every Project must be realistically resourced - Time, money, skills: there are never enough to go around, and they are probably the most important element of actually delivering on a Project. This means you must have:
- Estimated the Project needs - Get ahead of things: make sure every Project that you're proposing has at least a high level time, cost, and resourcing estimate. You'll find that this will pay dividends when you come to try and prioritize - you'll get caught needing to do it anyway, and may be under more time pressure at that point.
- Budgeted for the Project - For real. Who's team is it in? Whose budget is it coming from? For some organizations everything comes from one bucket of people and money, in others you may have a complicated Opex/Capex request process. Either way, if it's not in someone's budget, you can guarantee it won't happen.
- The Project timelines must align with your Objectives - We see this all the time. An Objective will be set in a management meeting, and then some time down the line someone figures out what actually needs to be done, creates the Projects... and the timelines just don't stack up. Something has to change, either the Projects or the Objectives, but bite the bullet and make sure it does - if you don't, your plan becomes unrealistic, which means it won't be credible, which means it won't be useful.
- Every Project must have an Owner - Critical. Someone needs to be interested in the delivery of the Project, they need to be responsible for getting it off the ground and delivered, and they need to have the authority to make all this work. The Project will only happen if all these three things are true.
- Stop operational Projects getting in to your strategic plan, and vice-versa - You want to keep your strategic plan focused. This means you need to avoid letting operational Projects and activities creep in to the plan, as it will dilute your focus and impact the delivery of your Strategic Projects. Equally, you need to prevent Projects that should be on the strategic plan, mapped to Objectives, sliding in to the operational plan and becoming invisible when you're tracking your progress.
Make sure you stay on top of things
- Govern your Projects strategically - Every Objective will have its own mix of Projects, and then there is the mix of Projects across the whole strategic plan (in bigger plans you will even be thinking in terms of the mix within different business areas, departments etc.). Don't lose sight of the bigger picture - in the same way that the overall strategic management process emphasizes a governance process across the whole of strategy execution, the same applies to strategically managing your Project mix across your whole portfolio.
- Prioritize Projects strategically across the whole portfolio - Change will happen, you can guarantee that. How you handle it will seriously affect the execution of your plan - when the internal or external environment, available resources, strategic needs etc change, you need to prioritize Projects strategically across the whole plan, based on the needs of the Objectives.
- Allow the Projects and Objectives to inform each other - The strategic plan needs to live and breathe. Sometimes this will be top-down changes driven by refinements in what you want to achieve (or how you want to prioritize the Objectives), but you must allow room for the realities of Project implementation, and what you learn from actually doing, to be reflected in the higher level plan - even if it is just by keeping the Objective timelines current and accurate. The more isolated your Projects become from the rest of the plan, the less real your plan becomes.
Strategically Managing your Project Mix, and your Portfolio/Program Management Approach
We've focused here on the element of Strategic Project Management that relates to designing and managing the right project mix to achieve your Objectives, and therefore deliver on your strategy. This absolutely relates to areas of portfolio and program management - depending on your organizational structure and practices, this kind of Project mix management is certainly part of your portfolio and program management process. We're not introducing a parallel or alternative concept, it's simply one of the key functions that has to happen as part of that process.
The Importance of Strategic Project Management to your Strategy
We've shown the importance of taking a strategic view of building your Project mix, to best deliver on your Objectives across your whole plan, and how this is a key part of truly taking a Strategic Project Management approach.
If you're serious about taking a strategic view of your Project mix, that allows you to see and manage alignment and contribution of Projects to Objectives, what the Project mix is across different parts of your strategic plan (and across the whole plan), and then be able to track and refine your Project mix over time, you'll need to keep your strategy in a platform that can handle all that - why not start a free trial of Cascade, our strategy execution platform designed for exactly this? No credit card required!
Be sure to download the infographic below!