Recent articles published by both Harvard and Stanford indicate that organizations should revisit business priorities and objectives more frequently, and not feel constrained by adhering to traditional strategic plans. Such plans often get revisited once in a blue moon by senior management to make sure that they are “on course” to achieve high-level goals over the next 5 years. Both articles seem to indicate that organizations need to get away from the formal strategic planning process, in favor of thinking of strategy as a fluid and continually evolving endeavor, thereby meeting more rapidly changing marketplace trends and demands.
Although I am not convinced that strategic plans will go away, as they do provide an overarching long-term road map for executive management to plan for resources and budget, the challenges of working with evolving business objectives often gives rise to a more agile, project-oriented organizational structure. As defined by the Project Management Institute, the projectized organization is the antithesis of a traditional functional organization made up of hierarchical reporting levels with all staff assigned to siloed departmental functions. Project managers in the functional organization “borrow” their team members from various departments to get the work done. In the projectized organization, the project manager has more formal authority and power, and team members report directly to them.
Whether an organization is structured by functional department or by project (or by a hybrid of both, or matrix structure), the idea that business priorities evolve more frequently means that the successful project manager will always need to be looped in on what those priorities are. By continually making sure that current and future projects are in alignment with your corporate strategy (or your customers’ business priorities), the project manager is assured that resources, processes and priorities for initiatives are situated for success. A proactive position on addressing strategy alignment is critical, as project management tends to be traditionally less involved in setting organizational goals and priorities.
Below are Five Tips for project managers to be more strategically aligned with business priorities:
- Be proactively “in the know” regarding corporate strategy and priorities for the next year or so – don’t just rely on company announcements and newsletters. Good project managers are always in touch with their “sponsors,” or stakeholders who authorize their projects and can provide that interpretation. But if the opportunity presents itself while you exchange pleasantries with a member of the C-Suite in the hallway or at the water cooler, ask him or her on how they see current organizational goals, and address what projects you have which support them. If your project(s) support external clients or customers, always seize an opportunity to check in on any changes in their priorities.
- Review the business cases that establish the purpose of your projects. If you follow standard, widely-accepted project management processes, you have a Project Charter to support the rationale of each your project and deliverables. According to the Project Management Institute’s Executive Guide to Project Management (page 75), one third to half of all project managers may fail to include fundamental considerations in their business cases. Also, they often fail to link project benefits to performance targets.
- Re-evaluate your current projects in planning and execution process stages. Ask yourself and discuss with your project sponsors accordingly the following questions: Are there any current projects that are going to be affected by changes in availability in resources, budget and timeline because of changing business priorities? How will selection of future projects be affected by current corporate goals and strategy? And the often the most difficult (and most courageous) question to ask: are there any current projects that should just stop and be eliminated in favor of other projects that might provide more value?
- Develop action plans and make recommendations. Based on your answers in previous Tip #3, make recommendations that may involve changing course on your current projects, and in some cases even eliminate those which don’t make sense to continue given current business objectives. You may even find that you may need to work on updating project management standards, templates and processes based on changing priorities. In all cases, though, remember to respect your established change control procedures when gaining approval or acting on your project recommendations.
- Communicate, Communicate, Communicate! Keeping your stakeholders actively informed and engaged seems obvious and even cliché to the experienced, successful project manager. However, in a dynamic work environment that demands ongoing re-assessment of corporate strategy and the projects that support it, the entire project team needs to be aware of how and why direction on projects may need to change. There is nothing worse than working on a team and not knowing the reasons priorities change, or even why a project exists. As stated in PMI’s 2013 Pulse of the ProfessionTM report, the most crucial success factor in project management is effective communications to all stakeholders. By communicating up to your project sponsors and to executive management, both the project management function and you in your individual role are standing out as an engaged, active contributors to strategy execution and priority objectives.
AMA conducted a survey to research the career benefits of getting the PMP. Here are the results to the question: Is the PMP Worth It?
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