By Dave Wakeman
You don’t have to be a great philosopher to understand that our business environment has changed tremendously over the last few years. One result of all this change is that organizations now rely more heavily on projects to deliver on their strategic efforts.
Instead of considering this a problem, project managers should look at it as a huge opportunity to act more strategically and add value to their roles. We should work with executive leadership to help deliver successful projects aligned with the overall organizational strategy.
Many organizations have just begun to incorporate project management into their strategic delivery. Here are three ways you can align yourself with your organization’s strategy to take advantage of the shifting dynamics in the business environment.
1. Always jump to “why?”
I tell my clients that everything we do in an organization is driven by the answer to one simple question: Why?
As a project manager looking to jump into the strategic deployment of projects, you must move from implementer to strategic partner.
As a strategic partner, you want to get out in front of projects that you suspect won’t be successful from the start. To do so, always ask yourself, “Why this is important?” or “Why isn’t this important?” By being driven by the “why,” you can take control of wayward or poorly aligned projects.
Onecautionary note: When you explain that the project isn’t in alignment with the organizational strategy, you need to offer some alternatives.
2. Pay close attention to the business environment surrounding your organization and project.
As someone close to the implementation of the strategy, you will have a great vantage point to recognize and diagnose any challenges that might impede your team’s progress. You are also likely to be much closer to changes that present opportunities, technologies that will expedite delivery or unresolved issues that may derail the project.
The key is to stop thinking about just your individual project, and begin to think about how your project plays in the overall strategy. Then, when the opportunity presents itself, you should step into the conversation about how the project is working or not working with the organization’s strategy. But be prepared to explain how you got there and how you can get things back in order.
3. Think in terms of outcomes.
As a project manager in a project-driven organization, you’ll need to think and manage based on outcomes. This is in part because the demographics of our workforces are changing from on-site, lifelong employees to remote teams, project-driven workforces and employees who are looking for higher degrees of balance in their lives.
This makes outcome-based objectives a key component of delivering on the strategic promise of the organization. And it means you need to give up the idea that you can or should try to control every activity in your project.
It also means you are likely going to have to focus more on opening clear communication lines with your team and key stakeholders so you can communicate the importance of these outcomes in the context of the organization’s strategy.
How is your role becoming more strategic, and how do you drive strategic thinking in your projects? Let me know what I missed.
By the way, I've started a brand new weekly newsletter that focuses on strategy, value, and performance. Send me an email at email@example.com
In my previous post, I promised to tell you a sad but true story of a sponsor who was against his own project. As you know, lack of sponsorship is one of the major causes of failure in projects. It is very hard to make things happen without senior-level support.
According to author and business consultant John P. Kotter, building a guiding or supporting coalition means assembling a group with the power and energy to lead and sustain a collaborative change effort. That is when strong sponsorship comes to mind in project management.
Unfortunately, I was the project manager tasked with the initiative featuring the unfriendly sponsor. By that time, I knew some of the tricks of the change management trade. However, I naively ignored that people have their own hidden agendas.
Sizing Up the Sponsor
The sponsor, let’s call him John, was a division manager with almost 25 years dedicated to the same organization. He proposed an audacious project to outsource almost half of his division, creating a new company to own the assets.
It was a brilliant idea, strictly aligned with the organizational strategy. There was a solid business case supporting headcount and cost reduction, improved service levels and an outstanding return on investment. The board of directors promptly approved the project and it took off with strong support.
You already know that a project, by definition, is a disturbance in the environment. “Project” is synonymous with “change.” Change usually implies resistance. This project faced enormous challenges related to cultural and structural change, power, politics and more.
It took me some time to realize John was a real threat to the project. At first, I shared all my information with him, and I trusted that he was an enthusiastically.
But along the way, I noticed John was not performing his sponsor role properly. In particular, he was not working on selling or on leadership.
Figure 1 – Sponsor’s roles (Trentim, 2013)
Consequently, crucial organizational decisions were postponed, resulting in serious negative impacts on the project. John was responsible for leading change, but he wouldn’t do it. The project was failing because I could not overcome the ultimate resistance barrier: the sponsor.
I started asking myself about John’s real intentions. It was a very uncomfortable situation.
One day, I was discussing the sponsorship issue with my core team members. Alice asked me, “Do you really think John wants this project to be successful?” A few weeks before, my answer would have been “Sure!” Now, I decided to hold a problem structuring session based on Alice’s doubt.
To our amazement, we concluded that if we were in John’s shoes, we would want the project dead.
It was simple. Although there was a solid business case with wonderful benefits, none of them appealed directly to John. In fact, John would be demoted from senior division manager to manager of a department of less than half its former budget and staff. He could even lose his job after the successful startup of the outsourcing project.
I confronted John. He tried to change the topic several times. Finally, he confessed. I will never forget his words: “Corporate politics forced me to initiate this project. If I did not propose the project, someone else would initiate it and carry it on successfully, destroying my division. I had no choice.”
After John’s confession, he was replaced by another sponsor and the project was soon back on track.
Ideals vs. Reality
This experience permanently altered the way I view sponsors. Ever since then, I’ve never assumed my stakeholders are ideal.
In an ideal project, you would have:
In reality, you have:
The fundamental lesson learned here is that managing stakeholders is far from simple. It is a combination of science (tools, techniques, and best practices), art (soft skills, communications, political awareness) and craft (experience).
What was your biggest stakeholder management challenge? Share your experiences and lessons learned below.
By Conrado Morlan
All organizations want to achieve and maintain competitive advantage. But when it comes to project management practices, not all organizations are doing what’s necessary to stand apart from competitors. Why? Some are stuck in a traditional mindset.
To elaborate: For years, organizations have looked for competitive advantage through a traditional project management approach that is operational in nature and includes strict controls focused on schedules, budgets and resources. The problem with this approach is that sometimes even when projects meet controls—i.e., they’re completed on time and within budget—organizations don’t achieve competitive advantage through the expected benefits.
On the other hand, some innovative organizations are opting to evolve from an operational to an organizational project management (OPM) approach. This approach conceives of projects strictly as a means to achieve business objectives defined through the organization’s strategy. These organizations have a project and program management mindset at their core. Because of that commitment, their projects meet original goals more often than the average organization.
The payoff is huge, according to PMI's 2015 Pulse of the Profession® report, which was released last month. High-performing organizations—those who view project management as strategy implementation, and support it— waste 13 times less money than their competitors.
Taking It to the Next Level
The results suggest that to successfully take the OPM route, organizations must be committed to creating a culture that views project management as a tool for attaining business objectives stemming from strategy.
They must aim for a project execution approach that is both controlled and agile, in order to adapt to potential strategy changes. To ensure successful project outcomes, organizations taking the OPM approach must also focus on talent management. They should look for project managers who not only have the requisite technical skills, but also can step into more strategic and leadership roles.
Organizations adopting OPM will use standardized project management practices. This process will be supported by an improved project governance process that will ensure projects are highly aligned to the strategy of the organization.
As organizations transition into OPM, they should implement a benefit realization training program that showcases examples of strong, focused project management practices that achieved intended strategic benefits. It helps to share these examples across the organization to reveal the effectiveness of strategic project alignment.
Is your organization in the process of taking its project management approach to the next level through OPM? If so, what changes have you experienced in terms of management and project expectations?
By Conrado Morlan
About five years ago, I made a New Year’s resolution that I renew every year: become a SMARTer project practitioner. This annual resolution is how I strive for excellence in my professional life.
What is a SMART project practitioner? It’s a project professional — project manager, program manager or portfolio manager — who plays multiple roles within the organization and contributes to achieving goals emanating from the organization’s mission and strategy. It stands for strategic, mindful, agile, resilient and transparent.
The SMART project professional goes beyond just managing projects. He or she helps achieve business objectives by exploring new ways to lead, execute and deliver projects supported by dispersed and diverse teams. Technical expertise is not enough — SMART professionals must adopt a business-oriented approach.
Time has proved the concept of this more expansive definition of the project professional valuable. In the 2012 video “Are You Ready?” PMI President and CEO Mark Langley discusses the new skills and capabilities required by project professionals to fully support projects. Companies are struggling to attract qualified project professionals with strong leadership and strategic and business management skills, Langley notes.
Since technical expertise is no longer enough to drive high performance,the SMART concept includes a portfolio of skills the project professional must master to meet the needs of the organization in the coming years.
Being SMART means being:
• Strategic. Demonstrate an understanding of the organization’s business goals to help it get ahead of the competition.
• Mindful. Develop cultural awareness and leadership styles to influence and inspire multicultural and multigenerational project teams. Foster strong relationships across the organization’s business functions. Adhere to the organization’s values and culture as well as the professional codes of ethics.
• Agile. Business strategy is not static and is frequently impacted by internal and external factors. Projects will need to be adjusted to remain aligned with the business strategy, so embrace change.
• Resilient. Remain committed and optimistic, and demonstrate integrity, when realigning or repairing projects facing hardships because of miscommunication and problematic behaviors as well as cross-cultural issues and conflicts.
• Transparent. Whether the project is in good shape or facing challenges, the state of projects needs to be shared promptly with relevant parties.
In summary: To become SMARTer, you need to continually strive for excellence and master new skills to support professional growth and help your organization achieve its business strategy.
Did you make (or renew) New Year’s resolutions for your professional life in 2015? If so, share them with me.
By Jen L. Skrabak, PMP, PfMP
As you reflect on 2014 and prepare for the New Year, consider these eight resolutions for your project portfolio in 2015.
1. Be a portfolio leader. Don’t just manage the portfolio — lead it by thinking in terms of profits and losses. In that sense, how does it compare to other portfolios or business units? What was your 2014 return on investment, and what is your 2015 estimated return? Is this within your organization’s expectations? What projects/programs were a drag and should be stopped? What projects/programs have the potential to generate the most returns and can be a calculated risk? (A calculated risk has a reasonable probability of generating a return; of course, what is “reasonable” depends on your organization’s risk appetite and threshold.) If you were an investor, would you invest in your portfolio? Asking these questions may help you decide what to do differently in 2015.
2. Accelerate the business. Ensure strategic alignment by thinking about your portfolio as dynamic and agile — an accelerator to business goals and objectives. How can you free up resources to innovate rather than just keep the lights on?
3. Sell your portfolio’s value by understanding your audience. Speak the organization’s language while remembering the 5 C’s: clear, concise, credible, creative and compelling:
Clear— Frame the discussion in terms the other party can easily relate to and understand.
Concise— Long decks and presentations will lose your audience. Think elevator speeches: If you can’t sum it up in a sentence or two, it’s probably too complicated to understand. And if it’s too complicated, then you will not have the opportunity to influence, let alone reach agreement.
Credible— Know what you’re talking about and be prepared. This means doing your homework before coming to the table.
Creative— Look beyond the obvious to find the solution.
Compelling— Always know what’s important to the other party and what will drive them to action. Tease out the underlying need instead of only the stated desire. Understand what your bottom line is, and theirs.
4. Establish a culture of innovation. Do this, and you can deliver long-term as well as quick wins.
5. Make data-driven decisions.Look at the facts to drive decisions, not emotions. Don’t get attached to pet projects.
6. Engage with the world.Go beyond stakeholder engagement at work. Don’t forget about yourself, your home and your community.
7. Trust your instincts. If something doesn’t feel right, it probably isn’t. That little voice is an early indicator — listen to it. Sometimes when we forge ahead against our instincts, we find out later that it would have been better to take another course.
8. Find meaning in your portfolio. Your portfolio delivers the impossible — innovative projects and programs that have not been done before. What achievements in the past year were key to the organization, in terms of values, culture and feeding creative juices? How can you do more of that in 2015?