Bridging the (Very Wide) Gap Between Strategy and Execution

Mark Mullaly is president of Interthink Consulting Incorporated, an organizational development and change firm specializing in the creation of effective organizational project management solutions. Since 1990, it has worked with companies throughout North America to develop, enhance and implement effective project management tools, processes, structures and capabilities. Mark was most recently co-lead investigator of the Value of Project Management research project sponsored by PMI. You can read more of his writing at markmullaly.com.

Projects and strategy. Two ideas that should go together like Rodgers & Hammerstein. Penn & Teller. Peanut butter & chocolate.

Except they’re often more like Al & Peg Bundy. Really bad day Al and Peg. With a little Laurel & Hardy thrown in for good measure.

To start with, the domain we all know best—projects—are supposed to be all about strategy. A Guide to the Project Management Body of Knowledge (PMBOK® Guide) tells us—nay, insists—that all projects must be strategically aligned. So, linking projects to strategy should be a no-brainer. Emphasis on “should.”

Now, it didn’t used to be that way. Traditional explanations of project management—and earlier versions of the standard—viewed projects as starting with an objective. Period. Once you had an objective, your job was to deliver on it. There was no testing of that objective, no validation, no second-guessing. Get it done.

The fact that we now want strategic alignment is promising. Somewhat misguided, but promising, because I would argue that not all projects are—or need to be—strategically aligned. There is work that we do, that we manage as projects, for which the need is strictly operational. Self-contained improvements we do in our departments, to processes or work practices or systems. Moving 50 people in accounting…

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You may have to fight a battle more than once to win it.

- Margaret Thatcher

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