Project Management

3 Ways To Be More Strategic As a Project Manager

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A blog that looks at all aspects of project and program finances from budgets, estimating and accounting to getting a pay rise and managing contracts. Written by Elizabeth Harrin from GirlsGuideToPM.com.

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Strategic thinking is one of those skills that gets tossed around as something project managers should have. But how can you be more strategic in a practical way? I’ve been thinking a lot about this recently, and here are 3 things I think you can do as a project manager or leader of a project delivery function to try to bring more of the ‘strategic’ into the way you work.

1. Get involved with business cases and proposals

First, lobby to get involved with business cases and proposals. The more delivery expertise we have involved in the initial stages of a project, the more likely it is that the project will be able to actually hit its goals.

Have you ever been involved with a project where you’ve been handed something to do and the sales people have made promises that you can’t deliver on? Then you’ll know what I mean!

When project people are involved in business cases, in my experience you’re more likely to end up with a timescale that’s achievable and a resource plan that reflects the real amount of resources likely to be consumed by the work.

It’s even better if you can lobby for a seat at the table when the 3-year plans are being drawn up, so your top level project people, like the Head of PMO, get involved in creating the strategy in the first place. That provides a real insight into what initiatives are coming and how the delivery teams can help.

2. Use the project assurance function as a check mechanism

Project assurance is a way of checking that what you think you can do is actually achievable. It’s their job to pick apart your plans and proposals and apply a sense of real-world pragmatism. They can also help identify whether there are any resource gaps, strategic holes or other issues that you haven’t seen.

After all, as a project manager I’m sometimes so close to the information that I can’t see the bigger picture enough to realise that this project will clash with something that someone else is working on – but project assurance has the bigger picture and can point that out.

If you don’t have a project assurance function, ask a colleague for their opinion and talk them through the plans, asking them to basically pull them apart. Ideally, to be able to add some strategic oversight to your plans, this should happen around the time of the business case or PID. By the time you’ve got to creating a schedule you’ll be looking for a different kind of peer review.

3. Share what you know – but only what you know

My third tip is something I learned from Tony Meggs, Chief Executive of the Infrastructure and Projects Authority in quite an old article now that he wrote for Project magazine, but it has stuck with me. He said: Only announce what you know.

We know this in theory, so it’s not news to you, I’m sure. However, many project managers are ‘encouraged’ to share dates before we are ready, or pushed into committing to dates publicly before we have all the information to support the fact we can deliver to them.

So, if you want to be a strategic operator, only share what you know to be achievable. That goes for delivery methodologies as well. Meggs talked in the article about not committing to anything unless you know it to be true, including how the work would be delivered. If you are going to partner with someone and there’s a robust contract in place, by all means announce it. But don’t announce your intentions before they are fixed in stone because if it doesn’t happen you’re then having to walk back on the messaging and that can be damaging.

We can do this as project managers on a small scale, by giving our teams the space to come up with the best methods and timescales before we announce them to sponsors, but also on a strategic level, by ensuring there is a communications plan in place that supports the bigger picture messaging for the project, programme or even the portfolio.

Do you do any of these already? How are they working out for you? Let us know in the comments!

Posted on: May 17, 2022 04:00 AM | Permalink

Comments (4)

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I was lucky enough to join my last project at the business case development phase. That not only got me into the project at ground level but gave me a chance to influence the project.

Thank you for sharing this data, Elizabeth.

Totally agree in being involved as early as on in the project as possible to rein in Sales making promises that are impossible to keep.

Early in the project, I encourage my PMs to communicate dates by using terms such as "proposed" and "planned" in verbal and written communications (especially for initiatives with high uncertainty). As we get a better hang of things, we stick to language, such as due-by dates for milestones, while planned end dates are generally set with more accuracy. It's really about finding that sweet spot that works for my team, PMs, Sponsors, and C-Suites collectively. Thanks @Elizabeth

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