Project Management

The Importance of Strategic Management for Technical Program Managers

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By Sree Rao, PMP, PgMP, PMI-ACP

During my initial phases as a technical program manager, I was heavily focused on the execution of programs and didn’t bother much with strategy. As I gained more experience, I realized the importance of understanding strategy and how it can uplevel us as program managers.

Based on my experience, there is a common misconception that TPMs only play a role in program execution once a strategy has been determined. Strategy plays a crucial role in determining the success of any program, so in this post I will discuss why being plugged into strategy is essential for TPMs.

Strategy vs Plan: Understanding the Differences
Before diving into the importance of strategic management, it's important to understand the difference between “strategy” and “plan.” Strategic management involves the formulation and implementation of long-term plans to achieve organizational goals. Simply put, strategy is the what and why, while a plan is the how.

What is Strategic Management?
Strategic management is a vast topic—there are even master’s programs that delve into it in detail (I will not be able to do that kind of justice to it in this post). A high-level summary is that it refers to the process of defining an organization's mission, vision and overall direction, as well as making decisions on how to allocate resources to achieve those goals. It involves analyzing the internal and external environment—identifying strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats (SWOT analysis), and developing strategies to address them.

One of the key benefits of strategic management is its ability to provide a clear roadmap for achieving project/program goals. Strategy involves conducting market research, analyzing competitive landscapes, identifying customer needs, and developing long-term plans that align with business objectives. By having a well-defined strategy in place, we can ensure that our projects are focused on delivering value to stakeholders—while also contributing toward the organization's overall success.

Product managers usually create the strategy, but TPMs play a significant part in putting it into action.

Why is Strategic Management Important for TPMs?

  1. It forces you to focus on the long term, not just the short term. I have worked with teams that did not have product managers. These teams were identifying and executing on features that would benefit in the short term, but were not necessarily thinking about the long term. This has served us well when the customer base was small, but was not sustainable when the customer base began to grow. This is where TPMs can be force multipliers—by understanding the fundamentals of strategic management, TPMs can help ensure the teams are set up for long-term success.
  2. You can track KPIs/benefits over time. As TPMs, we not only should be tracking program/project key performance indicators, but also track if we are achieving the benefits we set out to achieve with the program. This includes monitoring metrics/KPIs well after the programs have been implemented. This involves setting clear targets and KPIs, regularly monitoring progress toward these goals, and making adjustments as necessary based on the data we collect. By having a well-defined strategy in place that includes specific milestones and metrics, we can ensure that our projects are aligned with broader business objectives. This also provides us with valuable insights into how to improve performance over time.
  3. It aligns efforts with goals. As the saying goes, “Ideas are a dime a dozen.” In companies that foster a bottom-up culture, we often receive an abundance of project and feature ideas from team members. By understanding the organization's overall strategy, TPMs can help prioritize these ideas based on their alignment with the company's goals. This ensures that resources are used efficiently and avoids confusion about what to focus on.
  4. It provides a framework for decision-making. A well-defined strategy provides a framework for decision-making throughout the project/program lifecycle. This involves analyzing various options and their potential outcomes before making a decision, as well as regularly reviewing the strategy to ensure that it remains relevant in light of changing market conditions or customer needs. By taking a more deliberate approach toward decision-making, we can minimize the risk of costly mistakes while also ensuring that our projects are aligned with broader business objectives.
  5. It provides data-driven insights. As TPMs, we have access to a wealth of data about the project's progress. By providing data-driven insights into the program's performance—and how we are tracking toward achieving goals—we can help inform strategic decisions and ensure that resources are being used effectively.

Strategic management is a crucial aspect of any successful technical program management effort. By participating in strategy sessions and influencing decision-making throughout the program lifecycle, we can ensure that our efforts align with broader business objectives, minimize the risk of costly mistakes, and provide valuable insights for continuous improvement over time.

Disclaimer: My experience has been only in the tech industry, and I am not sure if this is prevalent in other industries. I would love to know if you have experienced something similar.


Posted by Sree Rao on: October 11, 2023 10:00 AM | Permalink

Comments (8)

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Luis Branco CEO| Business Insight, Consultores de Gestão, Ldª Carcavelos, Lisboa, Portugal
Dear Sree

The topic that brought us to our reflection and debate is interesting.

Thank you for sharing, for your opinions and for the question.

It reminded me of the conversation between Alice and the Cat: "If you don't know where to go, any road will do"

An organization that does not have its strategy formulated does not know where it wants to go.

Some organizations that "sail with the coast in sight" manage to survive but don't go very far

Sree Rao Technical Program Manager San Jose, Ca, USA
Thank you Luis. Yes thank you for reminding that conversation between Alice and the Cat. Perfect for this post.

Nader Elanany Makkah, 02, Saudi Arabia
thank you

Kwiyuh Michael Wepngong Senior Accountant| Africa Eye Foundation; Magrabi ICO Cameroon Eye Institute Yaounde, Centre, Cameroon
Dear Sree, TPM's bring in so much value to a project... A long term view for a short term project!

Eduin Fernando Valdes Alvarado Project Manager| F y F Fabricamos Futuro Villavicencio, Meta, Colombia
Very interesting, thanks for sharing.

Weihua Ma China, Mainland
Thanks for sharing.

Antonio Villarruel Project Management Coordinator| Saputo Inc. San Fernando, Buenos Aires, Argentina
I really enjoyed reading this. Thanks for sharing

Antonio Villarruel Project Management Coordinator| Saputo Inc. San Fernando, Buenos Aires, Argentina
Very interesting. Thanks a lot for sharing

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