A recent question on Quora prompted me to spend 20 minutes writing an answer because I believe it to be a critically important question.
The question was "How is strategic management used in project execution?" I didn't really want to answer that question, so I indulged myself and changed it to “How does project management fit with strategic management?”
Organizations must have a strategy. If they don’t, let’s just stop the conversation here.
Strategy needs to have a plan of execution. It is of no use for a bunch of executives to fly to some resort somewhere and dream up a strategy, then fly back, dispersing it to the minions, expecting that they will run off in all directions implementing it exactly as they envisioned. Strategy without execution is no more than a puff of smoke. It is where the rubber meets the sky, as we used to say at Michelin Tires.
Now let’s talk about projects. This is where the rubber meets the road. Others may have said that Projects are used to execute a strategy, and therefore must be aligned with the strategy.
I take a slightly different view. That is, Portfolios of Programs and Projects must align with the Strategic Intent of the organization.
Portfolios are often based on business units, answering the question “To be successful, what set of Programs and Projects must my part of the organization execute over this period of time, and for which I have funding, in order to meet the business goals set out for my part of the organization, interleaving with other parts of the organization?” The period of time may be a year, three years, five years or more; or changing continuously as in Agile Organizations - another topic.)
So you might ask, “What is a Program, then?”. I’m glad you asked.
A Program is a series of inter-related, and possibly inter-dependent projects, all of which must be executed to achieve a business benefit or set of benefits. That is, if any one of the projects is not executed (not necessarily at the same time), the business benefit cannot be achieved.
So - Projects are part of Programs (and for various reasons, if we define it this way, we must also say that a Program may contain many Projects or even only one Project). Projects deliver products, usually on time, on budget and to the desired level of quality using either traditional (predictive) or Agile (adaptive) methods. Products of projects are used to realize the benefits defined in the strategy and in this way set the stage for delivery of benefits, albeit not the actual benefits themselves. Benefits Realization Management is another topic for another day.
So how does all this answer the [modified] question?
Strategy is a must-have for any organization. Implementation or execution of Strategy has to be funded and planned. The best way to do this, in my view, is through Business-defined Portfolios containing Programs and Projects, that are created to be in lock-step with the Strategy, and through which executives who created the strategy cause their vision to become a reality.
It goes without saying that executives who implement their Strategies this way must provide the organizational resources required: their personal support, funding, people, and careful attention to change and how it will impact the organization. This raises the specter of Organizational Change Management, also a topic for another day.
I believe executives who set strategy and then empower their people to deliver it, providing the required resources and support whenever they need it, represent the epitome of Servant Leaders. Set the direction, trust your people and give them what they need to do the job.
What do you think? What is happening in your organizations? Is strategy delivery baked into your DNA? Or is it an annual talk about corporate vision that does little but excite people for a few hours a year?
Over my lifetime, I have had the opportunity to learn a lot about Leadership. I have learned what works and what doesn't. I have been introduced to many types of leadership. I have seen people who think they are great leaders, but are far from it, and I have seen those that are great leaders, but may not realize it yet. As an aside, the latter of those is always awesome to witness!
Wouldn't it be nice if there was a definitive description of what leadership is and what it takes to be one? What would the penultimate characteristics be? Would it be trustworthiness? Humility? Someone who communicates well? Or would it be something else? As we are all connected to Project Management in one way or another, we are handed the keys to lead. I believe we wouldn't have wanted the keys if we didn't have someone in our lives that has been able to create that thirst and ability to want to lead. Not necessarily the tools to immediately be a great leader because that's something that needs work and practice, but that yearning to be a leader to other people and watch them achieve more than they ever could imagine.
I have looked up to and learned from many people . In my case, I was very lucky to have a wonderful base layer to work with. My parents both exuded the crucial characteristics that it takes to lead. They instilled in my sister and me an internal drive to be the best we can be in our leadership roles.
As I continue in in my career and with my family, I can only hope that my wife and I raise our children with the same drive my parents gifted to me. I have learned the base I was given many years ago is firmly ingrained in my being. As I graduated with my PMI LIMC Class of 2015 colleagues, I anticipate that the lessons and opportunities I have had over the past year will stay with me through all of the new leadership roles I may have. I know I have added another successful layer, but will always have that base layer to build on.
What is your base layer? Is it strong and sturdy to handle adversity? How will you ensure it is? I hope this new blog is a start.