Most business leaders think of tactical execution of a project when discussing project management. We utilize status reports, risk and issue logs, project charters, kick-off meetings, and other tools to help us successfully deliver our projects. However, what is often missing is organizational project management that aligns strategy with delivery.
The day-to-day tactical project execution is in large part driven by best practices outlined in the Project Management Body of Knowledge (PMBOK) from the Project Management Institute (PMI). Many project managers strive to earn the Project Management Professional (PMP) certification as a validation that they have skill, experience, and education to carry the PMP title. Our industry benefits from having individuals aligned on common standards and delivering projects much in the same way the accounting industry benefits from all following GAAP.
Organizations and individuals focusing on project execution is necessary, valid, and providing benefit. However, we should also focus our attention on how the organization is using project management practices to align strategy with execution. Stepping above the tactical focus and beginning with a strategic focus will help ensure that the organization is working the right projects at the right time, with allocation of the right resources adhering to the right policies and procedures.
PMI has made an attempt to build guidelines with OPM3 but has struggled to develop acceptance the way the PMP has been accepted worldwide. As a PMO leader in several industries and also as a consultant working with clients across industries, I have observed and implemented best practices that are driving success with organizational project management:
- Aligning projects to organizational strategy
- Aligning the annual performance evaluation to strategy
- Establishing governance and portfolio processes to manage progress
Regardless of size, organizations should document and communicate strategic objectives. These objectives are the “what” that the organization is working to accomplish. Projects are the “how,” as in how objectives will be accomplished. Far too often organizations make project selection decisions without consideration for the strategic objectives. These conflicting decisions can confuse employees, vendors, and possibly shareholders. For instance, a company may have a strategic objective to “Improve sales through better tracking of the sales cycle.” However, when project selection is performed, they choose to implement a new A/R system and not upgrade/implement a CRM system. As an employee, I would be wondering how these decisions are being made.
We’ve all participated in the annual review process. Our managers set our yearly goals, and throughout the year we check in to see how we are doing. At the end of the year we’re given a score and possibly a pay increase based on our performance. The goal of this process is to improve the individual, but shouldn’t that by default improve the organization? Using our example from above, if the individual contributor doesn’t have any goals aligned with improving sales, what motivation does the employee have to work on that strategic objective? What we have seen over the years is that, when the individual’s goals are aligned to the organization’s strategic objectives, we get both individual and organizational improvement.
Lastly, we need to work throughout the year to measure, monitor, manage, and communicate our progress to achieve our strategic objectives. I have seen many instances where strategic objectives are developed and communicated to the team at the beginning of the year—only to go silent during the year. The organization should be conducting regular portfolio review meetings and communicating results out to the team.
Successfully executing projects is important. The Pulse of the Profession from PMI gives us a view into how well we are doing as an industry, and the data is telling us we need to be better. A path to see that improvement is through implementing an organizational project management process that aligns strategic objectives with project delivery.