The strategic management of projects

WP1074_PPP_ArchitectureOne of the clearest messages emerging from a range of sources is that ‘project management’ as defined by the PMBOK® Guide and other similar documents is simply not enough!  As Professor Peter Morris has been advocating for more then a decade, organisations need to be able to effectively manage projects.

The concept of strategically managing projects describes the organisation’s ability to select, nurture and deliver the right projects and programs effectively. This includes an emphasis on the ‘front end’ of the overall process to ensure the right projects and programs are selected and initiated for the right strategic reasons and the ‘back end’ to make sure the outputs from a project are used effectively by the organisation to realise the intended benefits.  Traditional ‘project (or program) management’ deals with the messy bit in the middle – delivering the required scope efficiently.

Project management skills are well defined as are some aspects of the strategic management of projects such as portfolio management and benefits management. What has still to emerge in the executive management and governance layer of an organisation’s hierarchy is an understanding of the integrated nature of the strategic management of projects. At the moment in many organisations the executives and ‘governors’ who allow their organisations to create failure after failure seem to be able to emerge unscathed by blaming the failures on lower level managers within the organisations they have created.  Some of the reasons projects are ‘set up to fail’ are discussed in this post by Patrick Weaver.

From my perspective, this is a systemic failure of governance and the governing bodies should be held accountable for the destruction of stakeholder value associated with systemic project and program failures. The governing body should not be directly accountable for any specific project failure, rather for failing to develop their organisation in a way that enables the effective development of a realistic and achievable strategy, and then strategically managing the right projects and programs needed to implement the strategy. An overall framework for this type of strategic management of projects is outlined in our White Paper.

Implementing the organisational change needed to create the broad range of capabilities needed to implement the strategic management of projects requires sustained senior executive support and a group of determined, enthusiastic and resilient practitioners to develop the organisations ‘project delivery capabilities’.  The biggest challenge is very few practitioners can explain what they are recommending in a language that is meaningful to executives or really understand the type of information executives need to make the best decisions.

Unfortunately complex detailed reports with dozens of RAG traffic lights and a focus on ‘time and budget’ won’t do the job. A different reporting paradigm is needed that looks at strategic alignment and the delivery of benefits to the organisation and its stakeholders.  Some ideas on the best ways to effectively communicate with executives are discussed in my book Advising Upwards.

It is definitely time to move the strategic management of projects to the next level and that is firmly into the ‘C-Suites’ and board rooms of organisations. Once this is accomplished, professional project managers will be better positioned to deliver their part of the value chain effectively.

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7 Responses to The strategic management of projects

  1. john chambers says:

    The overall control of the project rests at a site level where the TEAM,clients,contractors,workers,planners are ALL Guided and advised into the day to day,sometimes hour by hour, necessities to keep the project on track and driving forward. It is equally important for the TEAM to advise management of problem areas
    as soon as possible after they arrive or ahead of time i.e.say delayed delivery of material,such that analysis /modification can minimise overall program delays/costs.

    • stakeholdermanagement says:

      This is perfectly true John, but it has nothing to do with the strategic management of projects which is more interested in the decisions as to where the site will be and what will be built on it are made.

  2. Len P says:

    The selection of the right projects and ensuring that they continue to deliver against the strategic aims is typically dealt with in portfolio management – what is the distinction that you see between your “strategic management of projects” and “portfolio management”?

    • stakeholdermanagement says:

      Portfolio management is a key part of the mix, other aspects are innovation support of the projects within the organisation structure, benefits realisation, PMOs and the governance of the organisation to name a few.

  3. […] Strategic management of projects — hype or emerging trend? […]

  4. Andrew Pitha says:

    The idea is absolutely right and necessary. Shouldn’t this function be part of a Project Management Office? The PMO should be the entity in the organization that says not only HOW projects are done but on WHY projects are done.

    • stakeholdermanagement says:

      Only if the PMO instructs the Board of Directors how to run the organisation.

      PMOs are an important element in the overall strategic management of projects and programs but they cannot establish themselves and certainly don’t determine the strategy for the organisation.

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