Developing a comprehensive project strategy approach is critical to your success.
Project strategy—developing a comprehensive approach to align projects to your business strategy, and then tracking and managing them—is critical to your success. Companies who do project strategy well are better positioned to reach their goals because they can distill high-level strategic visions into tangible actions.
Combining the two different disciplines of business strategy and project management isn’t always intuitive, but if you follow the steps below, you’ll have a solid approach you can apply to your entire organization.
Do you use the term “projects,” or instead prefer “initiatives”? Do you call components of a project “milestones” or “phases” or “tasks”? Do all employees have the same definition of a goal? Most organizations have a bunch of synonyms floating around—each department or team uses different words for the same thing. The first and very important step in improving your project strategy is to align your terminology. Create a glossary or dictionary of commonly used terms and share it across your organization to ensure everyone is speaking the same language.
After you iron out the language, decide who should be involved in your efforts to align projects with the business strategy. Some of that decision will depend on where you personally sit in the organization. If you’re part of the project management office, should you involve folks from the strategy department? What about vice versa? (Hint: Yes, to both scenarios!)
This step is more than naming names—it also involves going to departments to find out who is managing their projects currently and how they’re managing them. You must understand the process each department or team uses before you go to the next steps and attempt to standardize and unify all strategic project management in your organization.
You’ll also need to get buy-in from decision makers, and that means involving your organization’s leaders, such as department heads and senior executives. If these leaders can become your project sponsors or executive advocates, it will go a long way toward giving your approach credibility. It’s critical to have support at the top levels, especially if you’re launching a comprehensive, organization-wide initiative to recast the relationship between strategy and project management.
How deep should your “strategy-first” project management approach go? It will certainly be used for organization-wide projects, but should it also be applied at the department level? Team level?
Depending on your organization’s size, your personal capacity to manage the efforts, and the resources available for tracking and reporting, you’ll have to define boundaries around the scope of your strategic project management. For example, if you’re the only person in the organization managing project strategy and you’re using Excel, it will be extremely challenging to track and report on the hundreds of initiatives that will likely be underway at the organization, department, and team levels—it might be wiser to contain your efforts to the highest levels.
It’s important to note here that some organizations flip step two and three. Depending on your internal structure and capacity, it may be easier to first determine how widely you’re going to apply a strategic project management approach and then define who will be involved. (Steps two and three could also be tackled in conjunction with one another.)
At this point, you need to draw a line between strategic versus operational projects. Focus on managing strategic projects—they impact and further your big-picture organizational goals. In contrast, operational projects “keep the lights on” and are more tactical in nature.
The purpose of defining the different types of projects is to ensure you maintain focus on initiatives that affect your strategic plan,and therefore, should be reported to the leadership team. Essentially, this step requires you to set rules about which types of projects fall under your strategic management purview.
In general, operational projects target day-to-day processes and don’t need to be reviewed in detail by senior leaders. There may be some larger operational projects that you’ll wrap into your project strategy, but what you manage and report to stakeholders will be more limited. For example, any operational projects in your reports may only include high-level information like RAG status indicators, while true strategic projects will include more details and data.
Once you’ve defined what types of projects you should be tracking, look across your organization to choose which ones you actually want to manage. To make your decision, you’ll have to balance the total number of projects that qualify as strategic (based on the rules you set in step four) and the resources you have (time, staff, budget, technology tools, etc.) to support your project strategy efforts. Projects may be cut because they drive some business value, but not as much as others and your resources are limited.
Beware that this can be an emotional process. Team members can feel a high degree of ownership for certain projects and might take it personally when they are sidelined by the strategic project management office.
Once you’ve chosen which projects to manage, it’s time to rank them in order of importance. This is a thoughtful, deliberate process where you and the stakeholders you’ve named in step two prioritize projects based on their ability to move the organization’s strategic plan forward. Step six is both a budgeting and resource planning exercise—higher priority projects will receive more funding (if necessary) and will likely launch sooner.
Smaller organizations may choose to combine steps five and six, but taking a truly methodical project strategy approach dictates that you keep these as two separate efforts.
Determining what’s important may differ between two people on the same leadership team. ClearPoint has helped organizations develop a rubric for scoring and ultimately ordering initiatives by importance. Parts of this rubric may be based on cost, expected benefit, complexity, and interdependency. Of course, you can create complex voting systems, but assuming these items are weighed evenly and everyone on the leadership team gets a vote, you can quickly come up with some objective scores for your projects. This will give you a good starting point for ranking them.
To effectively manage strategic projects, you need a robust tracking system. The goal is to have a solution that allows you and other stakeholders to see what’s going on with strategic projects in real time, whenever needed. Your project tracking software should offer:
Remember that project owners will have almost daily updates and your system should be able to capture this information as it unfolds—important project developments happen frequently and will need to be tracked more closely than other data, such as monthly performance measures.
You’ve built a solid project strategy approach and have a software system in place. Now, you need to get going with tracking and reporting on your strategic projects.
It’s to be expected that your methods will change over time. Your leaders might want to see different types of information and you’ll learn better ways to present data to different audiences. This is normal and you should be prepared to adapt. That goes for your strategic project management solution as well. It should be flexible enough to evolve with your needs, while serving as a hub for all the strategic data you’re gathering across your organization.
If you’ve completed steps 1-6 and are hunting for a software solution, check out ClearPoint’s tools for strategic project management. Our system can help you keep every moving part organized, while maintaining that strong alignment with your strategic plan you worked so hard to define.
Joseph is the Vice President of Customer Success at ClearPoint