One of project management’s greatest gifts is that it allows the project-driven organization to create a framework for decision making within a project and, hopefully, within an organization.
As more and more organizations are becoming project-driven, the need to ensure that a framework is in place to help ensure alignment between projects and strategy has become almost a prerequisite for long-term success.
Strategic alignment in an organization can help ensure that resources are allocated correctly. Projects are less likely to be undertaken if they aren’t aligned with the long-term vision of the organization, and this alignment can be useful as a recruiting tool because the organization can promise the mobile workforce the opportunity to work on much more high-value projects.
Here are a few steps you can take to align your existing and future projects with your organization’s strategic goals:
Review Every Project
This first step will require you to have an understanding of your organization’s overall long-range strategy. Once you have an idea of where you and your organization are trying to get to, you can begin reviewing all of the projects that are in progress and all of the projects that are in the pipeline to ensure that they are consistent with your organization’s overall goals.
In reviewing these projects, you need to look at several things:
Set realistic expectations.
First, understand that management and the executives of the organization own the portfolio of projects that you and your teams are working on. This means that if you aren’t an executive, you may find that some projects that are not aligned with the overall organizational strategy will still be advanced and taken on. So from the outset, you need to understand that even the best understanding and strategic effort can be thwarted.
Consult key stakeholders.
This is important because each key stakeholder will have an opinion and an idea for why a project was taken on and why it is important. From this information, you can learn things about how the decision to take on the project was constructed, which will help you understand better where or why the project fits into the strategy at the current moment.
Remember: change happens.
Organizations and priorities are living entities. Mike Tyson said something to the effect of “everyone has a strategy until they get punched in the mouth.” The same idea applies to your organization’s strategy. It is great and perfect until its first engagement with the real world. So you have to be prepared and understand that projects and strategies are living entities that will grow and change as they engage with the world. This can be either a positive event or a negative event, depending on how wed to the initial strategy your organization is.
It’s okay to kill (projects).
Finally, the most important thing to remember maybe, that it is okay to kill projects. The idea of trying to save a sunk cost can really trip up an organization. No matter how rational it is to stop throwing good money after bad on a project that is misaligned or so far off track that there is never any way that value will be captured from the project, many organizations become so wed to the investment already made that they continue to make every effort to recoup something from the project. To more effectively align strategy with your projects, you have to come to the realization pretty quickly that it is not just okay, but required that you kill some projects because they no longer have the same priority in the organization.
Build a Decision Making Framework
In some organizations, this framework can take the form of a project management office (PMO). In other, smaller organizations, this framework can just rest with an executive or a project manager that has been tasked with the ability to make “yes” or “no” decisions on projects based on the strategic importance of a project to the organization’s strategy.
To create an effective decision-making framework, you need to think about three important concepts as you make your strategic decisions:
- First, the business purpose of a project should be clearly stated. By stating the business purpose of a project clearly at the outset, it is much easier for you to make a decision on whether or not this project aligns with your organization’s strategy. Allowing you to make a “yes” or “no” decision pretty confidently. Thinking in terms of business purpose will require that you spend a great deal of time focusing on getting as much tangible information about the projects that you are weighing as possible. If you don’t, your decision-making can be less successful because you can confuse intangible values and irrelevant metrics with real, true, strategically aligned values, which can destroy your framework from the start.
- Second, think about any special considerations that are at play with your project, your organization, your clients, or your market. Organizations and their projects don’t live in vacuums, so do not consider the reality of the environment you are a part of is bad decision making. The truth is, the decision to work on a project is driven by personality and desire as much as utility and strategic purpose more often than we may care to admit. So it is important to recognize these situations when they are happening so that you can have the opportunity to reorient a project in a manner that works with these considerations while doing your best to align the project with the strategic ambitions of the organization.
- Third, think about the iterations that the project may achieve as it advances. As when you are reviewing your projects, here you also need to remember that projects and strategies are living entities. As the project advances, you should be gaining new information on the project, the market, and the likelihood that the project is going to be successful against the strategic goals it was greenlit against. Because you aren’t making your decisions in a vacuum, it is important to build and plan for the idea that you should expect change and that you need to adapt to it in a proactive manner.
The logical conclusion of reviewing your projects and building a decision-making framework is to set priorities for your projects built upon the snapshot of your organization at the point you are making the decision.
While setting priorities can be difficult, it is necessary to enable the organization to capture value from its strategic planning. The key to setting priorities is:
Alignment between projects and strategies should not be the one true marker of any decision you make or suggest, even knowing what considerations are at play. This allows you to acknowledge the best course of action and to make any subsequent decisions on the basis of why you are or are not following this course of action.
Give more weight to the projects that will accelerate the organization’s growth and achievement of long-term goals. It can’t be stated clearly that any time you have the chance to offer up immediate, significant advancement towards a goal, you should. Because these successes will certainly help your ability to have greater influence in the future and the success will often provide increased motivation to everyone involved.
Set clear guidelines and expectations for review
As we have discussed throughout, strategies and projects are living entities. So to ensure your priorities maintain their ability to drive positive results, set up some clear off-ramps for review and reevaluation. This will help you overcome any inclination to allow your strategy and projects to coast on autopilot.
To gain true buy-in at all levels, you really need to put extra emphasis on communicating with your teams and key stakeholders throughout the strategic process and the project. Giving people a voice will allow you to gain stronger commitments and will often elicit better feedback which will help you ultimately ensure that your projects deliver on your organization’s strategy.
Strategic alignment in an organization is a constant battle that is brought on by forces inside and outside of the organization. To capitalize on the benefits of strong project management and strategic vision, it is vital that the project leaders in an organization spend the necessary effort on creating alignment between strategy and project delivery. In the long-term, the benefits of this alignment can be felt in the organization’s ability to achieve its goals, maximize its value to its customers, and thrive in an environment where projects are the norm and change is rapidly evolving constantly.
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