category_131
Dave Wakeman

How to Prioritize Projects and Strategy

ProjectManager.com

One of the really big challenges any organization faces is aligning strategy with the actions and projects it takes on. In small organizations, the choice to pursue one action or another can be due to the constant need to ensure that payroll is met and that the organization is able to keep moving forward. On the other hand, in larger organizations, there can be a huge divide between the strategic leadership and the tactical execution in the project management roles.

As I’ve written about before on this site, there are are steps you can take to align your project to strategy. In any sized organization, there are some simple ways that you can effectively combine your strategy and the ability of your project teams to set some clear priorities that can combine the strategic vision of the organization with the ability of your teams to meet those demands. 

how strategy and project management align to set priorities

1. Use Your Current Projects As A Marker

As a leader in your organization, it is essential that you spend a little time reflecting on where you and your organization are before you start taking on any new project.

Unfortunately, that doesn’t always happen.

As your company evolves, you are going to always be strapped with limited resources in the form of not enough time, not enough money, or not enough people. This is true in almost every organization, big or small.

The real challenge arises when you don’t step back and understand that this real constraint on your organization can cause you to be ineffective and is something you can control.

So how do you quell the rush to take on any project at any time with the need to use your project management teams as tools for your strategic achievement?

You use your current portfolio of projects as a marker that can illustrate how your resources are allocated at that moment and can give you a snapshot into whether or not your projects align with your strategy.

Here are a few steps to make sure you are doing this correctly:

  • Spend a few minutes mapping out all of your projects and initiatives.
  • Do all of these projects fit under your strategic vision?
  • Does the new project or projects fit in this strategic framework?
  • Do we have the necessary time, people, or other resources we need to make this successful?

If you are able to answer yes to all of these questions, you can push forward. If you are answering no to a lot of these questions, it is likely that you need to do some serious thinking about what you are doing and why you are doing it.

2. Set Clear Goals and Objectives To Maintain Focus

It won’t be enough to just sit down and identify your projects, their fit in the organization’s strategy, and to ensure that they are all working in the right direction. It is essential that you and your team focus on setting clear goals and objectives that will enable you to maintain the focus that is required for long-term success.

First, by this point, you should have identified if you have the necessary resources to complete this project effectively. And that will help you with setting goals and objectives.

But here are a few steps that you can use as a guide to help clear up what you are really attempting to achieve with your projects and the strategy:

  • What are the timelines you are operating under for the various projects? Because you are looking at a holistic project organization, it is important that you not just account for the resources you have available but you should use these resources as a way to maximize each of them. This means that you need to use your calendar as a weapon. So identify the timelines you are operating under schedule activities and milestones accordingly.
  • Staff and manage your people with the same intention: You have the time and deadlines laid out, now you need to also look at your people. A critical aspect of scheduling is how to most effectively place your people in the proper places at the right time to maximize their productivity. So look at the pieces of your project puzzles and manage and schedule with an eye on productivity.
  • Measure and lay out your metrics for success: I always preach beginning with the end in mind and in the context of strategic success, this is even more important. So when you are setting clear goals and objectives, make sure that they are tied to specific metrics that will indicate that you are moving in the right direction. Try to make these as specific as possible and manage them aggressively so that you know when or if an intervention needs to be made to get the project back on track.

3. Manage your projects aggressively

The final key for aligning strategy and project management to achieve the highest priorities is to make sure you manage your projects aggressively. So that you are constantly focusing and refocusing on your key areas of impact, the long range strategy of the organization, and that your resources are aligned in the most beneficial manner.

In many organizations, the project management muscles need to be built and the focus on a consistent project management culture is a consistent point of emphasis.

To maximize the success of your strategic efforts, a project management focus is essential. Without the impact of execution, the strategic mindfulness never moves to performance.

A lot of what occurs in the second step will lead to stronger project management culture within your organization, but here is a 6-step framework that you can use as a tool to guide and encourage the adaptation of a strong project culture:

  • Define the job in detail: Focus on the specific outcomes you want to achieve. Then define the outcomes you want in detail.
  • Get the right people involved: People make the project and as much as possible, you need to ensure that you have the right people in the right places at the right time.
  • Time and Costs: Dig deep into your timeline to make sure that you are going to have the necessary time, money, and people for your project. Then, budget for all three of these resources accordingly.
  • Break the job into pieces: Each project is a collection of activities, milestones, and markers. You should have a rough idea of what each of these things looks like. This will help you tremendously when it comes to managing your three critical resources.
  • Plan For Change: One challenge a lot of organizations face when they begin more aggressively using project management principles is that they have no process for change. This leads down the road of poor project performance and projects that don’t achieve their needed outcomes.
  • Acceptance/Lessons Learned/Renewal: If you have been following the first five steps, you are going to begin to see consistency in the delivery of projects. Since you have set outcome-based goals at the beginning of the project, the acceptance criteria is straightforward. An additional step comes in the form of taking the things you learned and applying them to renewing your project management culture on a consistent basis by never wedding yourself to outdated tools, techniques, and actions.

While I have no doubt that each project and organization has a great deal of individuality to them, these simple ideas can help your organization improve on its ability to focus on strategic projects, set priorities, and establish a culture of project management that will help you deliver on the promise of your organizational strategy.

Once your project is aligned to your organization’s strategy you’ll need to implement it, and to do that successfully calls for having the right project management tools. ProjectManager.com is a collaborative online suite of software solutions designed for project leaders who need to plan, monitor and report on their work in real-time. See for yourself by taking this free 30-day trial.