How to Link Project Management to Business Strategy

The caliber of project management at an organization can mean the difference between reduced costs and competitive edge or squandered resources and poor overall performance. According to the Project Management Institute’s Pulse of the Profession, for every $1 billion invested, $99 million are wasted because of poor project performance. To mitigate this waste and increase success, many organizations are aligning project management is with strategy.

Although project management has historically been seen as an operations function, more senior managers understand that many strategies themselves are executed through projects, and as a result, senior managers are establishing project management as a key strategic area of focus. In some cases, this responsibility now sits with the C-suite, as Chief Project Officers (CPOs) have come on the scene.

The Project Management Body of Knowledge (PMBOK) Guide – Sixth Edition acknowledges that technical project management skills, while still core competencies, are no longer the only competencies a project manager needs to possess. Instead, the guide cites a growing demand for leadership and business intelligence skills as project managers are increasingly asked to balance multiple skillsets.

Following these practices can link project management to business strategy for organizations that haven’t yet integrated project management and strategy.

Communicate Project Management’s Importance

Although it is tactical, project management is also critical to strategy in the sense that, when done well, outcomes often impact strategy. As the PMBOK Guide highlights, project managers help drive strategy integration and execution when they align project objectives and results with the overall organizational objectives. Ensure corporate policy speaks to expected best practices, including preparing formal project charters, which allow stakeholders to review the project plan and ensure it aligns with the organization’s objectives before work is initiated.

Ensure Everyone Knows Their Role

Successful strategy implementation needs to verify the organization’s strategy is connected for every individual role. When it comes to project management, this means the project manager must understand how the project supports that goal, and, in turn, coach the project team to understand how their work contributes to that goal.

Establish Stakeholder Support and Involvement

Just as organizational leaders should understand how projects contribute to strategy, project managers must be able to frame their project for senior stakeholders in a way that clearly outlines how the project will benefit the organization, and why their senior-level support and involvement is critical to success.

Making it a practice to include leadership in project audits along the way ensures the project maintains its alignment as it evolves. This approach also enforces the value and strategy behind project implementation.

Gain Knowledge of Other Areas

When project management is truly linked to business strategy, it often interfaces with and impacts multiple departments within an organization. This means a project manager’s expertise can no longer be relegated to core program and project management skills, but must also expand to possess a working knowledge of other departments within the organization. For example, marketing, operations and finance are often involved in a secondary way with projects, and being able to negotiate, adopt a big-picture perspective and innovate with these departments ensures a more holistic solution. 

Focus on the Bottom Line

Adept project managers not only understand the organizational strategy, but can also communicate it to their team and translate project outcomes into organizational results for stakeholders. A focus on the right message – the bottom line – ensures project managers can effectively communicate project needs and challenges to executives, without burying senior management in tactical details like spreadsheets, data files or Gantt charts.

Integrate Projects Into Business Strategy

Unlike historical approaches to project management where business planners made decisions in a silo, dropped them on the project management team for implementation and disengaged, a more complex business landscape requires that the project managers have a seat at the table for the business planning component as well. A better informed and involved project management team is much more likely to achieve successful outcomes because they are aware of overall goals in the context of strategy, and understand the decision-making process that refined them.

Conduct a Project Audit and Review Projects to Stay on Track

Project reviews should be included in the project schedule and should include both the project management team and stakeholders and sponsors. This presents an opportunity to review progress, ensure alignment with strategy, and determine if the overall approach needs to be adjusted. Sometimes, this may mean reviewing the project overall and deciding to eliminate it. While it may be challenging for organizations to accept putting the brakes on something they have already invested in, continuing to pursue a project that doesn’t have a valuable outcome is even worse for the bottom line.

Create Priorities

Most organizations have multiple projects happening concurrently. Within projects, there are often multiple workstreams occurring. Project managers need to be able to establish priorities based on which projects or workflows most accelerate achieving goals or furthering organizational growth. Regular communication and checkpoints with stakeholders ensure this perspective remains sharp.

Connecting project management and business strategy requires constant dialogue, education and prioritization, but in the long run, this integration will improve project outcomes, advance organizational objectives and amplify value.

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