Project management is a the art of execution – it is taking a problem and an idea for improvement and moving that idea from hypothetical to actual. When working with certain people, a project manager may discover a wealth of ideas that sounds excellent as described, but do not necessarily meet current business needs or comply with business strategy. Even more frequently, there may be a page-long list of project ideas but a finite amount of resources with which to implement. In order to maximize stakeholder return, the project manager must focus on the business strategy throughout a project lifecycle in order to properly frame discussions about project results.
Business strategy tells an organization what they want to accomplish. Project managing is how it will be accomplished. Frequently, the ‘what’ is glossed over in order to spend more time discussing the ‘how’. Project managers must be careful to identify when this is occurring – both in support and in opposition to potential projects. Not only will a project manager encounter people who tout idea after idea with no discussion of constraints, they will also encounter people who immediately downplay the possibility of idea because they are unable to immediately determine a method by which to implement. Both of these approaches should be avoided.
“Without strategy, execution is aimless. Without execution, strategy is aimless.”
– Morris Chang, CEO of Taiwan Semiconductor Manufacturing Company
In order to remain focused on business strategy, the project manager should be clear about the purpose behind a discussion. When the objective is idea generation, state this clearly to the team members – informing them that all ideas are on the table and that time will not be spent determining the ‘how’ during a particular session. This is promote creativity among participants. Prior to these discussion, clearly lay out the strategic objectives that a project is intending to address. Refer back to these frequently in order to guide conversation.
During project execution, reference the business strategy frequently. During the planning phase, identify not only the project success metrics, but also the strategic objective that each success metrics will support. Provide quantifiable data whenever possible. If results are not supporting strategy, then the project will eventually be scrapped some something else that does. By focusing on strategy, the project manager can ensure that project’s are appropriate to an organization’s needs.