Project management is often referred to in tactical terms. People have the tendency to see the day-to-day activities of tracking and reporting project status and recording project issues and risks. To reinforce this view, many project managers execute project management with a very tactical approach. They focus on aspects of project oversight, ensuring team members meet deadlines and making sure the project stays on time and under budget.
Project managers are usually at their most strategic at the beginning of the project. A good project manager steps back to think about why the project is being executed in the first place. As he or she creates the project charter, the project purpose is among the first considerations.
As the project purpose is being pondered, the project manager verifies that the project itself is fulfilling a need that fits into the larger organizational strategy. For instance, a major aspect of the corporate strategy may be to enable sustainable growth over the next five years. A project whose purpose is to implement a system architecture that will sustain additional growth probably fits in well with the organizational strategy.
One of the key roles of a project manager is to monitor scope. It is the basis of one of the greatest project management execution challenges. Many things change during the course of a project that affect the scope: Business users request new business requirements that become absolute musts for the project; resources change as well; people quit in the middle of a project or management may reassign them; or the project manager may decide that someone was a bad hire and discontinue their employment.
Natural disasters can occur on the other side of the world that impact the ability to execute a project as well. Any number of issues can affect the scope of a project while it is being executed. At the same time, the organizational strategy can experience major adjustments. This can be driven by many factors.
New technologies. Technology continues to advance at a more rapid pace every day. As new technologies are introduced, other technologies build upon them. This creates an almost chaotic sea of change in which organizations struggle to keep up. Companies that are heavily organized around printed content have had to make major strategic changes to adjust to technologies that have enabled digital content. Any projects that were in place that supported the organization's print capabilities may need to be revised to align with new strategic objectives.
New government regulations. A new law may require an organization to change the way they do business. For instance, the Affordable Care Act implemented changes in how almost every organization reports healthcare information, including insurance data. Every organization that had projects in progress was required to step back and determine the impact and make changes accordingly.
Changing consumer tastes. Organizations must have the agility to change according to consumer tastes. Many companies experienced this in the early to mid-2000s when the low carb craze caused a drastic change in consumer demands. Bakery companies that had projects in place to deal with increased demand were required to make major changes based on the adjustment in consumer demand.
New management. When changes occur in the upper levels of an organization, the organizational goals often change with them. Projects may be in progress that are no longer in line with the new corporate objectives.
An eye on corporate alignment
Managing a project can be a great enough challenge when the project purpose stays in alignment with the organization's strategy. The above list of situations that impact corporate objectives is just a small sampling of the type of thing that can occur. As the project continues on, the project manager must remain aware of any possible internal or external events that could cause the project to fall out of alignment with an adjustment in corporate strategy.
A project manager should continue to keep a close watch on project scope and insure that it stays in line with the original project purpose. At the same time, the project manager should keep close watch on the project purpose to ensure that it stays aligned with corporate objectives. If the objectives change, the project purpose may become obsolete. At that time, it may be time to readdress whether the project should be repurposed, or if it should be canceled altogether.
Lew Sauder is a PMP certified project manager who has worked most of his career as a consultant with top-tier and boutique consulting firms. He is the author of Consulting 101: 101 Tips for Success in Consulting, Project Management 101: 101 Tips for Success in Project Management and co-author of The Reluctant Mentor. Follow him on Twitter @LewSauder.