Many organizations in today’s environment rely on Project Managers to help develop and manage their key strategic initiatives. These organizational initiatives are defined as “discretionary project[s] designed to close a strategic performance gap… [and] achieve performance improvements that cannot occur through continuous operational refinement or improvement.” These types of projects can be lengthy, highly complex and involve a wide variety of stakeholders, some of whom may hold senior leadership positions. Such challenges make it a risky undertaking for a Project Manager entrusted with this responsibility. What is a Project Manager to do?
In my experience working on such strategic projects, I have learned that one of the most important things a Project Manager can do in this situation is to embrace and apply project management best practices right from the beginning of the initiative. Doing so requires the individual to collect information on the tools, techniques, processes and methodologies considered to be best-in-class; review, analyze and understand their content; and integrate them into the design and execution of the initiative. While knowing technical or industry-specific best practices are no doubt important in this context, utilizing project management best practices is absolutely critical for the Project Manager chosen to shepherd an organization’s strategic initiative.
Why should project management best practices be used to support the effective management of strategic initiatives? I have concluded there are, at least, four major reasons for doing so.
- It ensures the organization’s efforts are aligned with accepted standards. If project management best practices are not applied to the implementation and coordination of strategic initiatives, then organizations are executing their strategy in a manner never before demonstrated in a successful, replicable way. This of course can introduce considerable risk to the organization. Instead, organizations can reduce risk by aligning their management of strategic initiatives with validated and respected project management best practices.
- Doing so adds credibility to the Project Manager. Since project management best practices have already been evaluated and recognized as most effective, the Project Manager can rest assured knowing that his or her approach is grounded in established theory and practice. Their efforts will be understood by the project team, the sponsor and stakeholders as being prudent, deliberate, and justifiable. This reflects well upon the Project Manager and increases the confidence level in his or her management of the initiative.
- It provides predictability in a complex environment. When a Project Manager bases their efforts on project management best practices, they are introducing a degree of predictability to the project environment in which the team members and stakeholders operate. This is important as predictability greatly supports expectation-setting, communication and collaboration within the project. This is not to suggest that creativity or innovation are inherently bad characteristics to have in this context. It is to simply state that such qualities as consistency and repeatability are typically more important to effectively manage strategic initiatives considering the characteristically high degree of both risk and importance that such initiatives have.
- Applying best practices increases the probability of success. Something can only be established as a “best” practice if it has been consistently demonstrated to support, or result in, successful outcomes. Using such established project management practices is analogous to borrowing a map someone previously created to help them navigate through comparable, complicated terrain. Like this map, project management best practices – when applied appropriately – will increase your own chance at success because your “navigation through the project terrain” will be supported by practices others have already successfully implemented.
Though not a comprehensive list by any means, these four reasons do support the assertion that the application of project management best practices is a value-added exercise for all Project Managers, particularly in the context of strategic initiative management.
For those looking to discover and apply project management best practices to their own work, there are a wide variety of sources and organizations that they can turn to. One of the premier thought leaders in the field, the Project Management Institute (PMI), is a great place to start. PMI has developed the Project Management Body of Knowledge, or PMBOK, which is one of the leading handbooks on project management in existence. Additionally, PMI’s website is full of other standards, articles, templates and research papers, helpful for Project Managers across all levels. Another important best practice resource to draw from is the PRINCE2 standard, which is a very popular methodology, particularly outside of North America. All are sources that have proven useful to me in the past and that I have leaned on in my own effort to manage strategic initiatives. I hope they will prove helpful to you as well.