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OUTSIDE THE BOX Forum: Prepare A Seat for the Project Manager at the Strategy Table

The Project Manager has traditionally been viewed as the enabler of business strategy, not as a partner in the development of the business strategy.

I submit that we have sold them short. I believe that a seat at the strategy table can be validated and will be seen to have great business value. 

Basic Premise

Outside of the IT Systems Developer, there are no other professionals with as broad and deep an understanding of the business model as the complex project manager. The CIO has had a seat at the strategy table for many years. For some of the very same reasons, the project manager should have a seat at the strategy table in the person of the VP of Projects. 

Tara Duggan from Chron agrees, “By focusing on improving customer satisfaction, beating the competition and analyzing market data, strategic project managers ensure long-term success and profitability. Instead of focusing on short-term results, such as meeting deadlines and operating within the budget, strategic project managers have a long-term perspective. They ensure that their project’s goals align with the company’s strategic mission and objectives.”

LinkedIn lists 3,300+ Vice President of Projects job opportunities as being available for hire. It shows the VP of Projects role is critical for organizations to achieve strategic results.

Project Management Offices are growing stronger.  According to CIO magazine, organizations have been focusing on expansion and growth of Project Management Offices steadily since 2003.  That means the role of VP of Projects is becoming more and more relevant as a leader and strategist in many different industries from manufacturing, healthcare, finance, banking, and service related industries.

The same argument could be put forth for the Business Analyst, but that is for another time and another article.

What Does the VP of Projects Bring to the Strategy Table?

Just as the CIO brings a wide and deep understanding of existing information systems and their potential application across the enterprise so also does the VP of Projects.  The VP of Projects brings a wide and deep understanding of business processes, practices and their potential application across the enterprise. In both cases, these potential applications have an intrinsic business value waiting to be applied. I like to think of them as the generalists collaborating with the specialists as together they search for solutions to complex problems.

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In the PM times article “Is Your Corporate Strategy A Wishion?”, Fernando Santiagolt Outlines the need for better strategy in organizations, “It is surprising that after almost thirty years of building a body of knowledge in strategy management, with armies of MBA’s learning these principles and many of them working for consulting firms, so many companies get this wrong. When nine out of ten companies fail to implement the strategy, a good part of the problem is that there is no real strategy to implement.”

Having the VP of Projects at the strategy meetings along with the CIO is important.  Both these roles can help lead in moving organizations forward by aligning an organization’s business objectives and strategies with strong real-world solutions.  The VP of Projects and CIO can do this by capitalizing on their technical experience and business knowledge.  Both these roles have both project and operational based experience within the organization that they can bring to the table to form a cohesive, aligned, and prioritized list of projects.

Organizations can be complex. The complexity can make it difficult to align an organization’s strategy. Frequently an organization’s business units have their priorities. The VP of Project role is a strong negotiator and collaborator by bringing business units under one central business strategy. 

Larry Myler from Forbes outlines why a common business strategy is important, “There is an often-missing component that, if consistently applied, will dramatically enhance the progression of strategy creation, communication, and execution. That critical element is ALIGNMENT.”  Neatly summarized the primary role of the VP of Projects is:

  • Creation – create a common understanding of the organization’s business strategy
  • Communication – widely communicate the strategy to make it visible
  • Execution – ensure projects and programs are delivering capabilities 
  • Alignment – align business units to a common organizational strategy and align programs/projects with that strategy

But isn’t a VP of Projects just as Senior Program Manager?  Not so according to James T Brown’s The Handbook of Program Management. The roles of project manager, program manager and VP of Projects are very different in their focus:

  • Project Manager is a Schedule, Budget, Risk, and Scope focused role. Business strategy is handed to the project manager in the Business Case and Project Charter for most organizations.
  • Program Manager is focused on the above but in an aggregation of multiple projects. This role also must make tradeoffs to ensure projects are meeting business objectives and expectations. Although this role typically does not create the overall strategy for the organization, as programs are executed they shape that business strategy.
  • VP of Projects is a role that is looking at understanding and clarifying the organizational strategies and turning them into programs and projects by working with senior level business executives and the CIO. This role is more focused on the creation of the Business Case and Project Charters which will be executed by the Program and Project managers.

What are your thoughts?  Does the progression of a Project Managers career go from tactical to strategic?  Let me know your thoughts in the comments below.

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