Jan 31, 2011

Strategy and Projects: Make the Connection!

Posted by Jeannette Cabanis-Brewin in Culture & Change Management, Project & Program Management, Performance Measurement, Project Management Office (PMO), Strategy Execution | 0 Comments

You heard it here first: How about a new knowledge area for project management? and the corresponding new section in PMI's PMBOK® Guide? with, naturally, its own section on the PMP exam:

"The next 20 questions examine your understanding of how projects create business value for the larger organization."

Nothing could be more needed, I've become convinced, by project management practitioners, particularly those leading PMOs, managing portfolios, or guiding their organizations' training programs.

We cannot be surprised that executives fail to appreciate the business value of project management initiatives if the project management gurus themselves can't make a business case for their own efforts.

Now, of course, this is not true 100% of the time: there are PMO leaders out there who can express the value of their work in terms that the CEO can appreciate.* And, likewise, there are CEOs who "get" the intrinsic business value of better project management. But from the research studies and case studies I have worked on in the recent past, I confess I am surprised by how often even very savvy project managers are perplexed by the question:

"How did the project or program improve business results for the organization?"

Often, the response is something like the projects came in on schedule, we improved PM maturity, we trained 1000 project managers.

... and? That next step, I believe has to become second nature. We must know that a project coming in on schedule saved the organization $X million in interest or fines ... that improving maturity by one step translates to a jump in productivity of x% ... that trained project managers reduce the rate of failures by x%, thus saving $x million...

All these things are true, and trackable, and have been going on for the entire history of project management. And yet we still struggle with identifying the value and communicating it.

As the pyschologist R.D. Laing wisely said,

The range of what we think and do is limited by what we fail to notice. And because we fail to notice that we fail to notice, there is little we can do to change ...

Education is, in part, training in what to notice ... and how to respond to it. Thus my call for making this critical connection between project management and business outcomes or strategy execution second nature by adding it to the standard. Until project managers learn to notice and record the effects their efforts have on business objectives, the profession will continue to fight the same battles again and again. And I will hear participants in workshops and webinars continue to ask: "How can I make the executives understand?"

* Our next book is in process, and will showcase the performance measurement practices of some of these savvy and successful PMOs. Stay tuned ...

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