Are you a strategy activist?

In the past, project managers (PMs) were first and foremost, planners and executors; individuals who excelled in coming up with agreed deliverables, according to an approved time line. But that is changing and changing fast. Tomorrow’s PMs will be strategic warriors, making a significant contribution where it matters most: executing the business strategy.

Traditionally, projects are almost always owned by executives much higher up the corporate food chain and the PM is quite simply expected to, as the saying goes, do or die. Sadly, many a “vanity project” has gobbled resources only to fail because it did not further the business strategy.

PMs are increasingly expected to display a strong business sense, enabling them to execute the business strategy of the project rather than just deliver a series of milestones.

Gartner® Inc. in their “Predicts 2017: PPM Leaders” report, published in December 2016, says the world’s leading research and advisory company, predicts that by 2021, “enterprises that commit dedicated organisational resources to ensuring that strategy is successfully executed will be 80% more likely to be industry leaders”.

In essence, PMs now need to become “strategy activists”, familiarizing themselves with strategic planning methods to ensure that they never lose focus of the business outcomes of the project. In addition to honing new skills, this calls for the courage to ask the right questions every step of the way, starting with “why are we doing this…what is the strategic outcome that this project supports?”

And, if you are not yet convinced, consider this: according to Gartner, “by 2020, Project Management Offices (PMOs) with an activist orientation will displace most passive PMOs”.

Ensuring that PMOs remain relevant and optimally effective within an organisation also requires that careful thought be given to how the function is structured. Veteran PM, Tony McManus, MD of McManus Consulting, supports the appointment of a chief project officer at executive level, with the PMO operating from that level down.

McManus says that the PMO is unequivocally a strategic function and it should not sit within IT (or even finance) where it often does.

“To give the function the necessary ‘weight’ to make the required contribution to the business’ strategy, the PMO should be run by an executive that reports directly to the CEO or chief risk officer,” he says.

Once PMs tap into the strategic importance of project management, the whole dynamic changes. The PM evolves from being a policeman of deliverables and deadlines to a strategic enabler. This includes eliminating barriers to ensure quick and effective delivery and providing constant feedback on whether the project is delivering on the strategic drivers.

© Tony McManus PMP®, MD of McManus Consulting