Too often project managers get lost in the minutia and don’t have strategic vision for the project. They don’t see the big picture of how the project deliverables will affect the organization as a whole. In our work with over 300 organizations, this is one of the biggest concerns that client executives have about project managers. That is particularly true of project managers with an engineering or software orientation. The executives’ concern is that the project manager does not see the customer or the product or the larger organization. Instead they dive headfirst into the barrel of technical details.
It’s important to understand your project’s role in the organization’s top level strategy for reaching its goals. This is true whether you’re assuming ownership of a project that’s underway or starting one from scratch, Without that strategic vision, your project runs the risk of satisfying its own ends but disappointing the organization and/or the sponsors that supported it. And that’s not a good thing.
Sources of Strategic Vision
So how do you apply strategic vision at the project level and see the big picture? As a project manager, you need to have a good grasp of your organization’s long-term goals. Your project charter should provide that linkage and you may want to clarify that in the project plan by directly describing how the project’s desired outcome supports the strategic goal(s). If this connection is not made or isn’t clear, you may be only a few well-intended—but unfortunate—decisions away from providing results that don’t meet the project sponsor’s intent.
Questions to Gain Strategic Vision
You should ask yourself the following simple questions and keep them in mind as you execute your project. They will help you maintain that strategic vision and keep your project on track.
1. Exactly how does my project support the organization’s strategic goals? How do the project’s requirements and deliverables relate to the strategic goals? Consider how much flexibility the deliverables can bear before they no longer support the goal(s). You may even establish a threshold beyond which the project should be reassessed and/or revised.
2. How will my project’s success be determined? Success criteria should be spelled out in your scope statement. If set correctly, success criteria directly support the desired business outcome of your project. By extension, they support the sponsor’s strategic goals. If you must adjust success criteria due to approved requirements changes, make sure this linkage to success criteria, desired business outcome, and strategic goals remains intact.
3. Where does my project fit in the organization’s strategic activities? View your project from the outside. From a broad, strategic perspective, how does your project align with other projects addressing the same or related goals? There are both benefits to be gained and pitfalls to be avoided from this exercise. For example, you may discover the potential for synergy with another project, or at least opportunities for mutual support of a strategic goal. But you may also discover redundancy or interdependencies that must be acknowledged and dealt with. At a minimum, you will gain valuable insight into the tactical role your project plays in supporting the overall strategic goals of the organization.
4. What is the long-view of my project? As project managers, we often become mired in the here-and-now issues that demand our immediate attention. Without meaning to, we may lose the ability to see our project in the long-term and not recognize when we have strayed from our core purpose. It is important, maybe even critical, to allow yourself time now and again to look far downrange and make sure that the course you are on isn’t leading to the wrong destination.
5. Do I truly understand my project’s cause and effect relationships? By dwelling too much on low level management of daily project operations, it’s easy to miss or underappreciate cause and effect relationships that stretch beyond that myopic perspective. Problems you’re dealing with today may have roots far in the past, maybe even preceding your appearance in the project. As a project manager with “strategic vision,” you’ll have the ability to step back and understand the full scope of that relationship. That will allow you to address it appropriately.