A structured approach to derive projects from the organisational vision

 

Les Labuschagne, D.Com,
University of Johannesburg, South Africa

Carl Marnewick, M.Sc,
University of Johannesburg, South Africa

Many literature sources agree that projects enable and facilitate the implementation of the organisational vision (Cohen & Graham, 2001; Kendall & Rollins, 2003; Phillips J.J., 2002). The Project Management Institute’s Organizational Project Management Maturity Model (OPM3®) states that “projects help organizations deliver desired strategic changes in a changing world” (2003). It also states that “this is true whether the goal is the development of a new software product, implementation of new systems in an organization, or designing and building a bridge”.

Although the OPM3 recognises the fact that the vision and strategies of an organisation are implemented by means of projects, it does not provide a clear approach for proceeding from the vision to the projects. According to PriceWaterhouseCoopers, “any project undertaken by a company should be driven by business objectives” (Peterson, 2002). They also state that many organisations lack a structured process through which to derive projects from the business objectives. Longman and Mullins (2004) also acknowledge the fact that an organisation’s strategy should provide the boundaries for projects. They further state that “installing effective project management includes putting a mechanism in place to evaluate every project for its fit with the strategy before implementation” Longman & Mullins, 2004).

The purpose of this article is to suggest a structured, holistic process for deriving projects from organisational vision and strategies using a top-to-bottom approach. It also attempts to provide organisations with a process to link projects back to the vision to directly measure and monitor its contribution using a bottom-to-top approach. This bottom-to-top approach is directly linked to the top-to-bottom approach, and the two complement one another as illustrated in figure 1. The process suggested uses a normative approach and is based on a combination of existing methods and techniques.

The value of such a process is twofold. Firstly, it ensures that only projects that fulfil the organisational vision and strategies are initiated. Secondly, it provides project teams in the organisation with a sense of direction because the projects they work on directly contribute to the success of the organisation.

The first part of the article focuses on deriving projects from the vision and strategies of the organisation. The second part focuses on how to quantitatively link the progress of projects back to the achievement of the vision.

Organisational Success and Survival

All organisations have to plan for the future. This is called strategic planning, a well documented management discipline (Gupta, Boyd, & Sussman, 2004). The primary responsibility of a board of directors is to set a vision and then to determine high-level strategies for achieving the necessary changes within a predetermined time frame (Lint & Pennings, 1999; Spanner, Nuno, & Chandra, 1993). These changes are usually brought about by projects (Voropajev, 1998).

Despite this, there is seldom a structured process for deriving projects from the organisational vision. One of the main reasons for this is the way that new projects are recognised. Often, projects are driven bottom-to-top; that is, a need is recognised at a lower level in the organisation, and then permission and funding are sought at a higher level to address the need (Phillips, 2002; Comprehensive Solutions, 2001). This is especially true for information technology (IT) projects, as some senior managers are not aware of the value that new technology could have for the organisation. In some cases this might be necessary, but in the past, this often became the norm for IT projects. It is difficult to directly link this kind of project to the vision of the organisation, which makes a holistic view of projects nearly impossible. It is also difficult to quantify the contribution that a project makes towards achieving the organisational vision, as well as measuring and managing the expected benefits. This does not mean that a project has no value when considered in isolation but, rather, that when looking at it in a holistic context, other projects might have been more appropriate in achieving the vision (Walls, 2004; Szymczak & Walker, 2003). It further prevents a more consolidated approach to managing all the projects within an organisation, which sometimes results in duplicated projects.

The next section suggests a process through which to derive projects from the vision that directly support it.

From Vision to Projects

As mentioned before, several sources suggest that an organisation’s vision statement should give rise to projects. Figure 1 suggests a structured, conceptual process that might be useful in deriving projects from the organisational vision and continuously monitoring the contribution that these projects make towards achieving the vision.

Structured approach

Figure 1: Structured approach

The starting point of the process is the vision statement.

Organisational Vision

A vision is a concrete idea that describes what needs to be achieved by the organisation’s members (Norton, 2004). It is vitally important that a vision be based on reality, and discussed and shared by key stakeholders associated with the organisation (Bogler & Nir, 2005; Pearce & Robinson, 2000).

Formulating a vision is a very complex task, especially if the CEO of the organisation intends to improve the effectiveness of the organisation. A vision that is consistently or overly vague may be difficult for people to follow as it lacks a well-defined direction. It is therefore very important that a vision be articulated explicitly, and that it generates enthusiasm (Testa, 1999). The task is made even more difficult as the CEO needs to have both a well-defined idea of the vision and how to reach it, and the rhetorical and communicative skills to express it. To achieve a vision that is a “mental image” of a desirable future position of an organisation, leaders need to describe it using identifiable metaphors and concepts that unveil the direction for the future, and articulate defined mission statements along with the possibly vague ideas (Lynn & Akgün, 2001). The most important characteristics of the vision are that it is realistic and credible, and that it projects a future attractive enough to convince the followers to invest effort in pursuing it, rather than simply maintaining the status quo.

If the vision is vague or incorrect, it could severely impact the types of projects derived from it.

Strategy maps (Kaplan & Norton, 2004) can be used to derive business strategies from the vision and are briefly explained in the next section.

Using Strategy Maps to Translate Vision into Strategy

Strategy mapping is a method used to describe the vision and strategies of the organisation by means of processes and intangible assets (Marr & Adams, 2004; Kaplan & Norton, 2004, p. 10). It is used to align intangible assets such as information technology with the organisational strategies and ultimately the vision of the organisation. Intangible assets can be described as knowledge that exists in an organisation to create differential advantage (Eckstein, 2004). Differential advantage can formally be defined as “an advantage unique to an organization; an advantage extremely difficult to match by a competitor” (American Marketing Association, 2005). Figure 2 illustrates the strategy maps framework together with the four perspectives of the balanced scorecard (Kaplan & Norton, 2004). Strategy maps are used to describe and visualise the vision and strategies of an organisation in terms of objectives, whereas the balanced scorecard is used to measure the achievement of these objectives.

Strategy map – Adapted from Kaplan and Norton, 2004

Figure 2: Strategy map – Adapted from Kaplan and Norton, 2004

The strategy map starts with a vision and follows a V approach, which is top-to-bottom followed by bottom-to-top. The top-to-bottom approach means that the vision dictates to all the lower levels in the organisation, while the bottom-to-top approach enables the organisation to link activities back to the vision. Each of the perspectives can be viewed as a level, as each perspective is dependent on the one above it. The top-to-bottom flow enables an organisation to take the vision and break it down into its different components, as shown in figure 2 above, and eventually into different projects. It must be made clear that not all the components need to be incorporated into the strategy. The four perspectives on the left-hand side of figure 2 above provide the different focal points of the strategy map, namely Financial, Customer, Internal Process and Learning & Growth. The main reason for using strategy maps is that they take a broader view than just the financial perspective. For more detailed information on Strategy Maps, refer to Kaplan and Norton, 2004.

In the next section, the strategy map is discussed using these four perspectives. The Financial and Customer perspectives deliver the organisational strategies, whereas the Internal Process and Learning & Growth perspectives deliver the business objectives.

Financial Perspective

Financial strategies relate to profitability and return on investment (ROI) and focus on the way that organisations become more profitable by increasing income or decreasing expenditure (Randoy, Oxelheim, & Stonehill, 2001). For non-profit organisations, profitability would equate to self-sufficiency, as money will always be a scarce resource. The financial performance of an organisation is improved through two basic strategies:

Growth Strategy

Organisations generate profitable revenue growth by enhancing and strengthening relationships with customers. This enables the organisation to sell more of its existing products or services or any new and additional products or services. Organisations can also generate growth by selling entirely new products, or by delivering products and services to an entirely new market segment.

Productivity Strategy

The productivity of an organisation can be addressed in two ways. The first is to lower the production/operational costs by reducing the direct and indirect expenses which will enable an organisation to produce the same quantity of outputs while utilising fewer resources. The second is to utilise existing financial and physical assets more efficiently. The working capital needed to support a given level of business can, therefore, be reduced.

The financial strategies, therefore, focus on how the organisation can increase profitability and ROI (Thackray, 1995). However, this is not possible without a complementary strategy for satisfying the needs of prospective customers.

Customer Perspective

The organisation identifies the targeted customer segments in which it wants to operate or compete. The customer strategies focus on customer satisfaction, retention, acquisition, profitability, and market share. These focus areas are interrelated as one will lead to the next.

The productivity and growth strategies derived from the vision are used to develop the financial and customer strategies, and provide the link between the vision and these strategies. The realisation of the strategies ultimately ensures the success of the organisation as they are linked to the organisational vision.

By applying strategy maps, organisations derive a set of strategies from the organisational vision that is unique to the organisation.

Strategies

Strategic management is defined as “the set of decisions and actions that result in the formulation and implementation of strategies designed to achieve an organisation’s objectives” (Pearce & Robinson, 2000). A strategy is a large-scale, future-oriented plan for interacting with the competitive environment to achieve the organisation’s business objectives (Baets, 1992). This plan does not detail all future deployments, but it does provide a framework for managerial decisions at all lower levels. An example of a strategy might be “to become the industry cost leader.” This strategy implies that the product or service provided by the organisation is able to dictate the pricing of the competitors’ products or services as well. To be able to do this, it must be of better quality and at a lower price than the competitors’. This strategy will be listed under the Financial perspective and will provide the organisation with a productivity strategy.

The organisation can have strategies for all or only some of the components within the Financial and Customer perspectives. The chosen strategies within the Financial and Customer perspectives provide the cornerstone for further actions taken by the organisation. These strategies determine the business objectives that, in turn, determine the projects needed to achieve them.

The next section focuses on business objectives and how they are used to describe the vision and strategies of the organisation in a tangible way.

Using Strategy Maps to Translate Strategies into Business Objectives

Once the strategies are developed, the third and fourth perspectives of the strategy map are applied to the strategies to determine the business objectives. A business objective describes what an organisation must accomplish to achieve the results envisaged by the vision and strategies (Kaplan & Norton, 2004). An objective is, therefore, the quantification of a strategy.

By quantifying the strategies, the business objectives provide the organisation with measurement criteria; that is, what is to be measured.

These two perspectives are illustrated in figure 2 above. The business objectives are directly derived from the strategies, and focus on the Internal Process as well as the Learning & Growth perspectives of the organisation.

Internal Process Perspective

From the Internal Process perspective, managers identify the processes that are most critical for achieving the financial and customer strategies. This enables an organisation to focus on those internal business processes that will be most successful in delivering the determined strategies. Two different processes may support the same business objective, but one process might be more appropriate than the other and, therefore, considered to be the better option.

The following four processes are used to support the business objectives needed to fulfil the vision and strategies.

  • Operations management processes – These processes produce and deliver the organisation’s products and services.
  • Customer management processes – These processes focus on managing customer relationships.
  • Innovation processes - Sustaining competitive advantage requires that organisations continually innovate to create new products, services, and processes. Successful innovation drives customer acquisition and growth, margin enhancement, and customer loyalty.
  • Regulatory and social processes - Organisations must earn the right to operate in the communities and countries in which they sell. International, national, and local regulations impose standards on an organisation’s operations. Organisations must comply with all these regulations.

Learning & Growth Perspective

This perspective, together with the Internal Process perspective, forms the basis of the business objectives, as illustrated in Figure 2. The Learning & Growth perspective highlights the role of aligning the organisation’s intangible assets with its strategy. It also spans the four processes of the Internal Process perspective to indicate that intangible assets are incorporated throughout the organisation. Intangible assets are organised into three categories:

  • Human capital - focuses on the availability of skills, talent, and know-how;
  • Information capital - focuses on the availability of information systems, networks, and infrastructure; and
  • Organisational capital - focuses on the ability of the organisation to mobilise and sustain the process of change.

Business objectives are developed by applying the four processes of the Internal Process perspective, as well as the three categories of the Learning & Growth perspective to the business strategies. These processes and categories enable the organisation to determine what is required to realise the vision and strategies.

Although the strategy map is a generic process that can be used by any organisation, the strategies and business objectives derived from strategy maps are unique to each organisation. The result is thus a set of unique business objectives for the organisation based on the business strategies that were derived from the vision statement.

Business Objectives

The main purpose of the business objectives is linking quantitative measurement criteria, to which employees can relate, to the strategies. Based on the example strategy of “becoming the industry cost leader,” the business objectives will be to lower production costs and to enhance the quality of the product or service. These business objectives form part of the Operations Management process.

At this point in the process, the organisation has a set of business objectives that is used to describe and visualise the vision and strategies.

Once the business objectives are determined, a measurement criterion is applied to each. The balanced scorecard is used for this purpose.

Balanced Scorecard

The balanced scorecard is a method that provides executives with a comprehensive framework to measure the achievement of business objectives by linking measurement criteria and targets to them (Kaplan & Norton, 1996). The balanced scorecard was developed by Kaplan and Norton, and is also organised into the same four perspectives as the strategy maps namely:

  • Financial perspective
  • Customer perspective
  • Internal Process perspective
  • Learning & Growth perspective.

Although the different perspectives are tied to specific levels within the strategy map, as illustrated in figure 1, there is coherence among the perspectives and the strategies and business objectives of the organisation.

Linking Business Objectives to Measurement Criteria and Targets

Applying the balanced scorecard to the defined strategies and business objectives as discussed above means that measurement criteria to quantify them are defined. If a strategy or business objective cannot be measured, then it cannot be used to monitor the achievement of the vision.

Once the organisation has defined what the measured criteria must be to realise the strategies and business objectives, it must determine the targets for them. Each and every measurement criterion must be associated with a quantitative value.

The balanced scorecard enables targets to be defined for each business objective that are both quantifiable and measurable; for example, to acquire 10,000 new customers in the first quarter of the financial year. This differs from the business objective, which only qualitatively states “to acquire new customers.”

The next step in the process is to take the measurement criteria and targets, and further break them down into potential projects. A project is the vehicle for implementing a product and/or service with its success measured against a set target. The projects are managed using generally accepted project management principles (Programme Management Definitions, 2005).

Using Project Management to Select Projects

At this point in the process, the initial phase of the project life cycle is entered into (Zandona, 2001). During this phase, various techniques can be used to convert the measurement criteria and targets into potential projects. These are collectively called the initiating process group, which forms part of the project management process groups.

This usually begins with a feasibility study to determine which potential projects would be appropriate. The measurement criteria and targets are used in formulating the scope statement.

Various techniques can then be used to determine the best project from a collection of potential projects. Some of the financial analysis techniques include net present value (NPV; Law, 2004), internal rate of return (IRR; Burke, 1999), and payback analysis (Levine, 2001). Non-financial techniques include weighted scoring and categorisation schemes (Schwalbe, 2004). The measurement criteria and targets might indicate two potential projects that will achieve the same result. The above mentioned techniques can be used to determine the better of the two projects. The result is a collection of projects that will best achieve the set targets for the strategies and objectives.

The next step in the process is to assemble the projects in logical groups, called programmes. This is achieved through methods used in the programme management discipline.

Using Programme Management to Develop Programmes

There are several definitions for programme management (Reiss, 2005), but most have one thing in common: programmes are concerned with managing a collection of projects (AIM Academy, 2005).

The management of a collection of projects requires a macro view, and, as such, differs significantly from managing single projects, which requires a micro view. Various methods and techniques have been developed in response to this difference in management approach. Programmes are managed to produce results such as profitability, market share, value, and customer satisfaction, and shift the focus to delivering outcomes rather than just completing the project. A different set of dynamics is, therefore, put into motion (Lycett, 2004; Thiry 2002).

Once a collection of projects is identified, duplicate projects need to be removed and complementary projects integrated. Duplicate projects are a result of the different measurement criteria. It might happen that the same project was identified to satisfy two different measurement criteria. The main purpose of programme management is to identify and consolidate these duplicate projects. This is a very important part of the process, as there are limited resources available to execute these projects. The resulting projects are then formally initiated using the traditional project management processes.

By grouping projects together, the programme manager can share resources across projects, thus lowering costs. It also provides synergy among the projects because all projects within a programme focus on the same business objective. The result is a set of programmes each containing a set of projects.

Programmes

Programmes should be related to the processes of the Internal Process and Learning & Growth perspectives of the strategy map to enable the organisation to link projects directly to the strategies. This means that all the projects that form part of the operations management process should be grouped together into an operations management programme. This is very important as the cumulative results of the related projects determine the success of the programme.

Figure 3 shows how different projects can be grouped into the different programmes using existing programme management techniques.

Grouping projects into programmes

Figure 3: Grouping projects into programmes

The programmes are based on the seven elements of the balanced scorecard. By allocating all projects to the seven proposed programmes, an organisation can relate and link these back to the business objectives and strategies.

The programmes form the basis of strategy implementation. The strategies of the organisation can be implemented through the seven programmes, and measured against the business objectives using the measurement criteria and targets.

Organisations might not require all these programmes and the composition of the programmes might change if the vision of the organisation changes. The number of projects within a programme can also change as the business objectives change.

The next step in the process is to consolidate the set of programmes, as illustrated in figure 3, to optimise resources and achieve the best possible rate of return. Portfolio management is used for this purpose.

Using Portfolio Management to Consolidate Programmes

Portfolio management is defined as “the management of a portfolio in such a way that the organisational strategies are implemented and the vision is realised optimally” (Lyn & Hsieh, 2004). The portfolio manager, therefore, manages and makes decisions on the priority of the programmes that it comprises.

The management of the portfolio takes place at two levels. The first level involves operational management, which ensures that the programmes within the portfolio achieve the set measurement criteria and targets. The second level involves strategic management, which ensures that the vision and strategies of the organisation are being achieved through the cumulative execution of programmes. The portfolio manager can, therefore, terminate a programme if it no longer contributes to the realisation of the vision and strategies.

In principle, this portfolio is similar to that of a financial portfolio (Leake, 2000). The organisation will have a combination of high-, moderate-, and low-risk programmes to realise the vision and strategies of the organisation. This principle assists the portfolio manager in putting together a portfolio that has a balanced spread of risk.

Portfolio

A portfolio is defined as “a collection of projects and/or programmes and other work grouped together to facilitate effective management of that work to meet strategies” (Mikkola, 2001).

The purpose of a portfolio is:

  • To have an integrated view of programmes or projects at a strategic level; and
  • To monitor the achievement of the organisational strategy and vision.

A typical portfolio, based on the approach suggested above, is illustrated in figure 4 and can consist of up to seven programmes. This portfolio is based on the Internal Process and Learning & Growth perspectives of the balanced scorecard as discussed above.

Typical organisational portfolio

Figure 4: Typical organisational portfolio

The success of the portfolio is indicative of the successful implementation of the strategies and, ultimately, the vision of the organisation.

From Project back to Vision

In the previous section, a top-to-bottom process was proposed to turn the vision into projects. In this section, a bottom-to-top process is proposed to monitor the achievement of the vision by measuring project performance and progress.

The organisation must monitor the progress towards achieving the vision and strategies on a regular basis to ensure that the selected projects produce the expected results. Any deviations need to be addressed by taking corrective action.

Monitoring takes place at three levels:

  • The measurement criteria and targets enable the organisation to monitor individual projects. It is the project manager’s duty to ensure that the projects achieve these targets.
  • The achievement of business objectives is monitored through the implementation of programmes, as every programme is linked to a business objective. The programme manager must ensure that the programmes achieve these objectives.
  • The successful deployment of strategies depends on the execution of the portfolio. If the portfolio is managed successfully, the organisational strategies will be achieved. The portfolio manager must ensure that this is achieved.

If all the organisational strategies are achieved, then the vision of the organisation is realised. Figure 5 illustrates the relationship between and dependency of the vision and the strategies. The vision determines the strategies, and the strategies determine the success of the vision.

Interrelation between vision and strategies

Figure 5: Interrelation between vision and strategies

The vision takes a long-term view of the organisation, while projects take a shorter-term view. This process enables the organisation to focus on the shorter term—that is, the projects—while the success of the short-term projects results in the success of the long-term vision and strategies.

Conclusion

The article suggests a structured approach that uses the vision of the organisation to determine the projects that it must implement. The approach makes use of strategy maps and balanced scorecards to determine the strategies, business objectives, measurement criteria, and targets. These are then linked to projects, programmes and portfolios. The suggested approach, although conceptual in nature, provides a holistic view of how to turn vision into projects. Many literature sources state that it must be done, but do not provide any guidance on how to do it.

The main benefit of this approach is that it is generic and can, therefore, be used by any organisation within any industry. Secondly, the selected projects are directly related to the vision, which eliminates pet projects and projects that do not contribute towards realising it. Thirdly, the approach is based on existing, proven techniques and best practices such as balanced scorecards and the PMBOK® Guide and, therefore, does not suggest a drastic departure from current thinking.

One of the limitations of the suggested approach is that it can only be applied to organisations that have already reached a certain degree of maturity in project management. Project management forms the foundation of both programme and portfolio management. Another limitation is that it is currently conceptual in nature, and so does not take into consideration the inherent limitations and flaws of existing techniques and best practices.

There is a void in the current literature when it comes to holistic approaches for implementing organisational vision and strategy using project management. This article attempts to fill the void by providing a possible approach. From this conceptual approach, it is hoped that a more pragmatic approach can be developed.

Future research is aimed at applying the approach to organisations in order to test it. The practical application of the approach will indicate shortcomings that can be used to improve it.

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