Management of strategic programs

Project Management in Action

Joan Knutson and Francis M. Webster, Jr.


One advantage of the bureaucratic organization concept is that there are subordinates who can be assigned the responsibility for seeing that strategic programs get accomplished. These people have been referred to as middle managers. They could be depended upon to see that things got done, as well as to provide status information at any time. The trouble is, things tended to get done too slowly and the status information was not always accurate.

Reengineering the organization, and other such concepts, has reduced the ranks of middle managers and replaced them with teams. These teams are more fleet-footed, focused on their unique objectives, and generally more free of irrelevant baggage. However, while an executive can manage any one team effectively, the number of teams reporting to that executive may create problems in managing all the teams. This creates a dilemma. How can the benefits of teams be realized and still provide adequate over. sight and guidance?


One solution to this dilemma maybe the emergence of a new function in the organization. Let's call it the Office of Strategic Programs (OSP). This office would not be responsible for strategy development, a concept which was popular a few decades ago. Rather, its purpose would be to ensure the feasibility of, provide visibility of the progress on, and coordinate the meshing of the strategic programs of the organization. In addition, it would be primarily responsible for the development and maintenance of project management methodologies for the organization.

In a sense this is not a new concept. Many organizations that perform their primary work efforts through projects have a position to which all project managers report. One name for this position is Manager of Project Managers. Sometimes this position is on a par with others reporting to the chief executive. Typically, the projects over which this position is responsible are for external clients.

The proposed OSP would be primarily concerned with projects that are internal to the organization. The automobile industry approaches this through the New Product Timing Office. Development of a new automobile typically involves most elements of the organization. In addition to the styling and engineering efforts involved, the efforts of manufacturing, purchasing, marketing, advertising, dealer programs, spare parts operations, and other organization elements must be coordinated. Often this requires modifications of, if not new, plants and manufacturing equipment. These often require the recruitment and training of a new work force. All these elements must come together at two points in time: job one and new car introduction.

Job one is the first car down the assembly line. All parts need to be there at the appointed time or job one is not a completed vehicle. This has happened. Imagine the inventory storage problem when a part—for example, the car seats—is not available. This actually happened. Every vacant field in the vicinity of the assembly plant became parking lots until seat delivery began and the cars could be finished. A major SNAFU! New car introduction requires all the advertising, sales support material, maintenance instructions, spare parts, and training of relevant personnel, both inside and outside the organization, to be in place.


Joan Knutson is president and founder of Project Management Mentors, a San Francisco-based project management consulting and training firm. She is in the process of developing a project management toolkit for the project management community. If you have any ideas of functions which should be included, let her know by writing to PMIC.

Can you afford such a SNAFU in your organization? Consider the costs if one element of your new product introduction program, such as the advertising, is late. Product sales do not materialize on schedule. Revenues are way below target, resulting in a cash flow crisis. A competitor beats you to market and wins the largest market share. Sometimes it even results in new personnel at the top of the organization.

Can this happen in your organization? Sure it can. Examples are published in the business press almost every day.


The OSP will not absolutely prevent such events. The Timing Office has not prevented them in the auto industry. It has surely reduced the frequency, if only by alerting management to the pending event early enough to take corrective action. The OSP has the potential for reducing the impact of problems on or delay, or failure, of your strategically important projects. This can be true whether the projects are the development of a new product for sale, a new information system to support sales, or the reengineering of your organization to make it more competitive.

Modern Project Management (MPM) offers the concepts and tools that would be required to make an OSP effective. In addition to coordinating the timing of projects, these tools permit the tracking of costs and quality (by ensuring that an adequate quality assurance program is in place and performed). Perhaps the most important benefit would come from understanding the implications of resource requirements and availabilities that ultimately determine if all the projects in the strategic plan are in fact feasible. If adequate resources are not available, it is nearly inevitable that one or more projects in a strategic program will be late and overrun budget.

If you are becoming overwhelmed with all the detail required to manage a fast-moving, lean-and-mean organization, the Office of Strategic Programs may be the solution. MPM does not promise you strategic success. You are the one that determines the desired trajectory for your organization. If that trajectory leads to the right target, MPM can minimize the chances of your plans going astray. Let's face it, a good plan well executed is more likely to lead to success than the perfect plan sloppily executed. Don't let your strategic plans go astray through poor execution.❑

PMNETwork • November 1994



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