Achieving program success through an integrated strategic project management framework

Abstract

Achieving program success in both private and public industries is a challenge faced by many senior program leaders and executives. Senior leaders deal with limited resources (labor, cost, and materials), unclear program requirements (scope of work), unrealistic (pre-set) project deadlines, and numerous other factors that are often beyond their control and thus may deter their efforts to lead a successful program. Even though experienced senior leaders may develop an ideal strategic plan, achieving success is still a difficult part of a journey requiring careful execution of the plan by employing sound project management methodologies. However, execution of the strategic plan is not an effortless task. The ability to successfully execute a strategic plan is one of the most sought-after skills among chief executives around the world. It requires a combination of both hard and soft skills in all of the key players within the program and the integration of strategic planning, organizational learning in project management, and project management processes. An all-encompassing road-map for transitioning from strategic plan to project execution for improving organizational performance and delivering quality results does not exist. However, there are a few structured methodologies and best project management practices that we can implement for running a successful program within the organization.

This presentation provides an Integrated Strategic Project Management Framework (ISPMF) that combines strategic planning, organizational learning, and project management processes, which can help any public/private industry add much more value to the organization—making the program's mission and strategic goals achievable!

Introduction

The Regulatory Compliance and Human Subjects Protection Program (RCHSPP) has been providing program management support services to the Regulatory Compliance and Human Subjects Protection Branch (RCHSPB) within the Division of Clinical Research (DCR), National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID), National Institute of Health (NIH). The RCHSPP has a program management office (PMO) that provides the operational management and logistical support to enhance the capacity of RCHSPB in the conduct of its mission and to maintain the infrastructure for SAIC to fulfill contractual requirements. The PMO works in collaboration with the RCHSPP and RCHSPB staff to strategically plan, implement, and oversee major project initiatives in support of the RCHSPB. The PMO is comprised of the following core functions: project management, information technology, document control, and operational/financial management.

Background Information

Approximately 90% of the RCHSPB's workforce is supported by a significant proportion of the RCHSPP's contract staff in a long-term supportive relationship. This workforce is grouped into functional areas including regulatory, clinical trial monitoring, medical monitoring, medical writing, medical safety review, and training management. However, the PMO within the RCHSPP does not have any direct oversight over these functional areas. The RCHSPP blended workforce works together on a daily basis to ensure shared and consistent information is communicated to all stakeholders. The program support services provided to the RCHSPB are currently managed under the functional organizational structure within the RCHSPP. This collaborative workforce has been beneficial in ensuring flexible, high-quality expertise and guidance to the Principal Investigators (PIs) of the NIAID in the pursuit of conducting quality clinical research and protecting the rights and welfare of human subjects.

The current RCHSPP mission is to utilize a collaborative and innovative approach in facilitating strategic support for NIAID domestic and international clinical research programs by providing quality regulatory, clinical trials, and project/procurement management services to the RCHSPB. The growing requirements from RCHSPB for fulfilling fiscal accountability; maintaining existing services with flat budget; reporting progress and budget expenditures to senior management; and improving processes for communication, collaboration, and information sharing within the project team members (RCHSPP and RCHSPB) and across project stakeholders—sponsors, investigators, investigational review board (IRB), and Data Safety and Monitoring Board (DSMB)—warranted the need for project management implementation within the RCHSPP. Additional challenges facing the PMO within the RCHSPP includes predicting resource requirements; forecasting budgets; sharing critical project information; allocating limited resources within/across projects; tracking, monitoring, and reporting of the program progress with respect to budget, scope, and schedule; managing the scope changes; communicating with stakeholders; making informed decisions; and prioritizing project portfolios.

In a recent strategic planning effort, the RCHSPP, through its collaboration with the RCHSPB, recognized these challenges and established a goal to “optimize and align resources with forecasted requirements of the NIAID intramural clinical research programs” (RCHSPB's Strategic Plan, 2009). One of the key solutions identified in the strategic planning process to accomplish this goal is by strengthening the project management capability within the PMO of the RCHSPP. Realizing the growing challenges, the program director undertook this project management initiative to devise a feasible solution for supporting the mission of the RCHSPB efficiently and effectively. After initial discussion with senior leaders, the PMO within the RCHSPP drafted a project charter and obtained an approval of the project charter to establish an integrated strategic project management framework (ISPMF) for addressing these challenges and meeting the strategic needs. The approach taken to establish the ISPMF along with the deployment experience is briefly discussed as follows.

Introduction to the Integrated Strategic Project Management Framework (ISPMF)

To start addressing the strategic needs described above, the project team followed a standard project management methodology and sought input on all primary stakeholders' expectations and suggestions on the direction of implementation and change. In addition, the PMO reviewed literature to benchmark the similar project management models; however, none of them were relevant to this project context. Furthermore, the conventional way of managing projects cannot adapt to a dynamic business environment (Shenhar & Dvir, 2007), and the traditional focus within the scope of triple constraints covering time, scope, and cost is no longer feasible for managing clinical protocol development projects funded by the public resources in a global setting. Managing projects in the context of the RCHSPP required the PMO to focus beyond the concepts of triple constraints and seek an emerging, integrated and adaptive model that enables the program management to provide exceptional results.

From the feedback received during the project management implementation, the PMO revealed a gap in the strategic planning process and the execution of the strategic plan. This gap is widening due to disconnect in various processes for supporting the mission of the RCHSPB, which is referred to as a process gap in this paper. A book on project management, Shenhar and Dvir (2007, p. 23) also call it “the missing link—between the business strategy and the project plan.” Linking projects to strategy (Shenhar & Dvir, 2007, p. 23; Graham & Englund, 2003, p. 6; Wilson, 2003) is critical to program success. Bridging the process gap is crucial for improving the chances of executing the strategic plan and delivering the expected results to the customers. The ISPMF that was developed by the project management team within PMO to bridge this process gap is described below (Figure 1).

The ISPMF: The Integrated Model

A comprehensive model (Exhibit 1) is developed to enhance the strategic planning process and leverage the project management to form strategic alignment with the RCHSPB and the RCHSPP along with its functional groups for addressing the strategic needs of the program. The ISPMF serves as the bridge for connecting the missing link and reducing the widening process gap by forming strategic project management alignment. This is defined as follows: “Alignment of the project management and business strategy is an internal collaborative state where project activities continually support the achievement of enterprise strategic goals” (Shenhar & Dvir, 2007, p. 7). In the context of the RCHSPP, it would be the alignment of the RCHSPP's project activities with the RCHSPB's strategic goals and objectives.

By combining three main processes including project management, strategic planning, and learning and professional development, the ISPMF aims to bridge the process gap and ensure overall program success. The ISPMF facilitates the execution process of the strategic plan through project management methodology and delivers quality products and services. The focus of the integrated model is the execution of the strategic plan through project management. Completing both project and operational tasks to support the RCHSPB's objectives and goals is accomplished by progressing through a series of strategic planning (Stages I–VII) and core project management processes. Each process of the ISPMF is briefly described as follows.

The ISPMF: The Integrated Model

Exhibit 1: The ISPMF: The Integrated Model

The Project Management Process

Project management methodology as described in A Guide to the Project Management Body of Knowledge (PMBOK® Guide)—Fourth edition (Project Management Institute [PMI], 2008) includes: initiating, planning, executing, monitoring and controlling, and closing. The project management processes serve as a core for facilitating all other processes to produce a strategic plan and a project plan. Project management becomes a conduit for executing the strategic plan and gathering program intelligence enabling all stakeholders involved to make informed decisions and ensures overall program success.

The Strategic Planning Process

The strategic planning is the process of formulating and implementing decisions about an organization's future direction. The outcome of this process results in the organization doing the right thing by producing goods or services for which there is a demand or need in the external environment (Kerzner, 2004). As presented in the ISPMF, the PMO has adopted “Seven Stages of Strategic Planning Model” (Phase I to Phase IV), which was developed to support the efficiency and effectiveness across DCR (OSPA, 2007) and customized it to fit the context of the RCHSPP. The strategic planning process alone may not produce the outcomes that the organization expects. Inn Wilson (2003) has listed several challenges facing the strategic plan and termed them “the seven deadly sins of strategic planning.” Some of the major challenges include the disconnection between the strategy and action producing no results; failure to make true strategic choices; and exclusion of the organizational and cultural requirements of the strategy (2003). A similar list of strategic plan failures has been documented in the literature and articulated by several prominent business leaders (Conference Board, 2007; Welch & Welch, 2005; Bossidy & Charan, 2002). The management consultants Charan and Colvin (1999) expressed that “clearly, most companies don't succeed in implementing their strategies.” The literature review suggests that the PMO needs to reevaluate the existing strategic planning process, link projects to organizational strategic goals, and discover an integrated approach in executing the strategic plan for achieving exceptional results and program success.

The Learning and Professional Development

The learning and professional development process refers to increasing the program management capability through continuous learning. The learning process involves training, mentoring, and coaching to improve the knowledge, skills, and abilities of the workforce and the program that are required to perform the projects effectively and efficiently. In the knowledge economy, the people are the main resource (Kaplan & Norton, 2008), and improving their skills and knowledge is essential for driving change and achieving program success. Just having the best tools, technologies, and improved processes is not going to deliver value unless we have the skilled workforce to operate them. The workforce supporting the projects and program must have a knowledge of what is needed and be able to apply the skills that they posses to efficiently and effectively support the mission of the program. (Nigro, 2008; Collins, 2005; Bossidy & Charan, 2002; Welch & Welch, 2005)

The Integrated Strategic Project Management Process

In the literature, there exists a copious amount of the best practices along the proposed theoretical and practical solutions for addressing the strategic management needs, execution issues, and project management concerns (The Conference Board, 2007; Shenhar, 2007, p.7; Wilson, 2003; Kaplan & Norton, 2008; Bossidy & Charan, 2002). However; what is lacking is a comprehensive framework to integrate all these best practices along with their processes so that they are properly aligned and synchronized to meet the strategic needs of the program as a whole for improving the execution process. Thus, the PMO developed the integrated strategic project management process, which can increase efficiency and effectiveness by maximizing resource utilization through strategic alignment.

The green zone within the second inner circle from the center of the ISPMF represents the gap that exists in the process between strategic thinkers (the senior management) and the executors (the functional leaders). The key focus of this ISPMF is to bridge the process gap by linking or aligning the RCHSPB's mission, goals, and objectives into the RCHSPP's functional services, projects, and program planning activities, to achieve the desired results and meet the strategic needs. The integrated strategic project management process is one of the crucial elements in bridging the process gap through constant improvement in communication, process, project execution, strategic project management alignment, and program management competency. Most importantly, the combined processes provide the essential recipe for program success by connecting the right people to the right processes, tools, and technologies at the right time to get the projects completed successfully the first time. Similar to Jim Collins' statement “Get the right people on the bus and let them decide where they want go” (Collins, 2005), the PMO needs to build a competent workforce that is equipped with the right processes, tools, and technologies for developing and executing the strategic plan. This is exactly what the PMO is doing in the context of the RCHSPP during the deployment of the ISPMF. The subprocesses of the integrated strategic project management process in the ISPMF (the green circle in the middle of Figure 1) are briefly described in the following section.

Implementation of the Integrated Model

As per ISPMF (Figure 1), the PMO developed and applied integrated strategic project management process to address the challenges described above and meeting the RCHSPB's defined strategic needs. To start this process, the PMO established strategic planning steering committee (SPSC) in collaboration with the Project Management Steering Committee (PMSC)—the right group of people leading the entire initiative. All three management processes—strategic planning, project management, and learning and professional development are facilitated by the integrated strategic project management process. These processes were initiated in a hybrid order-combination of the parallel, iterative, and sequential processes. The subprocesses supporting the main integrated process of the ISPMF are briefly described to illustrate the applicability in the context of RCHSPB as follows:

Indentify Strategic Planning Needs

In collaboration with the Office of the Strategic Planning and Assessment (OSPA), the PMO within the RCHSPB initiated the planning process starting with Stage I: Plan for Strategic Planning. During this stage, the functional leaders and project managers from the RCHSPP provided enough intelligence—including program challenges, accomplishments, progress reports, key performance indicators, and the lessons learned. This input helped senior leaders within the RCHSPB to justify the need for developing a strategic plan and moving forward with the initiation of the strategic planning process.

Integrate Planning Processes

After identifying and confirming the strategic planning needs, the strategic planning team started reviewing its existing mission, vision, and core values (Stage II) and proceeded further for establishing its strategic goals and objectives (Stage III). At the same time, the project management team also initiated its process for project initiation. This process involved both the strategic planning team and the PMO within the RCHSPP to collaborate closely by integrating their processes. The project management methodology is applied to achieve two distinct project deliverables: strategic plan and project/operational plan for executing the strategic plan. Both processes ran together by feeding inputs and outputs into each other. By the time the strategic planning team completed strategic planning processes in Stages II and III, the project management team had already captured enough project information to enable them to initiate project initiation and planning processes.

Form Project Strategic Alignment

While strategic planning team proceeded to identify key success measures (Phase IV), the PMO started interacting and collaborating with the strategic planning team to form strategic alignment and began its planning processes—defining the scope of objectives; identifying project deliverables (products and services with high-level operational and project tasks); prioritizing the operational and project tasks; documenting project assumptions, constraints, preliminary risk factors, and resource requirements; and clarifying the roles and responsibilities of each objective owner(s)—a functional group leader who is assigned to take the lead on a defined strategic objective(s).

RCHSPB Mission

Exhibit 2: RCHSPB Mission

This is one of the key processes within the ISPMF where the rubber meets the road, and both the strategic planning team and the PMO need to work closely to ensure success through strategic alignment by connecting the processes, tools, technologies, and people with the right skills for supporting the strategic mission of the program. The PMO in collaboration with the strategic planning team formed strategic alignment as shown in Exhibit 2 through the following steps:

  • Reviewed the RCHSPB's vision, mission, and core values and ensured that newly identified goals were aligned with the mission of the DCR.
  • Reviewed the RCHSPP's mission and core values and ensured that its mission and goals were aligned with the mission and the goals of the RCHSPB.
  • Ensured that these objectives are common to both the RCHSPP and the RCHSPB.
  • Identified and aligned its core functional services for supporting the mission, goals, and objectives of the RCHSPB.
  • Applied standard project management methodology to breakdown strategic objectives into smaller and achievable projects or products/services or operational tasks. For example, the PMO developed first model as a pilot project to support the objectives and strategic needs. With this pilot project, the PMO plans on gradually developing, expanding, extending, or replicating a similar model to manage any other protocol development project that is submitted to the RCHSPP.

Execute Strategic Plan Through Project Management

Execution of the strategic plan through project management is the second primary focus of the ISPMF to ensure program success. Communicating the strategic plan to the operational and project team is critical in this process. The senior leaders within the RCHSPB and RCHSPP communicated to all members of the functional management regarding the importance, relevancy, priority, and urgency of the strategic plan execution. Once the PMO and strategic planning team completed the strategic plan and project plan, the PMO applied the standard to the project management methodology to execute the strategic plan.

Measure KPI Towards Defined Strategic Goals

This process serves as a “traffic controller,” and, if applied properly, it examines each result during the execution process at various stages to bring the deviated project or operational task(s) on track. In this stage, performance indicators developed for measuring each strategic objective are assessed and evaluated against its expected targets and thresholds. The key performance indicators monitor the implementation and effectiveness of a project or operational activities, determine the gap between actual and targeted project performance, and help to determine program effectiveness and operational efficiency. Measuring these indicators is critical to any program to ensure that the products/services or projects delivered to its customers meet or exceed its defined strategic goals and objectives. Communicating progress toward its defined strategic measures; playing proactive roles in identifying and mitigating project/program risks; and managing changes by incorporating corrective action plans in a timely manner are some of the crucial steps that enable a program to measure its overall program effectiveness and efficiency.

The learning and professional development process is an iterative process and plays a key role throughout the project management life cycle. Starting with the training process—a seminar on “strategic planning 101,” describing the strategic planning needs, their purpose, and the required time commitment for each involved in the strategic planning process—was provided to all the senior leaders and functional managers. Similarly, introductory courses on project management describing the project management methodology and hands-on skills in developing work breakdown structures (WBS) along with the technical skills in applying the Microsoft project was offered to all key players for executing the strategic plan. At the same time, project managers supporting the PMO provided project management expertise, tools, and templates to support the coaching and mentoring processes throughout the project life cycle. This is an ongoing process to enhance workforce performance and program management capability.

Lessons Learned, Implementation Challenges, and Recommendations

The PMO, within RCHSPP, is still in the early stages of implementation of the ISPMF. However, it is worth documenting some of the benefits that the PMO started realizing at both the program and functional level. The ISPMF assisted the PMO in clarifying strategic goals, program objectives, and the scope of the project for establishing a proper project management framework for supporting the RCHSPB. Additional benefits that have been gradually recognized include: defining project scope at the functional level; identifying resource implications by clarifying the roles and responsibilities over the project or operational tasks; prioritizing the strategic goals and objectives; decreasing the life cycle of project implementation by removing redundancies and delays during the execution process; defining realistic success measures; saving limited waste of resources for supporting the program by improving the budget estimating, planning, and forecasting process; incorporating the additional processes for supporting the RCHSPB (i.e., protocol navigating process); and improving the workforce performance in the area of the project/program management by enhancing the project planning process through project management models and additional project templates.

Some of the additional benefits that the PMO accomplished at the program and functional level are listed in Exhibit 1.

Benefits that the RCHSPP and the RCHSPB have Accomplished

Exhibit 3 Benefits that the RCHSPP and the RCHSPB have Accomplished

Some of the long-term benefits that the PMO aims to accomplish in the future include (Exhibit 2):

Benefits that the RCHSPP and RCHSPB Aim to Accomplish in the Long-Term

Exhibit 4: Benefits that the RCHSPP and RCHSPB Aim to Accomplish in the Long-Term

Implementation Challenges

During the implementation stage of the ISPMF, the PMO within the RCHSPP faced many challenges. The team had to overcome the perception, attitude, and behavior of the employees involved in the process. Some of the challenges include fears of micromanagement; employees' perception towards the project management methodology; obtaining buy-ins from all stakeholders involved; not comprehending the value-added benefits of the project management; accessing project-specific data creating the baseline; and linking strategic goals to program and operational goals. To ease the process of the ISPMF deployment, this paper suggests the following recommendations.

Recommendations

Best practices such as organizational learning, collaboration, communication, project management, information gathering, and sharing processes—better or worse are already practiced in most organizations; however, it is a matter of integrating them to acquire synergy at the workplace through strategic alignment at the corporate, program, and functional level for addressing the common strategic needs and program challenges. Some of the lessons learned include:

  • Allow project management culture to evolve gradually at functional level and at program level.
  • Don't force decisions on the functional group until the team is ready.
  • Allow the new team to get up to speed to adapt the project management.
  • Cultivate training, mentoring and coaching as needed to educate the team.
  • Do not enforce a “one size fits all” concept in the process and avoid focusing too much on project management methodology.
  • Build a culture of data sharing and project visibility within the team/across program.
  • Follow an incremental approach in project management implementation and gradually add additional functions, features, and new elements as needed over time.
  • Expand as functional groups are ready to adapt and never push too far, which could cause counterproductivity to the mission of the PMO, resulting in mistrust and burden to the success of the program.
  • Have a strong project sponsorship with change agents to question the status quo and implement change gradually toward achieving program success.
  • Train those who have the interests and potential for managing the projects by building pilot projects and let the rest support the team member. Not all members in the functional team need to be a project manager.

Conclusion

Project management standards as stated in the PMBOK® Guide (PMI, 2008) alone face difficulty to clear the pathway to achieve program success; however, the project management processes serve as a conduit for formulating, implementing, and executing the strategic plan. The purpose of this paper is not to claim the ISPMF as the best approach for managing a program or project; however, when it is implemented carefully, this framework serves as a management tool that a program can apply to drive change, produce quality products or services, and create a clear path towards achieving the overall program success in the prevailing economy. The benefits that can be derived from the implementation of the ISPMF, considering its full potential in program management, have ramifications that are far-reaching and profound for both how the program selects the right projects and how projects are managed and successfully implemented through proper execution of the strategic plan. Adopting and implementing an emergent, collaborative, iterative, and organic project management model such as the ISPMF can be frightening at the beginning; however, this approach can be the technique that saves senior leaders time, money, and trouble during the execution of the strategic plan. Moreover, this requires incremental, bottom-up, and shared strategic thinking from all stakeholders for supporting the mission of the program. Achieving great program success while delivering superior services/products or results to the customers through the ISPMF is inevitable; however, only if the project management ecology within the organization makes the implementation of such a strategic framework possible.

Disclaimer

This project has been funded in whole or in part with federal funds from the National Cancer Institute, National Institutes of Health, under Contract No. HHSN261200800001E. The content of this publication does not necessarily reflect the views or policies of the Department of Health and Human Services, nor does mention of trade names, commercials products, or organizations imply endorsement by the United States government.

Use of NIAID Funds: This research was supported [in part] by the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases.

Acknowledgement: The authors would like to thank all members of support staff within the RCHSPP for providing and sharing their experience, thoughts, ideas, and recommendations.

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This material has been reproduced with the permission of the copyright owner. Unauthorized reproduction of this material is strictly prohibited. For permission to reproduce this material, please contact PMI or any listed author.

© 2009, Giri, J. and Lambert, L
Originally published as a part of 2009 PMI Global Congress Proceedings – Orlando, Florida

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