Filling the gaps
ASK PM NETWORK
BY BUD BAKER, PH.D., CONTRIBUTING EDITOR
QUESTION: In a past article, you wrote that a project has to have a direct connection to a company's strategic objectives. Would you please elaborate on this connection and what it means for me as a project manager?
If you looked at my teaching schedule, you might find it a bit odd. In an age of specialization, I run counter to the trend by teaching a little bit of everything. Although project management is my main interest, I also teach organizational behavior, leadership, and change management, for a variety of audiences, in a number of far-flung locations.
I'm reflecting on this because of a recent question from a colleague: “Why do you teach all this different material, rather than focus on one area like most faculty members?”
I'd never thought about it before, but the answer to me is simple: All these areas are easy to teach together, because they are all so tightly interrelated. And nowhere is that connection tighter than between project management and business strategy.
All strategy, regardless of the specific environment, is essentially about gaps. It is about asking—and answering, correctly—three pretty simple questions:
1. Where are we today? This quickly moves us into the area of self-image, where the human ability to fool ourselves is legendary. Our view of self—whether as individuals or as organizations—can be astonishingly skewed and incomplete. Nonetheless, assuming a reasonable amount of introspection and a tolerable degree of mental health, we can generally develop a fair idea of where we stand today.
2. Where do we want to be in the future? Predicting what will happen down the road is a notoriously tricky business. And getting widespread agreement on objectives across an entire corporation is even more difficult. Anyone who has sat through a three-day retreat to determine their company's “vision” knows first-hand the challenges of trying to peer into a hazy future.
3. And then, given where we are and where we want to be, what do we have to do to get there?
Ah, herein lies the real issue. This involves determining a correct course of action, and that is tough enough on its own. But it's just the beginning: Even more daunting is the challenge of strategy implementation—actually carrying out the actions we know we need to take.
It is at this point that we leave the realm of strategy and move to project management, because every strategic initiative in a firm—every diversification, every new product launch, every acquisition or divestiture—involves the management of change. And the best way to manage that change is through the tools, tactics and techniques of project management.
That, of course, is where we come in. Project management thus becomes the enabler, the vehicle through which all strategic change happens. The project itself is the gap-filler, the bridge between what is and what will be.
From here it is but a short jump to the world of leadership. Nothing in our world of project management happens without people, and those people bring an amazing array of issues with them to work. Dealing successfully with those challenges requires us to call on a host of skills in group dynamics, motivation, conflict resolution and ethics, along with maybe a dollop of abnormal psych for those days when the going gets tough.
So, it is strategy that creates the need for project management, and you can't manage projects without having a firm grasp of leadership principles. Leadership requires the management of change, in which we embrace the skills and behaviors necessary to move our project teams from the reality of today to the promise of tomorrow. In doing so, we close the loop, using project management to fulfill the strategic needs of our organization. PM
ANSWER: Every strategic initiative in a firm involves change management—and that is best accomplished through the tools, tactics and techniques of project management.
Bud Baker, Ph.D., is a professor of management at Wright State University, Dayton, Ohio, USA. Please send questions for Ask PM Network to firstname.lastname@example.org.
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