Projects should only be undertaken to further the strategic goals of and within an organization. To be successful at achieving project goals, project managers need some key insights into the business and any potential snares that may impede progress.
The following five strategic business factors should be understood by project managers before embarking on a project.
1. Operational priorities
Organizational goals may prompt the need to kick-off multiple projects at the same time. The trouble arises when several projects are deemed a ' top-priority' within a fairly condensed time-frame. This can cause a conflict with team workloads, resources and timelines. Even worse, it can result in team burnout, absenteeism, misunderstood expectations, dissatisfied customers and sub-optimal results.
By understanding executives' operational priorities, a project's drivers, and its strategic value, project managers can help stakeholders understand why some projects and tasks rank higher in priority. It can also simplify explanations about timelines, resource allocation, and any project and task dependencies that may exist.
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It's important to note, this may be a tricky topic to broach if executives are not receptive. You may understand why the GDPR compliance and multi-factor authentication projects are more important than the new business intelligence system your CFO wants, but just saying "security" isn't enough. Be careful with your approach and make sure to share facts and statistics whenever possible to explain your thought process.
2. Organizational weaknesses
Every organization has strengths—and weaknesses. Some weaknesses are overcome with minor effort, while others require a more complex strategy. Project managers must be able to recognize, understand and explain how weaknesses might compromise tasks, milestones, deliverables, and project success rates.
By understanding operational weaknesses, a project manager can recommend potential solutions. Only than can a project manager help a project team and stakeholders properly navigate a project.
3. Leadership's views
Before jumping feet-first into a project, meet with the leaders to get their views on a project and discuss any potential roadblocks.
How the executive team or sponsors view the organization, its structure, talent, funding, and initiatives can set a project and team up for success, partial failure, or the brink of collapse. To identify potential risks, project managers must understand these views and the limitations the leadership team might impose on the team. For example, sometimes leaders have conflicting priorities or views that differ from department-to-department, which creates unnecessary obstacles throughout the project lifecycle. This is particularly true of large IT projects that cut across multiple business units. Other times, leadership views may seem far removed from an actual project, but can have a devastating impact on deliverables, funding, resourcing, schedules and more, when they are not discovered and addressed early.
4. Project work practices, norms, or barriers to success
Having a solid grasp of an organization's working culture and how (or whether) it embraces projects is another important factor as it helps to know what barriers may exist around people.
Some organizations may be projectized, meaning there is a high-degree of acceptance of project work. In this type of organization, the organization focuses on projects to achieve its goals, and the culture is amenable. Other organizations may possess a more traditional hierarchy and work methods. This type of organization may not be as flexible or agile when it comes to projects, especially ones that may disrupt processes and daily operations.
Project managers must know what resistance they are up against in order to identify and communicate strategies with sponsors, teams, and other stakeholders to help reduce any potential friction.
5. Capacity planning and resource allocations
Capacity planning and resource allocations are well-known but not always understood issues. Knowing how organizations conduct capacity planning and allocate resources helps a project manager understand the leadership and operational mindset when it comes to optimizing resources. This mindset can translate directly to projects, which may or may not be optimal. A project manager should analyze this aspect carefully before initiating a project as it may need to be revisited and revised to ensure that the needed resources are available at the right time for a project team to achieve its desired goals. For example, there's no point requesting a large spend on hardware if the annual capex budget has already been allocated or spent.
Having a good understanding of the above five strategic business factors can significantly increase a project manager's effectiveness and result in higher levels of trust and confidence from executives, sponsors, team members, and other stakeholders.
Moira Alexander is the author of "LEAD or LAG: Linking Strategic Project Management & Thought Leadership" and Founder & President of Lead-Her-Ship Group. She's also a project management and IT freelance columnist for various publications, and a contributor and co-host of the "technically speaking" segment on the Price of Business Talk Radio. She has 20+ years in business (IS&T) and project management for small to large businesses in the US and Canada. To find out more about Moira, go to www.leadhershipgroup.com.