Project managers must look beyond requirements, budgets, and timelines to ensure they are executing high-impact, high-visibility projects with a direct line to the organization’s overall strategic goals. Here’s how to be recognized by executives and stakeholders as an indispensable strategic partner.
You may think the chief responsibility of a project manager is to deliver projects on time and on budget, but you’d be wrong. As a high-level strategic body, project management professionals first and foremost help drive, guide and execute company-identified value-added goals. Project management offices (PMOs) are more likely to be well received by company executives and stakeholders as an indispensable strategic partner once they recognize their true strategic value.
During last year’s Gartner PPM & IT Governance Summit, the research firm identified seven best practices for an effective PMO. Consider them seven essential goals that every project professional should aspire to achieve.
What was Gartner’s overarching message? “Project management office activities should improve project, portfolio, and program management practices and show value.” Here are the seven goals all project professionals should strive to attain, as well as expert advice from some CEOs.
1. ‘Acquire the right people, knowledge, skills and collaborative.’
From the hiring stage to project execution, all too often project management offices have focused time and energy on primarily technical aspects of project execution. This focus on primarily technical job-related activities can leave a gap in areas like soft leadership skills. PMO offices should hire, train and mentor project managers with the soft skills to, in turn, do the same. Project managers who have the requisite skills and abilities to direct effort towards creating buy-in, mentoring, conflict resolution, and driving changes to offer companies the best advantages. This creates a larger pool of top-notch leaders who understand the value they contribute to project and strategic goals.
2. ‘Identify and execute high-impact, high-visibility initiatives.’
Once a PMO has hired and trained strategic thinkers, it increases the likelihood of executing high-impact, high-visibility projects that align with the long-term goals of companies. If time is spent executing minor, non-value added or siloed projects, company resources are not only being squandered, potentially more desirable opportunities may be as well. The role of a PMO should not be a passive one; every project professional should have a clear understanding of the direct line from project to strategic direction.
Gerald J. Leonard, the president and CEO of Principles of Execution, says, “Customer value creation is key; all projects are initiated to create value. If a project is delivered on time and on budget but does not create value for the organization, does it really matter that it was delivered? Projects have to have a positive impact on an organization to create value.” He also cites stakeholder satisfaction and requirement fulfillment and culture improvement as important, saying, “Every project should deliver change to the business in a way that will impact the organization’s culture. Improving the organization’s culture should be a requirement for all projects that will enable the business to become more agile, streamlined and flexible. Business moves at the speed of thought and projects have to deliver at that same speed while addressing these three critical requirements.”
3. ‘Report on what the business really cares about.’
Key performance indicators (KPIs) play an important role in helping project teams identify the required and agreed-on strategic objectives and measure progress. Whether quantitative or qualitative KPIs are used, a PMO should be able to regularly report progress to project sponsors and stakeholders. They should be able to provide considerable visibility into project, program and portfolio performance with absolute confidence.
4. ‘Build a framework that shows how the PMO aligns with strategic enterprise objectives.’
A project manager and PMO’s value can only be recognizable if stakeholders and executives can distinguish a direct line back to strategic goals. There also has to be clear direction and ongoing, transparent communication that flows from project leaders to all areas of the company about how projects are progressing toward those goals. If a project manager can effectively communicate how the efforts of the team are geared toward successfully meeting goals, it helps to pave the way when issues arise, and teams get sidetracked.
5. ‘Provide senior managers with simple, unambiguous information.’
Project leaders need to sit down with project sponsors, executives, stakeholders, and teams at the start of any project and nail down the precise information each is looking for regarding KPIs and ongoing project insights. If this is something that’s murky from the start, how can a project manager determine the types of data they need to sift through to gather useful, timely and relevant business intelligence. Too much information can be just as bad as no information. Ensure the right tools are in place to offer each area with relevant to-the-point dashboards that can provide at-a-glance takeaways. It should be a project manager’s goal to seek and leverage tools that help them capture pertinent real-time data from multiple sources and display it visually so teams can quickly and easily access KPIs in an instant. This helps teams and stakeholders to understand how they are performing and where they are in relation to project goals in an instant.
6. ‘Highlight the PMO’s achievements.’
Project managers should be able to explain how the gathered business intelligence ties into the achievements of the PMO. Information collection and analysis is only worth the exercise if there is a link back to the PMO activities in relation to stakeholder needs.
7. ‘Evolve the PMO to support bimodal IT and digital business.’
The PMO and all project professionals should remain in a perpetual state of improvement. It is necessary to continually review processes, internal resources, technologies, culture, etc., to make sure stakeholder needs and strategic goals are being met. What works today isn’t necessarily going to work tomorrow. Project managers need to continually evolve to keep pace.
Todd Williams, the President of eCameron, a company that helps leaders translate “vision to value through project execution perfection,” believes project management professionals must possess strong business acumen. He explains: “Project managers often come up through the ranks and are so focused on implementation that they forget that the project is really running in an organization to meet a greater goal, some operational or strategic target. They focus on tasks, implementation, and requirements when they need to also understand goals, execution, and customer value.” Williams says improving business acumen helps project leaders communicate with executives and other divisions more effectively. This also assists project management professionals “better understand how changes on their project will affect the organization as a whole. Understanding the projects they work on as part of the larger system, makes them more effective at doing their job and more valuable to their company,” he says.
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Moira Alexander, PMP, I.S.P., ITCP/IP3P, is a recognized project management influencer, thought leader, a regular correspondent for PMI’s Projectified podcast, Founder and Editor-in-Chief of PMWorld 360 Magazine, Founder of Lead-Her-Ship Group, and author of “LEAD or LAG: Linking Strategic Project Management & Thought Leadership”. Moira has over 25 years of experience in business (IS&T) and project management for small to large businesses in the US and Canada and has been quoted in various publications including Forbes. She writes thought leadership content for top-tier publications and business blogs and oversees or writes sponsored content and software reviews on PMWorld 360 Magazine.