Strategy and the Project Manager of the future

It’s been a while since I last posted and in that time I’ve been very busy writing and teaching. Frankly posting to my blogs hasn’t been a particularly strategic task. Which leads me to today’s topic. All of which can be blamed on the 18th Century military.

In the thirty-odd years that I’ve been involved in project management (oh, that’s scary), I’ve seen a major shift in mindset.

When I started project management, project managers cared only about implementation. Somebody up above us would select a project (usually a make-it-work-exactly-like-we-have-now-but-better project), and then we’d do our damnedest to make it happen. But our understanding, our abilities, and our responsibilities have evolved since then.

Project Managers work on two types of projects – strategic and operational.

Strategic projects bridge the gap between dreams and changes of strategy and the day-to-day repetition of operations. In essence, projects implement strategy by changing operations. Of course, that implies an understanding of Predictive Strategy as opposed to Extrapolative Strategy on the part of the organization.  (Predictive is based on observation largely of the outside world and the changes required. Extrapolative is the “We did $1M in sales so this year we’ll do $1.5M” budgetary work that all too often is substituted for true strategic thinking).

Operational projects are projects that are performed typically because the current tool is in need of replacement. It is the “I’d like a few tweaks but basically it needs to work like it always has” type of project. While they are often justified as a strategic project the truth is that there is no “Blue Ocean” or “Blue Sky” thinking behind them. At best, it’s the result of Extrapolative Strategy. At worst, it’s operational thought masquerading as strategy. Or to put it another way, confusing capital with strategy. (Yes, I have simplified. There are other forms of operational projects.)

Over the past 20 years or so I’ve seen the growth of Portfolio Management as a seperate body of knowledge. I’ve also seen the confusion between project management (implementation) and portfolio management (selection) as Project and Portfolio Managers have tried desperately to reconcile the relationship between two aspects of what we do. The growth and morphing of PMO from reporting to steering has further complicated the confusion. Just as the confusion between strategy, tactics,  and operations has confused organizations.

All of which leads up to an article I recommend. 7 goals every project manager should aspire to achieve is from CIO Magazine. While the author, Moira Alexander, suffers from this same confusion between PMO, Portfolio Manager, and Project Manager, she makes many good points. Just remember when reading this that she is really talking more about Strategic Portfolio Manager than your typical old-fashioned get-it-done project manager.