ALIGNING PROJECTS WITH STRATEGIC DIRECTION

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1 ALIGNING PROJECTS WITH STRATEGIC DIRECTION Edwin T. Cornelius III, Ph.D. Having a clear strategic direction is vital to keep an organization on track and focused on its important goals and will enable an organization to avoid being bogged down by day-to-day issues and occurrences. The ideal scenario for any organization is to have the strategic plan of the enterprise driving portfolio management and project management. Conversely, project management tools and techniques can be critical in helping the organization create and execute a strategic plan. THREE FACETS OF STRATEGIC PLANNING In order to create strategic direction, organizations need to follow through on the three facets of strategic planning: The Strategic Plan The Planning Process Execution of the Plan This article will explore all three of the facets in more detail and discuss how they relate to project management. THE STRATEGIC PLAN A strategic plan should be able to answer the following three questions: 1. Who are we as an organization? 2. What are we striving for in the long-run? 3. What are we doing in the short term? In order to answer the question, Who are we as an organization?, we must state the mission, vision, and values of the organization. The mission of the organization discusses who we are, what we do, and for whom. The vision of an organization relates to what we are striving towards. The values of an organization refer to our beliefs, i.e. the principles that guide us Cornelius & Associates 1

2 In order to answer the question, What are we striving for in the long-run?, we must state our strategic goals. Strategic goals affirm what the organization wants to accomplish in a three to five-year timeframe and should stem directly from the mission, vision, and values established by the organization. These goals should be broadly stated, few in number, and relatively stable from year to year. In order to answer the final question, What are we doing in the short term?, we must state our strategic objectives. Strategic objectives are what we want to accomplish in the next 12 months or so. They are more specifically stated and tend to change more frequently than strategic goals. Strategic objectives can also be looked at as strategies to be implemented to make progress towards the strategic goals. Each strategic goal established by the organization should carry one or more strategic objectives. A HIGHER EDUCATION EXAMPLE OF A STRATEGIC PLAN In order to demonstrate these three areas of a strategic plan, here is an example from a higher education information technology department. Who are we as an organization? Information technology at Ajax University is a nationally recognized model for: Creating and supporting a transparent and seamless environment for academic learning, creative endeavors and research Fostering collaboration among its diverse community of students, faculty, and staff Promoting and supporting continuous innovation Enabling student learning, faculty productivity, and administrative support and efficiency Measuring the success of information technology by its relevance to the university mission What are we striving for in the long-run? Six Strategic Goals Empower and enhance academics and research. Build and expand reliable, robust and secure access to information and technology. Promote customer centered information technology services and support. Ensure continuous innovation. Support university administration and management. Plan and Manage Information Technology Cornelius & Associates 2

3 What are we doing in the short term? In order to demonstrate this section, we have selected one of the Strategic Goals listed above, Goal # 5, and will show three of the Strategic Objectives related to this goal: 1. Systems Integration. Develop a plan for the implementation of common interfaces and a common information delivery environment to facilitate integrated administrative systems use. 2. Decision Support System and Reporting. Develop responsive and secure systems to access administrative information that facilitates informed university decisions. 3. Content and Document Management System. Develop and implement a model for the effective and efficient management of content and documentation to ensure. HOW PROJECT MANAGEMENT TOOLS TIE INTO THE PLAN? In the strategic plan example above, most of the strategic objectives will become projects. The same should hold true for every organization. For each of the strategic objectives listed above, there should be: Scope document Project sponsor Project team leader Team members Project plan Budget Thus, project management is the method used to ensure these objectives and strategies are executed successfully. In fact, the collection of projects dictated by the strategic objectives should now constitute the strategic project portfolio of the enterprise. Therefore, the projects and portfolio of projects will be perfectly aligned with the strategic intent of the organization. Managing this portfolio should be the responsibility of the leadership team. However, implementing, tracking and controlling the projects in the portfolio should be the responsibility of team members throughout the organization Cornelius & Associates 3

4 THE PLANNING PROCESS The next facet in establishing strategic direction is the strategic planning process. A typical annual strategic planning process would proceed according to the following steps: 1. Carry out an environmental analysis and collect input from stakeholders. 2. Schedule the annual planning retreat. 3. Make changes, if any, to the existing mission, vision, and strategic goals. 4. Make changes, if any, to the strategic objectives; add or delete objectives as necessary. 5. Create scope documents and put together project teams for each strategic objective. 6. Prepare budgets for the project teams and submit requests as part of the budget process. 7. Adjust objectives to match actual budget received. 8. Communicate the strategic plan and launch projects. 9. Track progress and conduct quarterly reviews. This planning process itself should be considered a project- implemented, tracked, and controlled using project management tools and techniques. EXECUTION OF THE PLAN The next facet in establishing strategic direction is executing the strategic plan. In order to stay on target and remain focused, it is important to track the progress of the strategic objectives. In helping organizations track these projects, we have found four tools that are very useful: 1. Team leader weekly updates on progress 2. Project plan monthly reports to update and communicate all key personnel and stakeholders 3. Quarterly progress review sessions with the leadership team 4. Strategic Portfolio Dashboard- this is a graphical image demonstrating the progress of each strategic objective It is also important to evaluate the progress of strategic objectives on a monthly basis. The following items are imperatives in conducting progress reviews: Monthly Leadership Team Meetings One-third of the strategic objectives are formally reviewed at each monthly meeting Thus each strategic objective is formally reviewed at least once each quarter Monthly project plan updates are sent to the leadership team Monthly Strategic Portfolio Dashboard updates are published All data available on a website 2011 Cornelius & Associates 4

5 SUMMARY To summarize, we wanted to capture the main ideas about aligning projects with strategic direction: 1. Vision drives the development of strategic goals. 2. Each strategic goal will have one or more strategies (strategic objectives) that must be carried out to achieve the goal over time. 3. Most strategic objectives become projects. 4. Most of these strategies are implemented, tracked and controlled using project management methodology. 5. The projects resulting from the strategic objectives comprise the strategic portfolio of the enterprise. 6. Managing this portfolio is the responsibility of the leadership team. 7. Implementing the projects in the portfolio is the responsibility of team members throughout the enterprise Cornelius & Associates 5

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