Archive for October, 2010

PostHeaderIcon Connecting Strategy and Tactics

The great Chinese military strategist Sun Tzu had it pretty much spot on:

Strategy without tactics is the slowest route to victory. Tactics without strategy is the noise before defeat.

Having a great strategy isn’t worth a whole lot to anyone unless it’s backed up by solid tactical execution capability – which means project management.  And no matter how good the project managers are, individual excellence in project planning and control won’t overcome cross-project resource overallocations and poor outcomes if projects are not strategically aligned and properly prioritized. The trick therefore is to unite the two in a strategic implementation framework.

The Missing Link

Properly connecting strategy and tactics involves the disciplines of portfolio and program management. This crucial linkage – often missing or incomplete – bridges the gap between the promise of strategy and the actuality of operational results. Portfolio management, most importantly, establishes executive oversight for project selection, project prioritization (see Project Prioritization Criteria), funding and resource allocation (see The Goals of Portfolio Management). Program management provides the governance and architecture for defining, planning and controlling broad strategic initiatives comprised of interdependent projects (see Project or Program).

Important Questions

The hard part of course is putting this all into practice. A few fundamental questions can help maintain the right focus; for example:

  • Do we know how strongly each declared strategy is supported by our current projects?
  • Do we believe we have the optimal mix of projects to fulfill our strategy – taking account of various business needs, execution constraints and operational imperatives?
  • Do our strategic programs clearly lay out the relationship between objectives, projects, deliverables and benefits?
  • Is each program properly coordinating the component projects using a single integrated master plan?
  • Are cross-project resource contentions identified in advance and resolved proactively before progress is impacted?
  • Have success metrics been identified for projects, for programs and for portfolios, and are they being tracked and reported systematically?

PostHeaderIcon Four Steps to Saving Troubled Projects

The right people, process and tools to the rescue

When projects get seriously off-track, normal project management techniques will not be enough to turn things around. Instead, a carefully executed four-phase process offers the best chance of recovery.

1 – Launch

The first step is to officially launch a rescue mission and that involves stakeholder recognition of the trouble the project is actually in – and a commitment to do something about it. Evaluating the project against a set of performance metrics can help determine whether a recovery process should be initiated; earned value is a natural choice but others should be considered too, such as issue backlog, change volume, defect rates and customer feedback. If the metrics exceed normal tolerances and/or stakeholder sentiment is a demand for action, then the Sponsor should appoint an individual to lead the assessment and recovery effort.


  • An Assessment Team Lead appointed with clearly defined authority and mission scope.

2 – Assessment

The Assessment Team Lead plans and conducts a structured investigation to segregate fact from fiction, and reality from hearsay, i.e. to determine exactly what the status of the project really is. This will involve deep scrutiny of project artifacts, interviewing project team members and analyzing the data gathered. The assessment needs to be fast, accurate and as non-invasive as possible (typically work on the project will continue uninterrupted during this phase).


  • A rigorously prioritized list of findings and a firm recommendation on recovery options and strategy.

3 – Stabilization

Unless the project is terminated after the assessment (occasionally the wisest choice), a Recovery Project Manager is appointed to prevent the situation from deteriorating further and to get control of the project. The focus is on resolving the highest priority issues, problems and defects, containing risks and re-planning. Specialized tools and micro-management techniques are deployed here to track progress with extreme intensity, optimize estimating reliability, run schedule simulations and establish a solid basis for the recovery plan.

Now is therefore the time for making tough decisions on necessary changes in order to salvage an outcome of some desirable value. Consider re-negotiating deadlines, making personnel changes and adjusting budgets, resources, scope boundaries and quality parameters.


4 – Recovery

Led by the Recovery Project Manager, the re-baselined plan is now implemented, accompanied by appropriate changes to communications practices and to all processes for tracking and reporting progress and managing issues, risks and changes. Much attention must be given to restoring confidence in the project and its stakeholders and building morale of the team.

The recovery team may remain in place through to the end of the project or until suitable exit criteria have been satisfied, such that another project manager and core team are deemed ready, willing and able to take over.


  • A recovered project.