Posts Tagged ‘Strategy’

PostHeaderIcon Program Management Essentials

The world is (slowly) moving toward a shared understanding of the term “program”. There are still widely varying interpretations of project vs program but the most common themes are that programs typically drive significant strategic change, involve the integration and coordination of multiple component projects (and sometimes non-project work too), and focus on outcomes rather than outputs.

Alignment and Integration

Where all these criteria are fulfilled, major problems arise when the program is treated simply as a large project, meaning that planning and oversight is overly tactical to the detriment of the more strategic activity necessary for program success (see Big Programs, Basic Flaws).

Seven Key Elements

Ensuring the program delivers what was intended requires special emphasis given to areas such as strategic alignment, stakeholder management, scope and schedule integration, and benefits planning.

The following major elements of program management help provide appropriate focus:

1 – Business Case

Programs should have a well-articulated justification for the investment, that centers on the estimated costs of implementation and ongoing operations against the anticipated benefits to be gained and offset by the associated risks.  The business case lays out the strategic context of the program and shapes its overall mission and vision. Once approved, the business case provides a point of reference throughout the program (updated as necessary) in order to ensure a continued business rationale for the initiative.

2 – Program Organization

This should comprise a single program manager with unambiguous reporting lines to an executive steering committee (program board) that adequately reflects major stakeholder interests, budgetary control and resourcing. Other advisory committees may be set up to review and guide specific aspects of the program but the board always has ultimate decision-making authority. The program manager should have ready access to an individual program sponsor to resolve issues and obtain guidance not requiring involvement of the other board members.

3 – Stakeholder Alignment

The sheer scale of a program will usually infer involvement of many parties with vested interests. Stakeholder analysis will help to identify individual concerns and parties needing the greatest attention, and subsequently define appropriate response strategies. It also assists in identifying risks associated with (real or perceived) negative outcomes. Properly managing relationships with key stakeholders requires detailed communication plans and, (sometimes forgotten), ensuring adequate time and effort is expended in acting on those plans.

4 – Benefits Realization Plan

Since programs focus on outcomes (vs. projects which focus on outputs), a core element of program setup is the development of a plan that (a) assigns metrics to identified benefits, (b) forecasts when and how those benefits will be realized and (c) maps program deliverables to the benefits which are in turn linked to program objectives. This helps ensure that assumptions in how each benefit will be realized are validated and that all required deliverables are clearly identified.

5 – Program Architecture

The program architecture identifies component projects and the major interfaces between them. A vital aspect of developing the architecture is scope integration, whereby the boundaries of each component are validated to ensure that program objectives can be fulfilled without gaps or overlapping effort among the constituent projects. A high-level program roadmap is an important tool in depicting anticipated sequencing of the projects, target dates for key interfaces, review/approval gates and other milestones, and successive stages of funding.

6 – Integrated Master Schedule

An effective integrated master schedule (IMS) consolidates all component project schedules and links them at the task level with specific, clearly defined interfaces with explicit completion criteria. Depending on the schedule criticality, the use of simulation tools and optimization techniques are often essential tools to properly manage schedule risk and greatly increase credibility of the plan and confidence.  The IMS re-validates the program roadmap and benefits plan and together with an interface tracking log will therefore provide the basis for much of the program manager’s performance monitoring focus during program execution.

7 – Tiered Governance

While project managers within the program will typically track progress against schedule, cost and technical performance, the program manager needs to ensure not only proper roll-up of this data (possibly via a program office) to control overall program progress but also to implement tracking of benefit metrics, as per the benefits realization plan. A well-designed program dashboard reflects both types of metric to provide the board with a holistic view of both the strategic and tactical performance aspects of the program.

PostHeaderIcon Big Programs, Basic Flaws

Flaws cause failures

Conducting and reading through assessments of  various programs highlights how complexity in large scale initiatives can distract and divert focus from doing the basics. Several factors can contribute to this but the end result is the same- an out-of-control program with impacts exacerbated by its sheer size.

For example, recent audits of half a billion dollars worth of government programs in the state of Queensland (AUS) highlight a multitude of major issues resulting in spiraling costs, runaway schedules, unrealized benefits and irate stakeholders.

Its a sobering read; particularly striking, given the nature of the initiatives, is the apparent failure to attend to program management fundamentals. Here are a few summarized findings from the various programs assessed:

No Business Case

An approved business case that clearly identified the benefits to be realised could not be identified. There was no periodic review of the business needs.

Lack of Proper Governance

A program board with adequate stakeholder representation, that had the authority to drive the program forward and to deliver the outcomes and benefits, was not in place since the program began.

No Benefits Management Plan

There was no benefits management plan to consolidate benefits measures for all stakeholders impacted by the program. There was no method of identifying, recording, tracking and reporting demonstrable benefits for the program.

Lack of Integration

From a program perspective, it appeared to be a series of separate projects rather than a coordinated program.

Inadequate Program Metrics

Many of the controls within all three programs were typical of a project management scheme to manage schedules, capabilities and costs. The baselines, recording, monitoring and reporting of benefits did not form part of program documentation.

Program Management Fundamentals

While these findings relate to a few specific programs, they are symptomatic of common issues in program management, namely, that program planning and oversight is often at too tactical a level. Successful program management is founded on the themes of:

  • Strategic Alignment
    Ensuring a clear and ongoing linkage of program objectives and scope with the organization’s strategic objectives
  • Stakeholder Management
    Aligning the expectations and interests of all key stakeholders to promote their ongoing support and ensure success criteria are unanimously understood
  • Program Governance
    Developing an integrated program master-plan that links all component projects both tactically (tasks) and strategically (business goals), implemented within the framework of an unambiguous program organization structure
  • Benefits Management
    Defining anticipated benefits early and mapping them explicitly to program scope and objectives, and subsequently forecasting and tracking their realization.  

Ignoring these core considerations is to disregard the fundamentals of good program management.

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 Project Prioritization Criteria

Sorting the Best from the Rest

For most organizations, a critical component of portfolio management is a framework for prioritizing project work. This involves evaluating the merits of current and candidate projects against a common set of criteria and using the results to rank-order the importance of those projects for the purposes of optimizing the portfolio (see “The Goals of Portfolio Management”). But which prioritization criteria should be used?

Strategy Drives Priorities

Criteria should be directly driven by strategies – assigning a single criterion for each strategy is a good starting point. They should also be multi-dimensional in the sense that they appropriately balance strategic concerns across differing perspectives, such as financial, technical, commercial, process, people and customer; typical examples include:


  • Revenue, Profitability, Investment cost


  • Solution complexity, Innovation quotient, Technical risk


  • Market need, Market growth, Commercialization risk


  • Efficiency, Quality, Time to solution


  • Skills development, Existing resource leverage, Functional interdependence


  • Business impact, Customer satisfaction, Image

Note that criteria lie on a continuum of tangibility; while some are easily quantifiable for any project, the more intangible may be challenging to rate.

Keep it Simple

Once established, each project is scored against the prioritization criteria to determine its strategic fit and importance. Well-defined prioritization criteria and scoring models allow for clear differentiation between “clear winners” and “obvious losers”. Too often however, this all gets over-complicated. Here are a few guidelines to ensure that the prioritization framework is practical as well as accurate. Criteria should be:

  • few in number
  • measurable
  • mutually exclusive
  • linked directly to a business strategy
  • appropriately balanced for the portfolio’s type of projects.

To quote Einstein: Keep it as simple as possible – but no simpler.

PostHeaderIcon The Goals of Portfolio Management

Not such an easy target

Project portfolio management is gaining traction inside organizations as business imperatives, competitive pressures and the availability of better tools create a compelling value proposition. Effective portfolio management responds to fundamental questions, such as:

  • What projects are going on?
  • How well do our projects support business strategies?
  • Are we investing in the most appropriate way?
  • How far are resources overstretched?
  • How well are projects meeting performance targets?
  • Are project priorities clear and being acted on?
  • Are projects delivering anticipated benefits?

Three Overarching Goals

All these types of questions point to measurable indicators of portfolio efficiency, which is itself driven by achievement in meeting the three primary goals of portfolio management:

1 – Align Projects with Strategy

WHY? To validate that each project is evaluated on it’s own merit for contribution to strategic objectives.

HOW? Establish impartial criteria for judging project importance. Strategies must be the starting point for determining these criteria – which naturally implies that strategy needs to be clear. Weight the criteria to reflect the more important strategies and avoid excessive focus on financials.

2 – Maximize Value of Utilized Resources

WHY? To achieve the best return from available funds and people.

HOW? Consider alternative investment options for each individual candidate project. Insist on accurate resource forecasts for all projects. Use phase-planning on major projects with stage-gates to control execution. Optimize project resource utilization in conjunction with strategic importance.

3 – Achieve Balance

WHY? To ensure appropriate attention is given to necessary, internal capability-building projects as well as those exciting, high-earning customer-facing projects.

HOW? Set up separate sub-portfolios or ‘domains’ for projects of a similar nature, each with their own relevant prioritization criteria. Systematically re-assess project investments, execution performance and delivered benefits across domains.

The Bottom Line

Getting all this done requires (a) strong top-down support, (b) the right framework to operationalize portfolio optimization, (c) a highly effective Portfolio Support Office, and (d) proper project management in place across the organization. Deficiencies in any one of these will always compromise success.

PostHeaderIcon Project Management and the Four Cultures

Project Management and Culture - not always love at first sight

One of the most critical success factors in implementing project management is ensuring the right fit of processes and systems with the culture of the organization. Yet culture is such a wonderfully complex and seemingly amorphous thing that it can be hard to know what “fit” really means if we can’t define the characteristics and boundaries of the firm’s culture.

The Re-Engineering Alternative by William Schneider provides both a fascinating insight into organizational culture as well as a practical toolkit for determining your own company’s core culture. This is not a new book but it is a gem. Designed as an aid to improving organizational effectiveness by leveraging cultural norms and behaviors, Schneider describes how peeling back the layers of any organization will yield one of four dominant culture types.

Understand Your Culture

Each culture is defined in fine detail by comprehensively describing the leadership and management styles, strengths and weaknesses, structure, relationships and decision-making attributes that characterize them. Discovering the differences will help explain why organizations operate the way they do and, by extrapolation, why project management has to be tailored to be sustainable. Schneider terms the cultures as:

  • Control – structured, domineering, task-oriented
  • Collaboration – trust-based, empowering, people-centric
  • Competence – achievement-oriented, impersonal, excellence-driven
  • Cultivation – potential-fulfilling, creative, informal

If you’ve worked in a variety of culturally diverse organizations, you’ll quickly recognize the distinctive traits of each of these four cultures that are described in the book so clearly and with plenty of examples.

Culture Limits Execution of Strategy

As Schneider rightly points out, culture limits strategy. And since culture sets expectations, priorities, managerial practices and communication patterns, it also limits the execution of strategy – and therefore projects. Culture ultimately defines how work is planned, organized and managed – which is why it is such a crucial consideration in any effort to improve enterprise project management.

PostHeaderIcon Portfolio Management – Why the Long Wait?

Getting there - slowly

Getting there - slowly

It’s good to see more organizations finally getting serious about project portfolio management. But why is it taking so long? While all the process elements have been understood by an enlightened few for many years, progress in putting portfolio management into widespread practice has been disappointingly lethargic.

The reality is that most organizations have a great deal to do to make portfolio management work for them. Meaningful portfolio management standards and usable software applications have been painfully slow to emerge. In addition, several pitfalls often derail implementation efforts. Here are four of the biggest:

Lack of Ownership

Managing a portfolio is the responsibility of executives and this is a message that does not always get driven home. Portfolio management provides the crucial linkage of project work with strategy and ultimately the enabler of that strategy. It is not just another level of tactical project management. Executives have to take ownership, get firmly involved and be supportive.

Ineffective Process

In the same way as projects need some form of process to facilitate successful execution, a portfolio requires a structured methodology for establishing oversight procedures, prioritizing projects, balancing resource capacity and demand, and optimizing project funding, scoping, integration, sequencing and resourcing for strategic value. Portfolio management is a discipline.

Mismatch with Maturity

Often lost in the conversations about project prioritization frameworks and strategic alignment is the simple fact that without solid planning and tracking at the individual project level, portfolio management can never achieve its primary goals. Proper portfolio management needs proper project management.

Misalignment with Culture

Portfolio management, like project management, is scalable. It has to be designed to fit the organization’s culture and the way in which decisions are made and work gets done. Misaligning the intensity of portfolio information needs, analysis and control with a firm’s culture is a guaranteed showstopper. Each activity should not only deliver real value – it has to be widely supported.

The Good News

On a positive note, portfolio management is getting increased executive level attention. There is a realization that the option to “Do Nothing” incurs a very significant cost in unrealized strategies, overstretched and demoralized project teams, a lack of knowledge and control over what’s really going on, and dissatisfied customers. No longer can organizations afford not to respond. The call to action is gaining traction.

PostHeaderIcon Linking Projects to Strategy… er, what Strategy?

All good portfolio managers know that their organization should select and value projects with respect to its chosen strategies. This is intuitively rational given that strategy lays out future direction and projects exist to transform that vision into reality by satisfying needs for change and improving on what was or what is.

Ocean pier in the mist

Blue Ocean or Misty Ocean?

The reality however is that core company strategies are oftentimes not widely communicated, or at least, they are not well understood across the organization. I confess this does not make much sense to me. Why spend time conceiving Blue Ocean strategies or creating Balanced Scorecards if the outputs (and importantly, the consequences for project work) are not plainly articulated to all? (Ok, I’m forgetting the cost reduction or downsizing strategy which tends to be conveyed without much ambiguity).

The Future is Now

There are some exceptional standouts of course – I once consulted at a global bank that had its core strategies posted on everyone’s cubicle – but in the main I meet disturbing numbers of managers and PMO staff who readily confess that their organization’s strategies are pretty much invisible or at best opaque. (When I hear this, my mind heads off into scenes from the visionary 1927 movie “Metropolis” which portrays a segregated world of workers slaving underground, achieving goals without vision, while the ruling elite above the surface – the Thinkers – make grand plans without knowing how things work).

Without clear strategy, we have no context of purpose. The entire organization needs context of purpose. Purpose inspires. Without clear strategy, good ideas and smart programs cannot be developed, projects cannot be optimally aligned, evaluated and prioritized, and resources cannot be effectively mobilized and motivated.