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Why Project Managers Should Care About Business Strategy

Strategy Execution

The major shift in project management recently has seen an increased focus on strategic alignment and delivery. Everyone seems to be talking about it.

And the thing is, it does matter for project managers. This isn’t just a discussion for the senior leaders in your organisation. Yes, your portfolio management team, if you have one, will be spending workshops upon workshops looking at strategic alignment and prioritising projects accordingly. But the impact of what they do is felt at levels far down the organisation.

I can’t stress highly enough how important it is for project managers to be aware of and to care about their company’s corporate strategy. It feels like second nature to me; it’s illogical to be thinking of my projects outside of the context of the wider organisational strategy. But I know that isn’t the case for everyone, and I still meet some people who argue that their job is to deliver what they are told to deliver and everything else is someone else’s business.

Today, let me present the opposing view. I give you: four reasons why you should care about the organisational strategy of your firm. Pull up a chair…

Reason #1: Because Outcomes Matter

Projects deliver outputs, right? And it’s someone else’s job to think about how to use those to get any goodness out of the work and into the organisation?

Well, I’m sorry, but that’s old-style thinking.

Project managers who want to actually contribute to the business need to do more than simply deliver what they have been asked to, regardless.

Today’s business savvy project managers – you know, the ones who are winning awards and doing great things with their careers – are the ones who make the link between their deliverables and the outcomes they facilitate.

As a project manager, I get that you aren’t in the position to be able to deliver, track, manage and integrate benefits for the next five years. You’ll be whisked off to a new project before the (virtual) ink on the project closure document has dried. That’s the pace of business; there’s always a new project to do.

But that doesn’t preclude you from being business-aware during the project. You can ask the right questions. You can make sure that your business case is watertight and that you keep going back to it. You can recommend solutions, and if they change, you can propose how your project changes to keep pace with new tech. You can build benefits tracking tasks into the project schedule so that business owners find it easy to measure their outcomes. You can use governance tools to check that your project is still worthwhile at every gate. You can guard the project’s money like it’s your own and invest it wisely. You can challenge. You can even propose that your project is closed down or paused if something else comes along that has a more positive business benefit. You have a lot of power to make sure that your project does everything it can to get those outcomes.

And you should.

Reason  #2: Because It Helps Secure Support

Being business savvy helps you secure support. When you can tell a senior stakeholder that their involvement in your project will help deliver some portion of business strategy or it underpins a strategic pillar of the organisation, then that’s an easy sell. If you’re trying to convince them to turn up to a meeting because your sponsor has told you to, that’s far harder.

Knowing the strategy helps you frame your requests in ways that are more likely to build support for your project.

Reason #3: Because It Builds Morale

People like to know that they are contributing to something worthwhile. Linking your project to organisational strategy in a way that your team members can understand helps them see the part they play in the bigger picture.

You can link this to Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs. Social needs are around the sense of belonging: playing a part in a project team can fulfil this, but it helps even more if you can meet Esteem needs too which relate to achievement and recognition. People often feel like their achievements will be more recognised if they are working on a strategic initiative, or one that can be linked to the organisational direction, because it’s perceived to have more management oversight and exec support (which is probably the case).

Linking what your team members do to the bigger picture of organisational strategy is an easy way to build morale and show your team that they are contributing to the bigger picture in a worthwhile way.

It’s also easier to convince people to make a pivot if it’s in the interest of organisational strategy. Teams tend to understand why something has to pause or resources have to be reassigned if they can see the big picture influence. Saying, “Because my boss asked for it,” isn’t a helpful answer when you are trying to keep the morale of the team up during difficult times.

Reason #4: Because It’s Good For Your Career

Finally, we shouldn’t overlook that being aware of business strategy is good for your career.

Being able to talk about your project in terms that relate to strategy and organisational context will set you apart from the next project manager. In the main, executives don’t care much about dependencies on a Gantt chart or your beautiful resource tracking spreadsheets. They care about the bottom line, hitting shareholder targets, what the markets think and how they are going to get the next massive project done while still keep the P&L balanced. They care about sticking to the strategy.

Someone who can communicate in ways that hit those buttons will stand out – and this goes for anyone in any role, not just a project role. The fact is, though, that project managers often have more knowledge of strategic initiatives and more influence over senior execs than other team leaders in the business simply because of the work they do and the company they keep. You have plenty of opportunities to impress, don’t waste them!

Underpinning all of this is the fact that you have to know what the business strategy is. You can’t support or deliver to something if you don’t know what it is. Find out. If you didn’t pay attention in the corporate briefing, find the slides on the intranet and go through them again. Ask you manager or project sponsor. Spend a little time understanding what your business is going through and where it wants to be and it will be a million times easier to see where your project fits into the big picture.

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About Elizabeth Harrin

Elizabeth Harrin
Elizabeth Harrin is a career project and programme manager with over a decade of experience in healthcare and financial services. She's also a content strategist, award-winning blogger and author of several books about project management. Find her online at A Girl's Guide to Project Management

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