Imagine a multinational corporation—let’s call it TechInnovate—launching a series of new software development projects. The board and senior executives have sanctioned millions of dollars, knowing that innovation is the key to staying competitive. Six months into execution, projects are running on time and within budget, yet something is amiss. This hypothetical scenario underscores the critical need for tight integration between strategic planning and project management.

Strategy and Execution: Enhancing PM through Strategic Planning

The projects, although well-executed, don’t align with the organization’s strategic objective to become a leader in sustainable technology. The result? Resources have been spent, time has been invested, but the projects are essentially “successful failures.” They accomplish their goals but in a way that undermines the larger strategy of the organization, leading to wasted resources, misalignment, and ultimately, a dilution of competitive advantage.

What Is Strategic Planning?

Strategic planning is a disciplined effort to formulate a vision and articulate this vision into attainable objectives, thereby charting a course of actions to realize these objectives. Far from being a static document, a strategic plan is a dynamic framework that guides decision-making and resource allocation for the long haul.

Essential Components

  • Vision Setting: Crafting a future-forward, inspirational vision.
  • Mission Articulation: Defining the organizational raison d’être.
  • SWOT Analysis: A rigorous examination of internal strengths and weaknesses, juxtaposed with external opportunities and threats.
  • Goal Structuring: Pinning down SMART (Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Relevant, Time-bound) goals that are congruent with the vision and mission.
  • Strategy Crafting: Outlining tactical plans and initiatives aimed at achieving the set goals.
  • Implementation Roadmap: Developing a sequence of action items, projects, and initiatives.
  • Performance Metrics: Establishing KPIs (Key Performance Indicators) for monitoring and control, backed by analytics.

Project management, defined as the art and science of initiating, planning, executing, and closing projects, can sometimes be myopically focused on timelines, scopes, and budgets, with scant attention to the strategic implications. But this need not be the case.

How Project Managers and PMOs Can Make the Link Happen

The integration of strategic planning and project management isn’t just a one-time setup but a continuous process that demands proactive engagement from both Project Managers (PMs) and Project Management Offices (PMOs). Below are expanded methods and examples to help forge this crucial link.

Strategic Onboarding: The Lockheed Martin Example

Right at the project’s inception, make sure each team member understands the broader strategic goals. Strategy briefings should be included in kick-off meetings, and strategy documents should be made easily accessible to all team members.

Lockheed Martin makes extensive use of strategic briefings at the start of their projects. This ensures that even subcontractors are aligned with the overarching goal of national security and innovation in aerospace.

Priority Alignment: The Apple Methodology

Use a ranking or scoring system to prioritize projects that align closely with strategic objectives. This kind of systemic prioritization can be an invaluable guide during resource allocation.

Apple famously employs a priority system that aligns projects with the corporate strategy of creating a seamless ecosystem of devices and services. This is why even smaller projects, like updates to the Apple Pencil, are executed in sync with bigger launches like the iPad.
Performance Metrics Integration: Salesforce’s Balanced Scorecards

Develop Key Performance Indicators (KPIs) that not only measure project performance but also evaluate alignment with strategic objectives.
Salesforce uses Balanced Scorecards that track not just sales and customer metrics but also gauge how each department’s projects align with strategic initiatives like market penetration and corporate social responsibility.

Stakeholder Engagement: The Google Approach

Establish regular communication channels with stakeholders at both strategic and execution levels. Create a structure for their input to influence both realms actively.

Google engages its stakeholders through multiple forums that happen at different frequencies (monthly, quarterly, yearly) where project statuses are discussed vis-a-vis Google’s overarching strategy of organizing the world’s information.

Governance Structure: IBM’s Center of Excellence

Create a robust governance model that incorporates strategic review checkpoints at various stages throughout the project.

IBM has Centers of Excellence (CoE) that work in tandem with PMOs to ensure that project reviews incorporate strategy checks, thus making adjustments a part of the project timeline and not just post-project retrospectives.

Free Resources

Flexibility and Adaptability: Spotify’s Agile Squads

Leverage agile methodologies to remain flexible and adaptable. This agility is critical when strategic goals shift, requiring projects to pivot quickly.

Spotify uses Agile Squads that can easily be reconfigured to work on new objectives that align with any change in corporate strategy, such as entering new market segments or focusing on a new technology.

Continuous Learning and Feedback: The 3M Model

A culture that feeds lessons learned from project execution back into strategic planning enables continuous alignment and iterative improvement.

3M has a ‘15% time’ rule that allows engineers to spend 15% of their time on projects of their choice, and findings from these are often cycled back into broader strategic considerations.

Concluding Thoughts

Strategic planning and project management are not isolated domains but interdependent disciplines that must be synchronized for an organization to realize its potential fully. Disconnection between the two leads not just to operational inefficiencies but to strategic failures that can have far-reaching consequences.

The pathway to organizational resilience and success is a blend of incisive strategic planning and adept project management. This alignment doesn’t just happen; it needs to be crafted, nurtured, and continually refined by competent project managers and PMOs. By doing so, we can avoid the peril of “successful failures” and chart a course for holistic organizational triumph.

See more on Linkedin

Subscribe on LinkedIn

Share this article!

HBR Project Management
HBR Project Management Handbook

The one primer you need to launch, lead, and sponsor successful projects.

by Antonio Nieto Rodriguez

Join 60,000+ subscribers in keeping up to date with the latest trends and best practices in project management and strategy implementation.


Leave A Comment