Is Strategic Value the Fourth Leg on the Project Stool?

Good project managers deliver projects on schedule, within budget, and at the required level of quality. But is there something missing?

I would argue that "Yes! Something is missing!" Here's the problem.

Have you ever seen a project that was delivered on schedule, within budget, and at the required level of quality - but it did not deliver value? It's a great shortcoming for a project manager to allow that to happen when in charge. Project managers need to take responsibility for more than just the "big three" of schedule, budget, and quality. They need to build more than a three-legged stool - and add a fourth leg.

Project strategy

The very best project managers do much more than implement the project. They consistently tie the project back to its original purpose as they go. They don't just measure progress against the schedule, or progress against the budget, or even progress toward delivering the level of quality specified. They also measure progress toward realizing the purpose of the project.

Why is this so important? Because a project can easily veer off the mark if the project manager fails to keep the purpose front and center.

The purpose is derived from the strategic inputs to the project. Let's say that a company wants to strategically improve its customer service as an added value to customers. For one thing, it wants to decrease the amount of time it takes to respond to a customer need and fix a problem the customer is having.

In essence, this is a process improvement project. It will likely involve doing three things: modifying some of the processes that are currently in place, implementing a new system, and training personnel. But the results are not achieved simply by doing these three things; to the contrary, the results are achieved by measuring progress toward reducing the response time and fixing the customer's problem!

Thus in developing the project plan, a strong and strategy-savvy project management will not plan to close the project when the processes have been modified, the new system is implemented, and the personnel are trained! Instead, he or she will plan to drive the project toward achieving the desired response time and fixing the customer's problem! Only when that is achieved will the project be closed.

Let's be a little more specific. Let's say that before the project, customers submit support tickets or calls and are promised a response within 24 hours. Let's say that, in order to enhance its competitive position, the company has decided that it will decrease the response time to immediate, with a complete resolution time to within one hour of receiving the request for support.

First, the modified processes, new system, and employee training will need to be designed with these goals in mind. However, the project manager cannot assume that just because they are designed accordingly that providing those three deliverables is sufficient to close the project successfully. There is a real risk that after all is said and done that these items could be delivered, but that the goal of reaching those new metrics might not be met.

Instead, in the project plan, the project manager will need to specify that tha project can be closed AFTER these three modifications have been delivered AND the specified goals of improved support have been achieved. If, with the new systems in place, some modifications are needed - in the processes, the system, or the training - then they will be made and implemented as part of the project until the goals are achieved.

This type of approach is truly strategically driven. The project manager is accomplishing more - and providing greater value! The project is now focused on delivering the strategic value of the project - and nothing less. The project manager needs to set up the proper metrics - indeed, insist upon them from the stakeholders in the planning phase. Only then will the project be aligned with the organizational strategy that was the source of the project. And only then will projects truly be successful - not just because they were on schedule, within budget, and of sufficient quality, but also because they delivered their intended value. The strategic value to be realized before closing the project becomes, in essence, the forth leg of the stool supporting a successful project!

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