The Value of Strategic Thinking for PMs

The Project Management Institute (PMI) is placing greater emphasis on strategy as a component of the PM skill set. As a foundation, this post lays out some why strategy is important, and why it is an opportunity for PM's.

Prior to this increased emphasis on strategy, the PM's job was fairly restricted to:

  1. being given a project
  2. documenting a plan, in which the scope, schedule, and other details are outlined
  3. executing the plan, with the goal to deliver the agreed-to product on time and within budget

Now this is a very simplified version of what the PM does...but my purpose is to contrast it with a "bigger" viewpoint and approach - where strategy is involved.

But before I go into that, I want to mention "why" you should care!

If you simply manage your projects, as assigned, and meet the goal of delivering the product of the project within budget and on schedule, you will be a successful PM. However, you will limit the scope of your impact to just those things - delivering as required. Now that's nothing to scoff at...but that scope of work starts to look a little "commoditized", where the input is the project, it runs through "your PM machine" (formal project run by you), and out the other side comes the expected deliverable, on time and within budget.

What is the value of that service - of running the project through your PM machine? It's valuable, beyond doubt, and takes a lot of skill, more or less depending on the project.

However, it's bounded. You are supposed to bring in the project on time, on budget, and at the required level of quality. There is a risk that the project could fall short on any of those dimensions. There is also a chance that it could exceed those expectations, but, in line with the concept of avoiding "gold plating", our job is actually not to exceed those expectations, but rather to meet them. Therefore, it is hard to say that "the sky is the limit"!

So where does strategy come in? Strategy is key to identifying the kinds of projects that will support and advance the organization and its mission, effectiveness, and profitability. In other words, it is a key driver to choosing the projects that will be done.

Now let's look at the value of the ideas going into choosing the projects. These can have a high impact on the organization and increase its value, whether for profit or not. It's about ideas, and less about implementation. Those ideas can be very valuable!

What does it take to get good at producing and evaluating ideas that become projects? I mentioned that a big component of it is "strategy"...which is why strategy has a high impact on you and your career prospects. When you can identify and outline good projects, you have the potential to effect the bottom line of your organization in a profound, impactful way. You elevate your thinking to the executive level, where you need to think broadly and deeply about the breadth and depth of the organization and its surrounding ecosystem, which includes the threats of new entrants into the industry, with bargaining power of suppliers, the threat of substitute products and services, and the bargaining power of buyers.

Bottom line: if you incorporate strategic thinking into your tool set, you'll enhance your value significantly, and even put yourself on a whole new plane. You will be able to complement your implementation skills, honed through managing projects with strategic skills that can have a high impact on areas critical to your organization's success. This all provides career opportunity!

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