Is Business Acumen a must for Project Managers?

ShissoThis is a story about two project managers.

One was fascinated with the nuts and bolts of how projects were managed. He did an excellent job in implementing the tools and techniques and year after year, his projects were released on time with high quality.

The other loved the nuts and bolts of how projects were managed, but understood how her efforts turned into business value. She made a point of mentioning how her projects were linked to business objectives and made sure she delivered interim milestones that delivered value to the business. She did an excellent job in implementing the tools and techniques and year after year, her projects were released on time with high quality.

Which of the two do you think survived the Economy’s recent shift into the Twilight Zone?

This is a fictional story, but my bet would be on Project Manager #2.


Because now more than ever, companies are expecting projects to deliver business value and they are looking for Project Managers with business savvy. PMI has picked up this theme in September’s PM Network and it is woven in and out of nearly every article in the magazine.

Some of the advice I came away with from this month’s PM Network:

Project Managers need to…

  • Promote the value of project management – It’s not just overhead
    In the From the Top column, Vice President Lori Ellsworth explains Compuware’s approach to evaluating project success, writing that Project Managers need to be better at promoting the value of project management and their project’s value to the business’ bottom line. There is a tendency to view Project Management as overhead, she writes, when it’s critical to the business.
  • Explain how your projects deliver value to the Business
    Each project we lock down should have business value. PMs need to make the connection between our projects and their business value. At Compuware, even if a  project is on-time, if it’s the wrong decision for the business, it still won’t be perceived as a success.
  • Display Business Acumen
    In the Viewpoints column, Gary Heekins writes that in order to stand out from the pack, PMs need to take the initiative to “learn about (and participate in) the wide variety of issues and activities related to the business and strategic aspects of the projects they manage.” Knowing more about the business will make your contribution more valuable and will give others the perception that you are adding value.
  • Build Business Value into Project Schedules
    September’s cover story: “Bare Bones”, speaks to the ways in which businesses are cutting costs. To reduce the risk of project cancellation, DHL has begun to build their project plans around business goals, so that benefits are spread out throughout the project’s lifecycle. If there’s no business benefit, they stop to evaluate the project.
  • Don’t Limit the Definition of Value to Money
    When you’re the making the case for your project’s business value, don’t limit the definition to dollars. In the article, “Tough Sell”, Richard E. Hemmings of Arthur D. Little reminds us that value can also be defined as a project that improves the company’s future. Limiting our understanding of business value to dollars may result in cutting projects initiated to minimize risk or improve customer perception, less tangible values.

PM Network and the research publication, Project Management Journal, are a couple of the benefits of being a member of PMI. This month’s edition is definitely worth a read.

Have you noticed an increased focus on the business value of projects? Leave a comment or send me a tweet, my id is jgodfrey.



  1. I found your site on technorati and read a few of your other posts. Keep up the good work. I just added your RSS feed to my Google News Reader. Looking forward to reading more from you down the road!

  2. Before companies used to like Project Managers with a technical background, now the perfect Project Manager is someone with some technical background, but with an eye on the business.

    About the overhead, I don’t think Project Management is considered an overhead anymore, PMO, on the other hand, is still is. I have published an article on the PMO and Overhead, hope you’ll get the chance to read it.

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