Is Good Strategy also Good Project Management?

Picture This:
You’re in the middle of a constantly changing terrain – where your resources, external influences and even the tactical objectives can change overnight.  Your objective: to navigate through a valley to the end.

What does this sound like – a tactical situation on a battlefield?  A market that you need to dominate or one of your multitude of projects that you’re juggling every day?

If your answer is: it depends, you’d be right.  In my attempt to fill up my PDU requirement before April of next year, I started taking a business strategy course through The Great Courses: Strategic Thinking Skills.  The more I heard, the more I thought I was hearing PMBOK best practices.

How many times have you heard warnings about:

  • Sunny day scenarios
  • Communication Breakdowns
  • Inflection Points

And yet each of these are examples of failed strategy.

From Sunny Day Strategies…
Listening to historical examples of bad planning drove home the importance of following Best Practices. At the Battle of Bulge, the Germans suffered defeat because of a plan that needed everything to fall into place.  Sunny day strategies fail every time.  Honestly, I’m not sure I’ve ever had a plan fall exactly the way it was originally drawn up.  Something always changes and we need to adjust our strategy in order to finish on time.

To expect a complex plan to align with the stars and our expectations would be a feat of even greater wishful thinking.  Instead of drafting a plan that relies on the best case scenario – we would do our teams and our plans better service by planning in risk mitigation and ensuring that we have what we need to hand over deliverables at the final milestone.

Communication Breakdowns…
In battles, a communication breakdown could lead to a disastrous results.  Just read the poem, The Charge of the Light Brigade to see how disastrous.  Due to a vague order, the calvalry charge was made up the wrong hill.  Replace the wrong hill with the wrong location, release package, configuration item name and you could have a disaster on a lesser scale, but the cause would be the same.  Dropped calls, broken features or rework make no one happy.  Take time to ensure that both sides of an exchange of information understand what was shared.  It’s worth the extra moment to ensure the team has what it needs to deliver.

And Change…
If the business environment changes or the requirements change it can have significant impact on the eventual success of the project.  In battle or business a rule change can result in a change in strategy that could lead to defeat.  When we lock down a project, we like to imagine that nothing changes while we’re cranking out the deliverable over several months, but nowadays business needs change quickly.  Staying in close communication with stakeholders can help avoid delivering a product or service that fails to provide as large a benefit as expected.

We set our sights on an objective and lock down down a project based on assumptions about the environment, resources and an approach.  It should be no surprise that the language of strategy seems to align with project management principles.  I was excited to see the parallels and look forward to learning more in the second half of the course.

Have you seen any other parallels between Strategic Thinking and project management principles?  Leave a comment or send me a tweet.  My id is jgodfrey.


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