Developing the strategic project manager

Whether or not project managers can be strategic has a connection to the size of an organization. The largest organizations have such a complex portfolio of programmes and projects that it’s difficult for management to view the whole or for individual project managers to connect the dots across all the moving parts. In small organizations the visibility both top down and bottom up is easier and more necessary.

That aside, project managers’ focus has to date been on output – scoping and producing deliverables. That’s not to say they have no visibility for intended outcomes, but they’re rarely around to witness whether benefits are realized after the project has ceased.

However, with the advent of agile there is a sea change in how benefits are realized with a heavy focus on early delivery of high value capabilities with projects and benefits realization existing simultaneously. Fundamentally, the project manager’s real deliverable is enablement: it’s about people doing work and how exactly to enable them to produce better results for their enterprises.

Wanted: strategic project managers

I think it’s essential for project managers to be more strategic; this means better education on not just the “what” in projects, but also the “why”.

The requirement is shifting from outputs to the empowerment of people, transforming how people work and meeting strategic, organization-wide objectives. This area is where organizations often fail because of a focus on deliverables, instead of the necessary focus on organizational change management (OCM), culture-related issues, and business outcomes. And the expectation from senior management is that project managers are going to figure out how to connect the dots between projects and the wider business.

Few organizations understand what their project managers do, and often presume that the project teams have a better understanding of the business needs then they often do – the business managers are focused on running and growing the business! Since few organizations have sufficient resources to staff both project and programme management, it is incumbent on a successful, strategic project manager to help focus the team on facilitating how people, process and technology will work together to facilitate the desired business results

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