Do Your Project Objectives Align with Strategy?

I’ve always said the most interesting things learned while at conferences, often come from conversations.  Over the course of a weekend, this post came about from a number of snippets of conversation with the same individual, and a sleep following that. (My aha’s come when I’m sleeping - always!)

So, with his blessing, Larry was quite happy for me to share his name - Lawrence Cooper was one of my fellow experts attending the conference to answer your questions.  

Our conversations revolved around strategy and alignment, and I noticed throughout, every time I mentioned something about bringing projects in alignment with corporate strategies, he would "casually correct” me to say that projects are driven by strategy, initiated to achieve a set of outcomes - creating alignment isn’t something we should need to do.  If the outcomes weren’t driving the project initiation, then it wouldn’t be there to begin with.

Now, I absolutely agree with Larry - strategy should drive projects - portfolios of them, really.  And those projects within a portfolio should align and complement each other to bring the strategy to realization.  

But I was talking about another form of alignment, and that is when projects already exist, and do not work to support other strategic initiatives of the organization. Because we all know that organizations NEVER have only one strategic goal.

I’m not saying these projects necessarily push in an opposite direction of these other goals (although I have seen examples!), but that no effort is made to support achieving more than one goal, and I think that is a recipe for conflict, mixed messages to stakeholders, and overall reputation of the organization.

Our conversation made me realize that I’m not making myself clear enough on this matter.  Let me give an example from the industry I have worked in - mining (that is, resource extraction - not data mining, as many have assumed).

Most mining organizations will have a primary strategic goal around growth, such as increasing production by 10% by 2020, or double production by 2030.  As such, many projects are initiated to investigate, and further explore various potential deposits around the world.

In contrast, these companies will also likely have strategic goals around reducing their footprint - carbon emissions, environmental impacts, use of water, etc.  They may choose one or make efforts in all of these areas.  Projects that arise from this strategy might look like water recovery and recycling systems, energy efficiency improvements, or the introduction of waste management technologies - all applied to existing operations.  

Now, isn’t working on a new development altogether going absolutely in opposition to the footprint reductions initiative?

In my world, this is status quo, and it seems there are several projects that will be working towards growth in production, expansion of operations, and more.  So it has been my job in the past to get those project teams to not just think of that production target, or even just the goal of getting a new system built to support that goal.  But to also have them draw in the targets of these other strategic goals within the organization.

To at least support making the new developments as efficient as possible, to be proactive in prevention of environmental impacts, to make the physical footprints as small as is practical.  And to align with any other initiatives that may be present.

This can often be a challenge to make happen - if the project manager has missed these critical stakeholders who can and should be involved to help identify such risks and opportunities.  To ensure these aspects become part of the approved scope and plans.

As a project manager, do you ever ask what all of the corporate goals and targets are? 

Do you discuss which of the targets the sponsor would like to integrate?

Do you look for and engage the stakeholders who might inform you of these other initiatives (and what else other projects might be doing to support them?) 

And do you open the dialogue with your team and other stakeholders to find where the opportunities lie, to align your project with these other initiatives?

This article was originally published on in support of PMI Congress 2016, where Larry continues to add comments to "correct my thinking"...haha! Feel free to add to the debate here, or under the original post.

Photo credit: kirainet via / CC BY-ND