Strategic thinking and its importance is what elevates a project manager to the next level. Project managers are definitely accountable for a project’s timely delivery, but it’s their skill in crafting a strategy that makes the difference.
Project managers in fact spend most of their days trying to push the project toward its ultimate goal, and generally their focus is somewhat “short ranged.”
They do keep the end goal in mind, but their focus is usually on the next step, or two or three.
This type of thinking is tactical. However, strategic thinking is different.
When thinking strategically, much more emphasis is given to the long-term goal.
In project work, an effective strategy can greatly reduce the level of tactical effort required.
Strategic thinking and how to strengthen it in the business scenario
There’s no denying that everyday life can make this difficult as project managers manage multiple work streams and find themselves under increasing pressure to deliver more at a faster pace (and often with fewer resources).
When you have so much going on, it can be hard to see beyond the current to-do list.
Some organizations solve this problem by creating program manager or project portfolio roles.
These people are assigned to supervise a series of projects and are typically in charge of defining a vision for the group that supports business goals.
Yet everyone, in their small way and project manager included, benefits from more strategic thinking.
When you know where you are going and why, you are more psychologically prepared to add value and make an impact.
Here, then, is how a project manager can strengthen their strategic thinking skills every day:
- Think big
It might seem difficult to get the big picture when you’re working through the details, but it’s important to think holistically about how each effort supports overall business goals.
- Become even more curious
Awareness of the big picture is not the same as knowledge. It’s critical to constantly look for the why of things and understand what the criteria are for achieving long-term success.
- Ponder and analyze
After each project, a retrospective look back is necessary. It may be worth starting a project log to also note any revelations as you move forward. Think about and analyze these reports and weigh what went well and what you want to improve next time, ask for feedback from colleagues and stakeholders.
Shifting from tactical to strategic project management
It has become quite clear that successful project management not only requires the application of tactical management, but also strategic thinking.
However, traditionally, project management has been mainly a tactical tool, focusing on accomplishing work, managing schedules, and driving projects to completion within set time e and budget constraints.
However, as organizations began to face an unprecedented marketplace and increased competition, increasingly more of them have come to recognize that project managers can bring much more value than simply ensuring the successful coordination of activities.
Simply put, project managers can and should operate at a more strategic level to help an organization evolve, innovate and prosper.
The rise of this approach is all about aligning a company’s project objectives with its strategic goals and overall mission.
Strategic project management is not simply about executing projects for the sake of continuity of operations; it involves carefully selecting, prioritizing, and channeling resources to the projects that will contribute most to organizational success while increasing revenues.
How to ensure projects support the strategy
Projects are the core of a strategy – this is where stuff moves and progress is made.
So how can you make sure that activities are well aligned with the business strategy?
- Ensure projects support objectives
In short: every active goal needs at least one Project. You can have future goals that have not yet “started,” but any currently “active” goal should have at least one project related to it. Depending on the scope of each goal, you may also need to have multiple projects for each one.
- Ensure that projects meet their objectives
Goals are met if related projects are delivered. Should this not be the case – i.e., projects are successfully completed, but the goal is not met – you need to find out where the shortcoming lies.
- Ensure sub-projects align with objectives
As stated before, every project should have a clear link to one or more objectives, although there may be cases, such as sub-projects, where this connection is not so straightforward. Even if a project is not directly linked to a goal, the objective must still support what you are trying to accomplish. A good example is when there is a sub-project within a “parent” project that clearly aligns with a goal. In this case, the sub-project is still indirectly connected to the business strategy.
Benefits of strategic thinking in project management
Implementing strategic thinking into project management leads to competitive advantage in the marketplace.
The art of identifying and choosing the proper projects to work on in a given period of time is proving to be a particularly significant benefit in the modern marketplace.
Strategic thinking applied by project management in project selection enables the identification and selection of projects that will provide the greatest value to an organization.
As opposed to the practice of conducting expensive projects that are not fully compatible with business objectives, this alignment can shed a new light on the project selection process.
Funds are spent more mindfully to improve their impact on the organization’s overall performance, thereby increasing profitability and reducing unnecessary expenditures.
This alignment can also improve project success rates and the organization’s ability to quickly meet customer needs and expectations.
When each project contributes directly to the company’s bottom line, the organization as a whole improves, thus improving customer experiences and retention rates.
Ultimately, tactical management is definitely important to a project, but it is still incomplete if strategic thinking is not also applied.
One simply will not work without the other. Therefore, as a project manager with sound tactical skills, it is also important to develop a long-term strategic thinking attitude.