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Winning Project Management
Secrets - Revealed!


Strategic Project Leadership

Did you know that in industry today, most projects fail? They are delivered late, over budget or outright fail to meet the original objectives. Dr. Aaron Shenhar, the premier academic in project management theory, states that project management is only 20% science (addressed by traditional project metrics), the other 80% is art. To address this large missing piece, the idea of Strategic Project Leadership (SPL) was founded.

SPL is sometimes referred to as the future of project management because it builds on traditional PM methods and adds tools to address the missing business elements so critical to success.

The 20% science part of PM work is composed of "numbers" things which are quantifiable like:

  • workbreakdown structures
  • PERT (Program Evaluation Review Technique)
  • Gannt Charts
  • CPM (critical path method)
  • PMBOK or PRINCE2 processes

But the 80% art part contains nebulous concepts like:

  • uncertainty and change
  • context and flexibility
  • business focus and strategy
  • motivation and leadership
  • inspiration and integrity
  • trust and communication (the main reason 60-80% of projects fail!)

Traditional project management was developed in the late 1950's and 1960's to address complex military and aerospace projects of the time. It has shown linear growth (steady and incremental) since that time, but is often applied to technology which has grown exponentially - often increasing by orders of magnitude each decade. You can think of examples such as computing and storage capacity increasing by 1,000 times each decade. Cisco estimates that by 2020 the IoT (Internet of Things) will be adding a million new connections to the world wide web each hour! Think about that for a minute, and 16,666 new connections will have been made all over the world whilst you were pondering!

This rapidly shifting and evolving landscape requires new tools to properly manage. We have seen large numbers of companies attempting to address the problem with the Agile Method of software development, and Agile-like tools are filtering into manufacturing and other industries. SPL attempts to address the issue in a slightly different way by building a Business Focus onto traditional PM methods.

Business Focus
Visionary Leadership
Dynamic Adaptation
Traditional Project Management

The traditional project management model has been enhanced in recent years (largely due to Dr. Shenhar's work) and is now referred to as the Talent Triangle. The Talent Triangle is composed of 3 legs: Technical, Leadership, and Strategic Business Focus. Once we have achieved technical competence (and as mature PMs later in our careers this is assumed), we can focus on the last two legs using tools available in SPL.

When we think about and discuss visionary leadership and business focus, we use new terminology not previously part of the PM vernacular. Business strategy of a project refers to achieving the "highest competitive advantage" of our end product delivering the "greatest value" to our end users. Every team member on a project should know what this is. Then, if conditions change, the project must be re-evaluated in these terms. For example, if some new and disruptive technology suddenly becomes available, the project may have to be redefined from the top down or totally stopped and replaced with a new approach which addresses the new competitive landscape.

We use terms like "project spirit" which could be described as the culture of the project. Project spirit begins with a Vision Statement the team develops and which is an exciting expression of goals and expectations designed to evoke joy and enthusiasm, motivation, and a positive attitude toward reaching the ultimate business focus.

All this has PMs taking on new roles in companies. They become responsible not just for execution of the original project as defined but also:

  • Making sure the project is done for Business Results
  • The project leader becomes directly responsible for Business Results
  • PM acts like a mini CEO combining strategic, operational and human sides and dynamically adapting them to specific contexts.

If this sound like more work - you're right! It is! It asks a project manager to do all the work of traditional project management plus learn new tools and take ownership of the business side previously left to upper management. It requires the PM to work closely with upper management on strategic goals and negotiate to achieve buy-in from these stake holders to assure the project is a success.

The good news is that we, as a group, are up for it! Research shows that often the best and brightest people in an organization are filling project management roles. We are typically well rounded, well educated, and have the depth and breadth of knowledge, skills and personality types to excel in these challenging roles. And we like to sink our teeth into a good challenge.

The next time you are asked to run a new project, sit down with your boss and start a discussion about strategic project leadership to see if she or he would be willing to engage with you on learning the tools and techniques. It is very likely they will share your excitement and enthusiasm about aligning the project with strategic business goals. If you are a principal, own a company, or are already in a position of leadership, consider adding the SPL tools to your kit for achieving the types of impact you want your next "big idea" to have in your industry.

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