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Project Management Insights: Where Does Project Management Fit into a Strategic Plan?

Christine Brack on June 1, 2020 - in Articles, Column

I was recently working with a 250-person engineering firm, helping them develop a new strategic plan. In the ramp up before the meetings, I sat with leaders and managers across the company, talked to them individually about the future, and listened to their concerns about what needed to be addressed before the vision could be realized.

There’s always a temptation to place so much focus on operational, quick-fix issues that higher-level initiatives hardly land a place in the discussion. When thinking about the future, it’s difficult to imagine a bigger or better condition can exist if so many roadblocks hamper productivity, profitability and employee engagement. Strategic planning requires a balance between forward-looking planning and operational improvement. So how or where does project management fit in?

In this column, I’m going to expand on points managers raised in the aforementioned meetings. Readers also should consider what similar feedback or situations they find present in their own company and how project management fits into strategy.

Growth and Profitability Impact

“The issue for me is project management and team building. Some teams don’t feel they have the resources they need and are overwhelmed. There’s a constant state of triage, and it never goes away. We keep taking projects, and we know we can’t sufficiently staff them. That’s a huge risk we ignore. It’s hard to see the light at the end of the tunnel. Eventually it will burn people out.”

Assigning more projects to teams understaffed with designers and engineers who are overextended is an argument for keen risk management. The firm risks not completing the project in a timely manner, delivering drawings containing mistakes and disenfranchising employees promised that things will level out or slow down a bit. These risks have hard and soft costs to them, but most firms accept that pinch. More often than not, a principal or project manager is too busy to track these in the first place. This environment isn’t a good start for growth strategy.

Recruiting and Retention Impact

“I had an opinion of the firm that didn’t pan out when I started working here. My external view was that it was a large firm that had its act together and was a well-oiled machine. The projects they completed looked like that had to be the case. I came from a smaller firm that was disorganized. When I got here, it was just a bigger firm, just as disorganized and did everything off the cuff.”

Attracting talent is an expensive effort, and the industry is always developing creative ways to be more successful at it. Most company website career pages list benefits, perks, finished projects and photos of fun company events. These elements are alluring and convey a potentially good place to work, but that shouldn’t be the end of the pitch.

Once employees are on-board, do they still perceive the firm to be the place they envisioned? No place is perfect, but are there nuances or operational factors that, had he or she known, would have kept the employee from joining?

Commitment and Accountability Impact

“We abandon our strategy a lot or shift initiatives to suit us. We want to look good on the revenue report, so we fall back on what’s comfortable instead of how to grow or change. That’s great for the here and now but not for the long range. That’s letting fate take you where it will take you. Accountability means nothing.”

For this firm, at least, operational initiatives to improve processes, train production staff and tighten standards were placed on hold at various intervals during the last few years. “Busy-ness,” disinterest and not knowing how or where to start made it easy to divert attention. Managers and team members alike see what’s going on: every strategy or initiative has a 50 percent chance of working its way through to completion. It sets a poor example.

There isn’t an area of the business that isn’t impacted one way or another by projects. Client perception, operational efficiency, financial health, recruiting, retention, employee satisfaction, leadership and strategy execution all are integrated into the success or pseudo-success of project delivery. 2020 is a year in which many firms are setting new visions. As you do, don’t leave project management out of that discussion.

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About Christine Brack

Christine Brack, PMP, is a Principal at ChrismarGroup, a training and consultancy firm; email: [email protected].

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