Beyond Execution

Making a difference in project management by training, speaking and writing


Strategic Project Management

Posted by beyondexecution on May 14, 2010 at 9:15 AM

I recently joined a group on LinkedIn called "Strategic Project Managers". It was an intriguing topic, since I've always considered myself a 'strategic project manager' (I also believe that pretty much every other project manager in the world also thinks of themselves as a strategic project manager!). It's also organized by a good virtual colleague of mine, Alex Brown (you can find his LinkedIn profile here).


The discussion topic that really caught my attention was the one titled "What is Strategic Project Management?" It appears that there is a loose 'definition' that is floating around - an Australian company had offered it's version:


"Strategic project management implements strategy as multiple projects within a portfolio of interconnected strategic projects that exist within a single approach to organisational change implementation."


Some folks like that definition - to me, it got my back raised. Since I am very opinionated, I decided to wander in and offer my thoughts. Here was my contribution to the discussion:

"I'm glad this thread is here because it will let me air a few opinions off my chest. In my opinion, there's generally 2 views of "strategic project management" - at the macro level, and at the micro level.


At the macro level, the definition that Alex refers to can be called by several other terms: portfolio management, strategic project selection, strategy alignment, or strategic/tactical initiatives. I think the use of "Project Portfolio Management (PPM)" best describes it. My experience with consulting companies (having been a part of them for so long) is that they like to come up with their own spin and market it as their own. Overall, I disagree with the term "Strategic Project Management" to describe what is essentially portfolio management. I'm probably being cynical, but that's the way I see it.


So as you can now guess, I believe Strategic Project Management is more applicable at the micro level, within the project. There's an incorrect thinking that strategy is only applicable at a higher level, and therefore not really in use at the project level. Strategy at the project level entails longer range thinking, such as:

  • improving the product's lifespan and quality by making smart decisions during the project
  • absorbing losses or setbacks, if it will gain additional business later on
  • spending more now to incur smaller spending later
  • calculated risk taking (seizing opportunities) for meeting the project objectives sooner or cheaper
  • setting objectives and metrics early to reinforce improvements throughout the life of project (such as team or vendor performance)
  • understanding project interconnectivity and dependency and rearranging the project accordingly

Again, this is just my opinion, and others can disagree if they want. Just my 2 cents."

Playing the cynic, I think there's a lot of people out there who like to use the term "strategic".  Whether they are management executives or PM who want to raise their importance level, I think they are not using the term "strategic project management" properly.


I once worked for a program manager who insisted she was developing the project "strategy", and one of the department leads in the team kept correcting her to say it was a "plan".


I had a number of follow on posts agreeing with my position.  Now, I'm not here ot say that I'm always right - others are free to debate with me; in fact I welcome debate and opposing thought.  What are your thoughts on this?

Categories: Project Management Tips, PM Improvements

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