Current business trends are forcing companies to find the right project mix in order to become more efficient and agile; efficiency and agility are two key elements to achieve competitive advantage, and will result in increasing market share or revenue.
For years, companies around the world have looked for ways to achieve competitive advantage through a traditional project management approach, which is operational in nature and includes strict functional and operational controls focused on schedules, budgets and resources. The results of these projects have not produced the expected benefits and organizations have not achieved competitive advantage even when projects met the strict functional and operational controls.
On the other hand, some innovative companies seeking to dominate their business sectors are practicing and opting for an evolutionary process that will take them from an operational approach to a strategic approach. Under this new direction, projects will be used as the means to achieve real business objectives that will support the business strategy.
Research studies have confirmed that projects aligned with business strategy are the foundation of competitive advantage and realize business objectives faster. The results suggest that companies choosing to adopt this new approach will require commitment across all levels of the organization to change the project management paradigm and establish the new way in which projects being undertaken will be aligned to business strategy to attain business goals.
Under the new way, projects must be dynamic, flexible and capable in order to adapt to potential strategy changes or to respond to external factors. The new project environment, although dynamic, must not lose sight of the fact that business goals should be met as established at project inception. This new approach should not change the project's attribute of temporality.
Companies adopting the strategic approach to project management will experience a change in their project selection process and will establish new metrics. One example is the creation of a "compete meter" which will contain the new project selection criteria. An example of the compete meter project classification may include:
"Follow the race": Projects aimed at improve operations and achieve results in the short term. These projects usually allow the organization to maintain its market position
"Winning the race": Projects designed to improve efficiency or effectiveness with the main objective of increasing market share
"Changing the rules of the game": Projects designed to create new market conditions that will distinguish the organization from the competition and strive towards the desired competitive advantage
This project classification establishes that a project's outcome is not a product or service but rather a means of how to approach the competition and win.
Under the strategic approach, a project manager's role will expand and in addition to fulfilling his/her traditional functions, he/she will need to step into strategic and leadership roles. The project manager will turn into a strategic professional who will lead project and cross-functional teams and participate in board meetings where decisions are made about starting, continuing or cancelling projects based on business results.
Once the organization achieves a high level of maturity in the strategic approach to project management, projects will be identified during the organization's planning and strategic sessions and will count on the board members' acceptance and their commitment to assist the project team as necessary.
Having worked with companies transitioning from the traditional operational project management approach to the strategic approach, I had the opportunity to see how the general manager cascaded the new project management approach across the organization. Solid results were achieved during the first eighteen months since all functional areas collaborated towards specific business goals.
Organizations desiring to gain a competitive advantage should adopt the strategic approach to project management and align their projects with organizational strategy to define what to do, how to do it and how to achieve business objectives.