Currentbusiness trends are forcing companies to find the right project mix in order tobecome more efficient and agile; efficiency and agility are two key elements toachieve competitive advantage, and will result in increasing market share orrevenue.

For years, companies around the world have lookedfor ways to achieve competitive advantage through a traditional projectmanagement approach, which is operational in nature and includes strictfunctional and operational controls focused on schedules, budgets andresources. The results of these projects have not produced the expectedbenefits and organizations have not achieved competitive advantage even whenprojects met the strict functional and operational controls.

On the other hand, some innovative companiesseeking to dominate their business sectors are practicing and opting for anevolutionary process that will take them from an operational approach to astrategic approach. Under this new direction, projects will be used as themeans to achieve real business objectives that will support the businessstrategy.

Research studies have confirmed that projectsaligned with business strategy are the foundation of competitive advantage andrealize business objectives faster. The results suggest that companies choosingto adopt this new approach will require commitment across all levels of theorganization to change the project management paradigm and establish the newway in which projects being undertaken will be aligned to business strategy toattain business goals.

Under the new way, projects must be dynamic,flexible and capable in order to adapt to potential strategy changes or torespond to external factors. The new project environment, although dynamic,must not lose sight of the fact that business goals should be met asestablished at project inception. This new approach should not change theproject's attribute of temporality.

Companies adopting the strategic approach toproject management will experience a change in their project selection processand will establish new metrics. One example is the creation of a "competemeter" which will contain the new project selection criteria. An exampleof the compete meter project classification may include:

"Follow the race": Projects aimed at improve operations and achieveresults in the short term. These projects usually allow the organization tomaintain its market position

"Winning the race": Projectsdesigned to improve efficiency or effectiveness with the main objective ofincreasing market share

"Changing the rules of thegame": Projects designed to create new market conditions that willdistinguish the organization from the competition and strive towards thedesired competitive advantage

This project classification establishes that aproject's outcome is not a product or service but rather a means of how toapproach the competition and win.

Under the strategicapproach, a project manager's role will expand and in addition to fulfillinghis/her traditional functions, he/she will need to step into strategic andleadership roles. The project manager will turn into a strategic professionalwho will lead project and cross-functional teams and participate in boardmeetings where decisions are made about starting, continuing or cancellingprojects 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.