Are all of your projects aligned with corporate strategy? Do you even know what your corporate strategy is? Believe it or not, knowing your corporate strategy is crucial to the success of your projects. It helps when selecting projects (because every project you spend time and money on should ultimately be aligned with your corporate strategy.) It also helps to identify how you will measure the success of those projects, and for how long you will measure the benefits.
Years ago, when I first built Smart Projex, I wrestled with the whole concept of business case value. That is the question of how much value a project adds to the organization. At the time, I was struggling with whether return on investment was the best or only way to measure project success. I came away from many discussions thinking that ROI was not necessarily the best approach.
I had just wrapped up a big project that was required by the regulators of this large financial services firm. If measured, the ROI on this project would have been abysmal. And yet, it was going to deliver huge value for my client. ROI just wasn’t going to capture that value.
I came away thinking that firms needed to do a better job of identifying the benefits that were going to accrue to the organization or its client from actually completing the project. And, that the organization needed to do two things after that: 1) determine how they were going to measure those benefits and 2) communicate the benefits to the project team as their compelling ‘why?’
Keeping projects aligned with corporate strategy is one of those important items for business executives. So, why are so many organizations still struggling with this?
- Is it the C-suite challenge of selecting projects that are aligned with corporate strategy, or even determining what the proper strategy should be?
- Is it the challenge of selecting key performance indicators (KPI’s) that are meaningful and reliable?
- Is it the human dynamic of ensuring that projects remain aligned with corporate strategy?
I suspect it is a little bit here, and a little bit there. But I don’t doubt that when businesses align their projects with a solid corporate strategy, results improve. It simply makes sense. So, here are some suggestions.
Start with a solid business strategy. Get help if you need it.
Every business needs to decide on its business model. What is it selling? What are its distribution channels? The list of questions goes beyond the scope of this blog. But understanding your reason for being, and how you are going to make money comes first. If that thought overwhelms you, consider hiring a strategy consultant.
Select the projects that best align with your strategy.
Adopt a project selection strategy that helps you select projects that are aligned with your corporate strategy. Your corporate strategy is likely multi-pronged – with financial goals, employee development goals, new product development goals, market share goals, real estate goals, and/or technology goals. Consider selecting projects that balance out your efforts in all areas.
Explain your ‘why?’ – clearly and succinctly.
Ask yourself this. If a young person who has recently started working in your organization gets invited to lunch by a new board member, will your new hire be able to explain what he/she is working on in a clear and compelling way? If not, resist the urge to blame it on the communication abilities of the new hire. Instead, take responsibility for not having clearly communicated the ‘why’ behind every one of your projects – to everyone on your teams.
To understand your ‘why?’ it helps to clearly identify the tangible benefits that the project will provide. What are those benefits, and how will you measure them?
Be aware that customer management can interfere with corporate strategy projects.
In many organizations, a sales team is out on the front lines, selling the company’s products or services. And we all know that sales teams like to sell. That’s how they get paid. And frequently, particularly when your products are technology based or semi-custom merchandise, we sales teams promising customizations without understanding what they are promising. As a result, we keep our product development folks busy with activities that aren’t aligned to other aspects of our strategic objectives in order to keep our customers happy.
For most organizations, retaining good customers is paramount. Depending on your product mix and your business model, customer acquisition can be expensive. And good customers can be hard to find. But when you are spending a disproportionate amount of time and money to retain customers, you may have to re-evaluate.
Do you have good metrics on what your customer acquisition and retention work is costing you and the profit margin for these high dollar customers? This is particularly important in high dollar service oriented businesses, such as law firms, luxury custom furniture makers, and more customized enterprise level software products.
Create a culture of honesty.
Once you select your projects, you will, to some extent, be reliant on the people in your organization to be honest with each other. Consider how project managers are likely to feel if they speak up and suggest that a project may have lost its strategic connection.
If the term on a project is long, your strategic plans evolve, or a dramatic shift in your competitive client dictates a pivot, a project can begin to misalign with your strategic objectives. How will you know that? Do you have a disciplined process for re-evaluating your business case on a periodic basis, or are you just hoping people will tell you that?
Pay attention to stakeholder management.
I’ve seen it many times. We start a project and get halfway through before anyone realizes that the people in some division in another building, city, state, or country are going to be hugely impacted. Somehow, in some organizations and projects, identifying the impacted stakeholders is often an afterthought.
Have you spent time identifying all of the business groups that are going to be impacted by your projects? Have you sat down and talked with reps from those groups to uncover all of the implications you are unaware of? Have you documented hot buttons for each rep? Have you identified how those stakeholders want you to communicate with them?
Stay focused, using an effective project management methodology.
I recently watched a video on the most important things that project managers do. It was all about the minutiae. Don’t get me wrong – there are a lot of minutiae associated with project management. But I’m concerned that we need to remember the old story about big rocks and little rocks. If we want to get the important things done, we have to start with them. We cannot let our days be eaten up by reading emails, status meetings, and report creation projects. We have to focus on the important.
Are you focusing on delivering value, or are you wasting time on things that don’t matter to your client?
Use a documented change management process.
To ensure that our projects remain aligned with corporate strategy, we have to be prepared to pivot, when needed. This may mean that projects are cancelled, or it may mean that the scope needs to change. If you want to read more about how to begin using a defined change management process, check out this blog.
Are your projects aligned with corporate strategy? If you need some help, set up a free call and we’ll chat.