Project Management

Your Step-by-Step Guide to Managing Projects for Strategic Advantage

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Your Step-by-Step Guide to Managing Projects for Strategic Advantage
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Your Step-by-Step Guide to Managing Projects for Strategic Advantage

There are two types of companies: those who give strategic planning only lip service and those who don’t. It’s the second type that wins because they have a strategic approach to project management. They know that strategy is about winning and igniting transformation in the entire marketplace.

Cambridge Online Dictionary says that strategic advantage is when a company has “a particular characteristic or way of doing things that makes it more successful than others.” In other words, strategic advantage is your ability to lean on your unique traits and win the severe competition.

Many businesses had to learn it the hard way – it takes time and several steps to manage projects strategically. In project management for strategic advantage you should develop a perspective, set a direction, and create a system to enjoy the best possible benefits in the long run.

Step 1: Adopt a strategic mindset

“One day Alice came to a fork in the road and saw a Cheshire cat in a tree. ‘Which road do I take?’ she asked. ‘Where do you want to go?’ was his response. ‘I don’t know,’ Alice answered. ‘Then,’ said the cat, ‘it doesn’t matter.”

Lewis Carroll, the author of “Alice in Wonderland,” couldn’t have said it better. You won’t have project management for a strategic advantage if you don’t know where you’re heading.

Strategic project management is not merely taking your project from A to Z. Instead, strategic management creates and highlights the link between the project and the company’s bigger objectives.

Management “on the ground” is oftentimes disconnected from strategic project management. Strategic meetings are usually the ones you want to avoid by all means. But that’s where you decide on the criteria for selecting the next project. That’s where you build the strong link between the business strategy and your project plan.

With a strategic mindset, you can confidently plan, assess and review to retain the competitive edge of your product or service. That’s the best shortcut to place you one step ahead of your competition.

Step 2: Choose the right project

How do you decide which project to complete and which one to reject? Right. You assess your project against the organizational objectives.

Choose the right project

Source: ResearchGate

Let the vision of the company guide you. Day-to-day or month-to-month projects should help you link the results to a key strategy and the company’s vision. You take those long-term goals and weave them into each and every project you do. That’s what they call seeing the bigger picture.

It’s not about getting down to the next project only because it looks great. You need to analyze strategically, choose strategically, and implement strategically if you aim to gain a strategic advantage in the market.

Focus on business outcomes

Step 3: Focus on business outcomes.

When the first generation of Ford Taurus was launched in 1986, it was a tremendous success. Customers loved it! It quickly became the best selling car in America at the time.

Ford Taurus set new standards in the market and demonstrated how to manage projects for strategic advantage. However, upon the project’s completion, the project manager was fired. The reason was that the project wasn’t delivered on time (in fact, there was a six-month delay).

When the new project manager came on board to oversee the launch of the second generation of Taurus, he knew what exactly to be aware of. The second generation of Taurus was launched on time but provided disappointing results. The outstanding success wasn’t replicated.

“This is what we call the difference between an operationally managed project and a strategically managed project,” writes Aaron Shenhar, professor of Project Management, in one of his articles.

No wonder project management for strategic advantage means improving business outcomes in the long run. If you aim for innovation and a refreshing customer experience, you should think beyond filling in templates and ticking boxes for completed tasks. Place customer needs and strategic advantage at the heart of strategic project management.

With these three steps, the scene is now set. But even after you’ve started with the project, external and internal factors can cause disruptions by putting the project on hold or even forcing you to give up on it.

Monitor the competitive landscape

Step 4: Monitor the competitive landscape

You don’t want to be caught off-guard at any stage of project completion, do you?

Strategic management in project management always goes hand in hand with monitoring the competitor’s activities. This means that you take care of the internal processes as well as watch out for external threats and opportunities.

Unexpected twists and turns in the market can give you an early warning or an additional push in a specific direction. Asking questions like “Is this change significant?” or “How does this change affect my project?” will successfully guide your action plans.

For competitor assessment, consider using Michael Porter’s “Five Forces Framework,” which helps to evaluate the five major forces that affect industries, their corporate strategy, and profitability.

Manage risks strategically

Step 5: Manage risks strategically

It’s time to make sure your project is risk-informed and resilient to uncertainty.

A detailed risk management plan not only helps you watch out for barriers in project management but also contributes to the strategic success of the project. Dr. David Hillson points out six steps in the risk management process:

  1. Define objectives at risk (What are we trying to achieve?)
  2. Identify risks (What could affect us achieving it? )
  3. Assess/analyze risks (Which of those are most important?)
  4. Plan risk responses (What could we do about it?)
  5. Implement risk responses ((Do it!) Did it work?)
  6. Monitor and review (What’s changed?)

But there is more.

If you strive to find a strategic advantage, you should acknowledge that strategic risk management doesn’t refer solely to risks; it also involves opportunities. If you manage to spot a gap you can fill in or an uncertainty that you can make use of, then congratulations! You’ve been in the right place at the right time!

Thus, strategic management in project management will aim to minimize risks and maximize opportunities. This helps you optimize your project delivery and manage your projects more successfully than your competitors do.

Put your people first

Step 6: Put your people first

What if research shows that customers are more worried about customer service than the price of your product or service? Would this information force you to change the way you hire and manage your team?

Let your staffing action plan become a strategic advantage itself. Prioritize these two steps: make certain that your team is able to do something that competitors cannot easily copy, and take the best care of your people so that no one can lure them away.

Be present. Offer guidance. Make sure your team fully understands the company’s business strategy. Confused and uncertain team members will push the entire project to mediocrity. And mediocrity means you’re in trouble.

As surprising as it may sound, when you think beyond a single project and take the company’s bigger objectives and vision into account, you’re more likely to recruit the best talent for your project. Aim to find answers to this question: what knowledge, skills, and competencies do my team members need to respond to long-term market demands and deliver business results?

Furthermore, transparency is a key currency in project management. Involve your team members in the process of developing the project goals. Get the people to agree on the direction to go. “You need collaboration and participation by the people that are going to be impacted, not just in the execution of the plan but in the planning itself,” writes Dr. Joseph M. Juran, an engineer and management consultant. This empowers people to deliver results, boosts employee morale immensely, and establishes a starking linkage between employee commitment and customer satisfaction.

When you shift from mere team building activities and conflict resolution to establishing a team spirit, meaning, motivation and vision, you start managing your project for strategic advantage. Walk the extra mile to keep the team inspired, and your people will cultivate organizational capabilities that all of you will be proud of. Your team has unique strengths. Recognize them and build on them!

Concluding thoughts

We know it. You want your competitors to admit that your company has a deep strategic advantage. Don’t worry. If you’ve opted for project management for strategic advantage, you’ll continue delivering outstanding results.

Before allocating any resources to the next project, take a short break. Look into the mission and objectives of the company and see whether the project will take you a step closer to your company’s vision.

Most businesses are still busy with getting that next project done. Don’t be one of them. Your commitment to managing projects for strategic advantage will soon reward you. The few who make it the core of their working style will thrive in tomorrow’s marketplace.

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