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Organizational project management: The comprehensive guide

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Article by 
Cascade Team
  —  Published 
December 29, 2022
June 7, 2023

In business, organizational project management is the ultimate system. James Clear hit the nail on the noggin right there. The Atomic Habits author recognizes the critical value of systems when it comes to achieving just about anything in life.

The problem is that most companies lack strategic alignment in their organizational strategy. Without clarity of how all projects connect to the big picture, people can’t understand how to turn glittery abstract ideas into tangible positive outcomes. 

As roadblocks arise, most companies stumble somewhere between their plans and goals. Instead of bridging the gap, they fall into a dark chasm with their beloved spreadsheets (trust us, we’ve heard the screams).

It's time to show you the bridge to strategy execution.

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Here’s what you’ll discover inside this guide: 

  1. What is organizational project management (OPM)?
  2. What’s the difference between OPM and project management?
  3. What are the benefits of organizational project management?
  4. How to successfully implement organizational project management 

Read on as we explore the misunderstood realm of organizational project management. 

What is organizational project management (OPM)?

So, what is OPM? Is it a mid-noughties indie band? Is it a narcotic from the poppy plant? No, and double no.

According to the Project Management Institute's (PMI's) Organizational Project Management Maturity Model standard: “Organizational Project Management (OPM) is the execution of an organization's strategies through projects by combining the systems of portfolio management, program management, and project management.”

That definition first appeared way back in 2003. Times have changed, but OPM is still a widely-recognized standard in business strategy. 

In simpler terms, Organizational Project Management is a customizable strategy framework your company can use to bring project, program, and portfolio management practices in line with your organization’s strategy and goals. 

Within OPM, there are three fundamental disciplines:

  • Portfolio Management oversees strategic plans and decisions across all projects. Portfolio managers focus on outcomes and how to get the most value from the budget, people, and resources.
  • Program Management oversees multiple projects that aim to meet larger organizational objectives. Program managers focus on benefits realization. 
  • Project Management oversees specific projects. Project management professionals (PMP) focus on the scope, time, cost, and quality of a specific product. 

When you embrace these three pillars of Organizational Project Management, you can unlock the full potential of a coordinated approach to strategic alignment. Before we dive into the benefits of OPM, let’s answer an obvious question.

What’s the difference between OPM and project management?

That’s the one you were thinking about, right? We don’t want you to lose any more sleep over this melon-scratcher, so let’s get clear. 

  • Project management is how you organize and undertake activities within a specific project that help accomplish specific goals.
  • Organizational project management is the framework that connects all your projects to the overall company strategy.

Many organizations struggle with a disconnect between their projects and the big picture. Whereas project management focuses on doing things right, it often loses sight of doing the right things. 

The problem with traditional project management practices is that most companies still rely on old-school methods for project management, like Excel, paper, or a disconnected mess of tools. OPM brings everything together, giving you the strategic alignment you need to succeed with strategy execution. And there are a lot of benefits to strategic alignment. Let's dig into that below, shall we?

What are the benefits of organizational project management?

So, what’s so good about this strategic project management framework? Here are nine reasons you should embrace OPM at your company. 

  • Improves strategic alignment. Give people a clear line of sight between their daily actions and smaller team projects. Show how everything connects to the goals and outcomes.
  • Improves communications. With better team alignment, there is more clarity for the people responsible for making ideas happen. In a boundaryless environment, engagement goes up, and guards come down.
  • Makes decision-making better. As you share ideas and real-time information and invite everyone to take part, it's easier to make informed decisions at the right time.
  • Enhances business operations. One of the critical concepts of OPM is a standardized approach to project management. This framework helps you reimagine business processes free of sub-optimal elements that hold you back. 
  • Increases effective work. Productivity is a broken metric that focuses on doing more—instead of doing the right things. With the standards and context OPM provides, you can empower people to do more effective work.
  • Offers predictable delivery performance. It becomes easy to prioritize high-impact activities as you reorient your processes, practices, and people. And so, that smooth sailing business utopia you used to visualize becomes oh-so-real.
  • Helps cost control. Once everything is in place, strategy execution is no longer an expensive struggle. Your technical debt tumbles as you generate more value from every activity.
  • Provides a competitive advantage. With people and systems in harmony, your company will be better positioned to drive innovation, pre-empt disruption, and capitalize on opportunities in the market.
  • Increases customer satisfaction. Ultimately, with all the cogs now shining in a well-oiled machine, the internal bliss OPM offers will yield more positive outcomes for your customers.

You might notice something about our list of benefits. They cascade from one to the next (see what we did there?). 

As you achieve strategic alignment, it improves communications and collaboration, which, in turn, makes it easier to make the right decisions. And this human-centric culture is the foundation you need for better business operations, which leads….yeah, yeah, you get it. 

The point is, it all begins with strategic alignment, and it ends with successful strategy execution that makes you a more competitive business that delights your customers. Alignment and execution are inextricably connected. 

OPM is the foundation that ensures you make it from one to the other. It is a standardized approach to project management that offers your company a framework for successful strategy execution. At Cascade, we help you with a tool to apply this same standardized approach to project management. 

How to successfully implement organizational project management 

There are twelve steps to implementing organizational project management, which fall into four separate phases:

  • Preparation
  • Assessment
  • Development
  • Improvement

Alright, enough striking around the shrubbery—let’s see how you can introduce an OPM framework in your company.

Phase I - Preparation

In the development phase, you'll go through two steps that help you determine how ready your organization is for the change ahead and who will help lead the charge. 

Step 1: Assess change readiness

When you want to embrace organizational project management, it means change is coming. Some people don't like change. For example, we can't get Kevin from the compliance department to part with his beloved fax machine.

You must get everyone on board as company-wide buy-in is crucial for organizational project management to be a success. You will inevitably meet resistance, but you must unite everyone under the new vision. (like when we convinced Kevin our office was no longer a place where it was okay to bite people who hid his fax machine.) 

“What about goals?” you holler.

Excellent question, thanks for asking. This step is the ideal time to think more about your strategic objectives. But don't just stop with fluffy statements and key performance indicators. That's not inspiring, and it's dull and abstract. People need to understand how their role relates to the big picture. 

When you share information and give people clarity about how their actions impact organizational goals and the company vision, they can see how important they are to the company. This context empowers people to do more meaningful work. (and there’s another case of OPM connecting alignment and execution for you!)

If you want to know more about how to help employees visualize the connections between their daily actions and the company's business objectives, it's worth learning how to create a strategy map

Step 2: Appoint vision drivers

Your strategy’s success depends on your people. It’s a mission for everyone, without silos, secrets, or C-suite dictators. But, while everyone has a voice, you still need leadership. Change management is another critical aspect of OPM.

You need a project manager to champion the change. At this step, you create a strategic project management office (PMO) to keep everyone on track. As you empower these vision drivers with responsibility, they will encourage more people in the organization to become strategy activists who accelerate the cultural shift.

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Step 3: Set consistent standards 

The good news is that you don't need to reinvent the wheel. OPM is all about standards and methodologies. You can use established portfolio, program, and project management standards to guide your framework for strategic alignment, such as:

  • The PMBOK® Guide
  • The Standard for Program Management
  • The Standard for Portfolio Management
  • Organizational Project Management Maturity Model (OPM3)
  • Project Manager Competency Development Framework

It's best to start small and introduce proven standards. You can always scale your systems and modify your methods over time through consistent optimization and prioritization of what matters most.

Phase II - Assessment

In the assessment phase, you'll go through four steps to understand your projects, your supporting assets, and what challenges you might face.

Step 4: Identify types of projects

You must get specific about the types of portfolios, programs, and projects your organization will undertake. Think about why you will do each project and how it fits into the big picture. 

Identify and describe each activity here, including information about the size, complexity, duration, and the people involved. For example, your project team might need three hours to build a giant ice wall on the company ski trip.

Step 5: Identify inputs

We bet, like most companies, you have a dusty old Dropbox or Drive full to the brim with software, templates, user manuals, marketing materials, presentations, and spreadsheets. Once you've got over that feeling of nausea, you can smile and realize that you might finally find a use for some of that stuff—but be selective.

Tailoring is an intrinsic aspect of organizational project management. You can customize your operations and processes to suit your organization's level of maturity and capability. 

Think about your culture, where you want to be, and make a call on what you can use and what to dump. To get started, dump all the CEO's PowerPoint strategy presentations from 1997 into a flaming barrel before he sees it and gives that mind-numbing speech (again).

Step 6: Identify constraints

With the bonfire over and the sweet smell of burning whiteboards in the air, you can move on to the less fun stuff—risk management. 

While it would be great to have a free run at your vision, the reality is that roadblocks do exist. There are innumerable constraints to consider, like budget limits, compliance regulations, and how your compliance department will scale an 800-foot ice wall to retrieve their team mascot (and Kevin's fax machine). 

It can be a bit gloomy at this step, but you must identify constraints to the OPM methodology to give it the best chance of success.

Step 7: Identify resources

The last step in the assessment phase is to identify potential sources that can provide information and guidance. For instance, your resource management could profit from:

  • Framework documents such as the PMBOK® Guide (PMI, 2013)
  • Existing proprietary approaches (i.e., TenStep, Prince2, Method123, Scrum, XP)
  • Professional project portfolio management communities
  • Methodologies used by other companies in your industry
  • Key stakeholders in the company
  • External project management practitioners and consultants

Phase III - Development

In the development phase, there are two steps that help you turn your plans into standards that can drive consistent growth. This phase is what sets OPM apart from other types of project management. Here, you'll set the standards that ensure better execution follows your project planning. 

Step 8: Develop and document your methodology

For systems to work (like, really work), you must document everything. OPM governance is under the remit of your PMO, but you'll need all hands on deck to build a robust portfolio, program, and project methodology. It's vital to talk to everyone from the top-down and bottom-up. 

When you study your workflows, you might be able to create things like:

  • Process flow charts
  • User guides
  • Standardized templates
  • Lexicons
  • Style guides
  • Brand books
  • Tools library
  • Techniques cheat sheets

Sounds like hard work. What if you can't be bothered to document everything?

If you don't document what you do, people start to do things their own way. A laissez-faire attitude will eventually cause you to lose alignment across your teams and processes. As you scale this way, cracks can appear (like the cracks in a poorly built wall that crumbles under the pressure of Kevin's titanium dentures).

On the contrary, when you consider all aspects of the methodology, you can document and design standard operating procedures that make your organization much more—dare we say it?—organized.

Step 9: Derive output

After you’ve kicked over all the rocks and got your house in order, you’ll have a tailored portfolio, program, and project management methodology that is fully documented and readily accessible to everyone in your organization. 

With our strategy execution platform, it'll be easy to make your project management methodologies and standards available to everyone. 

And you know what that means? Better team alignment. (Oh, look, OPM just brought strategic alignment and execution together…again. Weird how that keeps happening.)

Phase IV - Improvement

In the improvement phase, you’ll have three steps that help you analyze the impact of your efforts and identify opportunities to improve. After all, evolution is the name of the game in modern strategy.

Step 10: Continuous improvement

You can say you want continuous improvement, but you must devote resources to this mission before it's possible. Over time, you'll find new ways to do things better. When you tweak your systems and find the right people for the right role, continuous improvement starts rolling like a giant snowball heading straight down a mountain toward the C-suite's cabin. 

Step 11: Monitor

Of course, improvement is only possible when you keep a close eye on events as they develop. This step is where you can compare your progress with those lofty goals and dreary KPIs you set way back at the start.

With any luck, your PMO also has a champion for data analytics and some focused team members who bought into the shift toward data. The more you embrace today's tech, the faster you can grow. 

Step 12: Repeat

The final step in your organizational project management lifecycle is to go right back to the start. Yikes, what? 

We're sorry to tell you that you can't just press the magic button and walk off into the sunset. Successful strategy execution is all about evolution. As time goes on and changes happen in your market, you'll have new projects, initiatives, and goals. 

Continue to tailor your OPM methodology to evolve with your company. With this adaptive mindset, you can stay fast and flexible in the face of disruption. You'll be ready, whether it's a new competitor, a cybersecurity attack, or a slump in company morale after you all got a lifetime ban from a ski resort (and your Chief Compliance Office rage quit over an obliterated fax machine).

Close the execution gap 

Organizational Project Management offers a standardized strategy execution framework that helps you choose the right projects at the right time and make sure all projects and people work in tandem to deliver positive outcomes on time and on budget. 

It's not easy to close the planning-to-execution gap. Strategic alignment is the foundation, but successful strategy execution is no guarantee. It can be a struggle if you don't have the right tools. 

If you use Cascade, you can solve these issues and succeed at closing that gap. In the end, the cost of not executing your strategy could make all the difference to your company’s future. 

Are you ready to connect strategic alignment and execution? Get a free trial of Cascade to implement organizational project management the right way.

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