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Strategic Project Management: The Key To Strategy Execution

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Article by 
Tefi Alonso
  —  Published 
June 29, 2023
November 14, 2023

What Is Strategic Project Management?

Strategic project management (SPM) defines how a project may benefit a company's efficiency and strategic plan as a whole. It is the process of thinking about your projects in light of their connection to your strategic plan. In other words, strategic project management is about forming clear links between your projects and your strategic objectives.

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The premise of strategic project management is that your projects should actually work to achieve the goals and objectives outlined in your strategy.

This is why thinking in terms of strategic project management is key.

Strategic project management isn't just about managing big, important projects, it's about designing and managing your portfolio of projects so that it supports your strategy and connects to the big picture.

To ensure this, you can ask the following questions:

  • Is the mix of projects appropriate and sufficient to deliver our strategic objectives?
  • Do we have the appropriate resource allocation to meet the project goals?
  • Are we prioritizing projects according to how they connect to and impact our strategic plan?
  • Are we flexible enough to adapt quickly if timelines or resources change?
By doing this exercise, you’ll be asking yourself relevant questions that will help you build a project portfolio that supports your strategy execution by delivering on your objectives.

Difference between strategic and operational projects

When discussing strategic project management, we are referring to projects that align with and support your overall business strategy. For simplicity, we'll refer to these as strategic projects.

For example, let's consider a company that aims to expand its market share by entering a new international market. In this case, strategic projects could be conducting market research, analyzing potential locations, establishing partnerships with local distributors, and/or developing a marketing strategy specific to that market. These projects directly contribute to the company's strategic objective of expanding into new territories.

On the other hand, operational projects are those that are essential for the day-to-day functioning of the business but may not directly impact the strategic goals.

Examples of operational projects could include routine maintenance of existing facilities, training programs for team members, or upgrading the company's IT infrastructure. While these projects are crucial for smooth operations, they do not directly contribute to the company's strategic objective of expanding into new markets.

Strategic projects do not necessarily have to be large in scale. Most of your significant projects should be strategic in nature (otherwise, why invest substantial time and resources?), but you may also have numerous small to medium-sized projects that are crucial in their own way to achieving your objectives.

What's The Difference Between Strategic Project Management & Traditional Project Management?

There's a lot of overlap between traditional project management and strategic project management. The term "strategic" essentially refers to applying a strategic perspective to your existing project portfolio.

That means that you'll still apply all of your traditional project management skills and processes to strategic project management, but in addition, project management teams need to consider the wider business aspects of their projects to better support and align with the organization’s strategy, rather than just being concerned with meeting standard project management issues - time, budget, etc.

Think of strategic project management as an additional sub-discipline within the broader field of project management, similar to managing dependencies or resources. It involves taking a holistic approach that considers the strategic objectives to meet the organizational goals.

📚 Recommended read: check out our article providing a comprehensive guide to project management.

Key Considerations For Successful Strategic Project Management

The projects you undertake are the core of your strategy—they are where tangible progress is made and where significant time and financial resources are invested. Project success will bring you closer to your goals, while project failure will only widen the gap between planning and execution.

So how do you make sure that your activities are well aligned with the organization’s goals?

Take the following considerations into account during your strategic project planning process.

Optimize project-objective alignment

Every objective should have at least one corresponding project

This is a no-brainer, really. If there's an objective in place, it's crucial to have projects that actively contribute to its accomplishment; otherwise, you're just spinning your wheels without making any tangible progress.

In the case of larger initiatives, you might find it necessary to break things down further and have sub-projects nestled within your main projects. It's like building a project within a project - a little inception, if you will.

Your projects must directly contribute to achieving your objectives

Take a moment to think about each objective and ask yourself: Can I confidently say that successfully delivering all the associated projects will lead to achieving the objective?

If you find yourself hesitating or uncertain, it's time to examine the project mix and identify any gaps that may exist. The key is to ensure that your projects align harmoniously with your objectives, creating a clear path toward their realization.

Avoid project overlap or redundancy

Take a close look at the project mix within each objective and across your overall strategy. Ideally, you shouldn't be able to fully accomplish an objective without the inclusion of a specific project. If you find that you can, it's worth seriously considering whether that project is truly necessary.

Perhaps that effort can be more effectively utilized elsewhere? Be ready for some tough decision-making and consider removing or reducing the scope of projects when needed. Simultaneously, ensure that you don't have projects within or between objectives that unnecessarily duplicate work. Aim to streamline and optimize your project portfolio for maximum efficiency and impact.

Every project must have a clear link to one or more objectives

Even if it isn't directly linked to an objective (e.g. it's a sub-project within a parent project under an objective), it still needs to actively contribute to what you are trying to achieve.

A great way to assess the alignment of your projects is by drawing a clear line from each project to the KPIs it will enhance. If you can easily connect the dots between your projects and the KPIs they will positively impact, that's a strong indicator of their fit within the overall strategy.

👉🏻 Note that every now and then, you may come across a project that demonstrates significant strategic value but doesn't align with a specific objective. When this happens, it's a sign that you should revisit your objectives and ensure they provide comprehensive coverage, allowing you to capture the full scope of your strategic vision.
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Plan for effective project delivery

Be realistic when allocating resources for your projects

When it comes to resources, we all know they're like gold dust - there's never enough to go around. So, it's absolutely vital to be smart about it.

Proactively estimate project needs

Don't wait for surprises to hit you down the line. Take the initiative and provide each proposed project with a solid estimate of time, cost, and the resources it requires. Trust us, this will pay off big time when it's time to prioritize. Avoid that last-minute scramble by being proactive.

Get real about budgeting

Ensure your project has a realistic budget. Determine who owns the project and which budget it falls under. Whether it's a centralized bucket or a complex Opex/Capex process, securing the necessary funds is crucial. Remember, without budgetary support, your project dreams may remain just that—dreams.

Align project timelines with objectives

We see this all the time... You set an objective in a management meeting, but when it's time to roll up your sleeves and plan the projects, the timelines just don't match up. This is where tough decisions come into play: do you tweak the projects or reassess the objectives? Embrace the necessary changes and ensure your plan is grounded in reality.

Define project ownership

Every project needs a champion—a superhero who will take ownership, drive it forward, and make things happen. This person should have a genuine interest in the project's success, shoulder the responsibility, and possess the authority to steer it in the right direction. Your project will only happen with these three ingredients.

Keep operational projects away from your strategic plan

To maintain a laser focus on your strategic plan, it's crucial to keep operational projects and activities from sneaking in and muddying the waters. They can distract you from your core objectives and hamper the successful delivery of your strategic projects. Equally important is preventing projects that should be part of the strategic plan from slipping into the operational plan and going unnoticed during progress tracking.

Embrace a strategic mindset

Govern your projects strategically

Ensure that every objective has a well-aligned mix of projects. Consider the project composition across your entire strategic plan, including different business areas and departments. Let strategic governance guide your project choices.

Don't lose sight of the bigger picture! Just as the overall strategic management process emphasizes governance throughout strategy execution, the same principle applies to strategically managing your project mix. Keep a firm grip on how your projects align with your overarching strategy and ensure they contribute to its successful implementation.

Strategically prioritize projects

Change will happen, we can guarantee that. How you navigate it will have a profound impact on the successful execution of your plan. As the internal or external landscape shifts, resources fluctuate, or strategic needs evolve, it's crucial to embrace a strategic change management approach to effectively prioritize projects. By seamlessly integrating change management into your strategic project management process, you'll steer your plan toward success.

Foster a two-way relationship between projects and objectives

Cultivate a living, breathing strategic plan by allowing projects and objectives to inform and inspire each other. While top-down changes refine your objectives, create space for the realities of project implementation and the valuable insights gained from hands-on experience to shape the higher-level plan. Ensure your objectives and project timelines remain current and accurate.

The Right Project Mix: An Integral Part Of Project Portfolio Management & Program Management

Strategic project management encompasses the art of crafting the perfect right project mix that propels you toward your objectives and strategy. This aspect directly connects with portfolio and program management, reflecting the shared responsibility of managing the project mix to achieve desired outcomes.

It's important to recognize that project mix management is not a parallel or alternative concept but an inherent component of the portfolio and program management process. By embracing this holistic perspective and acknowledging the interplay between project mix management and portfolio/program management, organizations can ensure their projects contribute to the realization of their strategic vision.

📚 Looking for a way to effectively manage your project portfolio? Check out our article: Best 7 Project Portfolio Management Software For Portfolio Managers in 2023

Execute Your Strategy Through Effective Strategic Project Management With Cascade 🚀

When it comes to achieving your objectives and executing your strategic plan, taking a strategic project management approach is key. It's all about carefully crafting the right blend of projects that align with your goals and maximize your chances of success.

That's where Cascade comes into play.

Cascade empowers you to extract maximum value from your portfolio by effortlessly managing your programs and project portfolios. With clear visibility and prioritization, you can focus your resources on the work that truly drives progress and delivers meaningful outcomes.

The most popular features include:

  • Relationships - Alignment Map: Sense disruptions on the frontlines sooner and prepare for the unexpected by tracking project and program dependencies, blockers, and risks that may lie along your strategic journey.  
example image of an alignment map in cascade strategy execution platform
Example of Alignment Map in Cascade.
  • Integrations: Consolidate your business systems underneath a unified roof to reach the pinnacle of clarity in your strategic decision-making. Let your teams work on their favorite tools and connect them with Cascade to automatically fetch updates, data, and progress information. With 1000+ integrations, we bring everyone’s work together to keep you focused on results & context.
  • Dashboards & Reports: Monitor your entire portfolio in one place and get a top-level view of your portfolio health by tracking performance against targets, budget, and timeline. Gauge an accurate picture of your projects’ performances in real-time and share it with your stakeholders, suppliers, and contractors.
example image of a dashboard in cascade strategy execution platform
Example of a Dashboard in Cascade.

Start a free trial of Cascade to test its project management applicability!

Get Your Free Strategic Project Management Template

Don’t know where to start? Use our free Strategic Project Management Template, specially curated with pre-filled examples to jumpstart your project management endeavors. This template is designed to provide you with a solid foundation and can be easily tailored to meet the unique needs of your organization.

Explore other related templates:

🔍 Didn’t find what you were looking for? Check out our Template Library, with thousands of templates to help you streamline your strategic planning process.

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What roles are involved in the strategic project management process?

In strategic project management, key roles include the Project Management Office (PMO), project team, project manager, and other stakeholders. The PMO provides guidance and governance, while the project team executes activities under the project manager's leadership. Stakeholders contribute input and support. Together, they ensure project success and alignment with strategic objectives.

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