Organizational Project Management: Linking Strategy and Projects

Book review by Gerald Mulenburg, PMP

Organizational Project Management

Organizational Project Management

Gerry Mulenburg published a book review for the Product Development and Management Association.
Book Review: Organizational Project Management
By Rosemary Hossenlopp, Ed., 2010. Management Concepts, Inc., Vienna VA. 187 pages.

Finally, we have a book that addresses the missing connection between project management and the larger organization—“Organizational Project Management.” Clearly recognized by many, a major disconnect occurs in many organizations between those wanting projects done and those doing projects. And, unfortunately, even when recognized, this gap is often only addressed in isolated, sporadic ways—until now. Editor Rosemary Hossenlopp says this book is written “…for those individuals who fund projects, direct projects, or conduct project work” (p. xviii).

Concisely presented in a relatively small, readable, paperback, this book addresses a significant oversight in the project management literature. In a series of short articles by active practitioners, consultants and practicing academics, it provides practical wisdom for both managers and project managers to improve project value to organizations. In this context, success is not just meeting the scope, schedule and cost parameters, which we often don’t do very well. The true measure of project success is the value that project results provide to the organization. Described by Hossenlopp, “Project management is the bridge between what an organization is and what it needs to become” (p. xvii). This bridge, the book emphasizes, is experiencing great strain due to the unmet needs for change in many organizations, and strengthening this bridge requires new organizational capabilities to face the challenges of the future.

The title of the book, “Organizational Project Management,” captures both the role of the organization and that of project management, often viewed as separate entities but both integral parts of the same fabric of organizational strategy. These two elements demand a tight connection between project work and the organization’s objectives. The goal of organizational project management, says Hosselnopp, is to “…rethink how to make project work count—how to ensure that it delivers business results and outcomes” (p. xviii). To do this requires overcoming some project management myths.

The first myth is that project management is about project managers; organizational project management is about delivering strategic value. The second myth is that project management is about skill development; organizational project management is about providing leadership. The third myth is that you must improve project maturity; improvement must change organizational project maturity. And the fourth myth says that project management is successful project work; organizational project management is about supporting business goals. To overcome these myths the book points out, requires adjustments to the mental models that continue to propagate these myths.

The book’s first article by Russ McDowell, Delivering Business Results from Enterprise Strategy, provides grounding in organizational project management and becomes the foundation for the rest of the book. McDowell defines how organizational project management contributes to organizational success as “…the systematic management of projects, programs, and portfolios in alignment with the organization’s business goals” (p. 3). His focus is not on doing projects right, but on doing the right projects for the right reasons to meet operational and organizational needs. “Organizations do not benefit from undertaking projects” (p. 6)! The need is to deliver results that will add value, which McDowell calls outcome management. This requires identifying how, when and what resources are needed compared with the benefits to be achieved. He recommends taking baby-steps to achieve organizational project management by first building on existing processes and then improving on maturity one step at a time. This strategy uses organizational project management in a holistic way, building a bridge from organizational strategy to operational value. To do this, two additional articles discuss how best to align project work to achieve organizational strategy.

The first of these articles by Jim Sloane is Organizational Alignment: The Intersection of Strategy and Project Work. Sloane cogently describes aligning the organization to project management as “…the process of linking business improvement strategy with corporate vision, goals, objectives, and strategy” (p. 21). He emphasizes the need for upper management to take more of a project view of the organization and for project managers to take more of a management view of projects. To achieve this, management needs to change its thinking about projects as tactical initiatives and give project managers the authority and accountability “…for delivering the project benefits…” (p. 26). To accomplish this Sloane says, “…the (project manager) PM needs to think more like a CEO of a small enterprise, and upper management needs to think more like a PM” (p. 26).

One way for the project manager to fit into this role Sloane says, is to encompass the business plan goal for the project into the project plan itself, incorporating the desired business benefits into the plan, execution and control of the project.

In the second alignment article, How to Align Project Work with Strategic Vision, author Raju Rao describes aligning the organization with projects as “… connecting what you intend to achieve to what you are doing” (p. 36, author’s italics). Rao provides some alignment methods to try and identifies the critical factors involved that include, the dynamic nature of projects, the variability and unpredictability of human behavior, and the multiplicity of different organizational types involved in projects. Perhaps the key question identified in this article, Rao says, is whether the organization values projects for accomplishing its goals.

Two additional articles focus more on the leader’s roles involved. Proven Business-leader Actions for Project Success by Michel O’Brochta looks specifically at actions for how-to accomplish project success: “The most essential business-leader actions are organizing work into projects and picking the right projects.” (p. 60, author’s italics) In Executive Imperatives: The Role of Project Sponsorship in Organizational Success, sponsorship expert Randall Englund asks the key question, “How do you inspire and lead motivated people to discover and implement effective project practices” (p. 73)? He then outlines goals for executives and project sponsors to create excellence in, and excellence through, projects. Englund emphasizes the need to create what he calls a green environment in organizations that requires trust, cooperation, common purpose, shared vision, open communication and respect. This is a tall order addressed by Folake Dosunmu in the article, Successful Business Transformation. Dosunmu provides vignettes about companies that did just that and what was involved to accomplish it. He says, “Strong leadership and the support of senior managers are the most important factors” (p. 105).

Because organizational culture has a strong effect on project management, an article by Abdur Badar titled The Effect of Culture on Projects, describes cultural effects involved in projects, and provides poignant information and a methodology for how organizations can develop a culture that is conducive to projects. This, he says, is accomplished by developing a common ideology, a body of ideas, and an identity that connects strategies and projects. Senior leadership needs to bridge project and organizational work, and determine whether the current environment supports their organization’s project needs, and if it doesn’t, to clearly articulate what needs to change. A compliance mentality can complicate this, Badar says, due to conflict with fast-paced change that requires establishing an identity and clear vision to be sure that any subcultures involved are appropriate to the organizational goals. Three essential things are to create an identity focused on long-range goals with a willingness to collaborate, tolerate failure and be adaptable. This requires central control via the project manager, sponsor engagement and team performance to create a culture of trust for mutual enrichment in the organization so projects deliver greater value.

Sara Núñez describes methods for how to perform assessments to improve business results, especially in service organizations. She provides an eight-step model for projects ranging from confirming the reasons for change, how to accomplish it and then follows up about how to reassess how well it is working. Her model addresses both external and internal needs with a case study and examples for each of the steps. Pavan Kumar Gorakavi provides a real-world case study of a financial crisis in operating a large public sector organization, the Indian Railway System. The approach described outlines four steps to assess problems, analyze the proposed value to be achieved, implement a strategy and evaluate the final outcomes. Proof of the dramatic value of this process occurred across the railway system organization. But what value is organizational change, no matter how achieved, if it is not, or cannot, be sustained?

Marcia Daszko discusses the need for leaders who transform to ensure rapid follow-on organizational learning to sustain the improvements gained. She asks the very relevant question, “What is the role of leadership” (p. 163)? The answer posited is that it is important for leaders to have the courage to challenge the current way things are done, the knowledge to base their change decisions on, the patience and commitment to see the changes through, and the compassion to create the jobs needed rather than taking a strictly bottom-line focus. Daszko says that having a strategic compass with a common goal based on purpose and direction for doing projects well is most important to the organization from a systems point of view and ensures that all of the parts don’t just act as they are supposed to but interact appropriately across the organization to create the desired value.

Adding credence to the theme of this book, a recent survey of practitioners and project management leaders by the Project Management Institute® shows an increasing emphasis on organizational project management: “…organizations are increasingly using a wide variety of means to drive their projects and programs.” The percent of organizations that have a product management office (PMO) now stands just above the two-thirds mark (67%) and nearly that many (63%) have standardized their project management practices across all or most of their enterprise(1). This report confirms the overarching focus of the book that all managers involved in projects can readily apply to their organizational project management.

Gerald Mulenburg, PMP

National Aeronautics and Space Administration (Retired)

Click here for original article.

Note:  Rosemary Hossenlopp lives in California and so doesn’t receive any affiliate income for this book review.  With that disclaimer out of the way, I would really appreciate having conversations with your organization about how to improve how your team can implement processes that tie projects to strategic objectives.

Please note: I reserve the right to delete comments that are offensive or off-topic.

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