PPM 301 - Project Management

Section 4. The Strategic Context of Projects


This lesson discusses interfacing with various high levels management in large companies. Objectives important to this lesson:

  1. Selling project management to senior managers
  2. Project partnering
  3. Project strategic issue management
  4. Stakeholder management
  5. Management of teams
  6. Senior management and projects
  7. The board of directors
  8. International projects
  9. Portfolio management
  10. Managing multiple projects

The chapter begins with the funniest page so far, which begins by stating that a project manager may have a difficult time selling the idea of project management to senior managers. The text's problem, it seems, is that the project manager has to sell the value of his system to a manager who is so involved in strategic thinking that the senior manager cannot conceive what work is done by his underlings. As the text tries to explain on page 119, "There is not the ability to cascade the thinking from top to bottom". Really? Poorly worded and poorly conceived. You're saying that the high level manager has no idea what goes on at the bottom levels? If that is true, and it's the first problem you noticed about this company, you didn't have your eyes open when you came through the front door. Can we just run away and give back the retainer fee?

The text launches into several paragraphs that are meant to convince us that project management will do a better job of running the company's daily operations than whatever our poor company has been using up to now. I thought we were just sold on the idea that projects are different from operations? Oh, well.

Let's move ahead to page 123. We see a list of bullet points that address the idea of selling project management as a service. These are some of the bullets that are meant to be selling points about shortcomings in an existing system:

  • identify the problems senior managers have with the current system
  • identify areas of low productivity
  • explain that current work processes do not control work
  • weak or no communication system
  • work driven by historic requirements instead of current strategic requirements
  • system does not accommodate product changes except when planned

There are also some bullet points for benefits to using project management:

  • reduced time to market for new products
  • improved reporting
  • better views of the process to build products
  • reduced human resource stress
  • rapid response to product changes
  • improved productivity
  • alignment of work with strategic goals

It is not clear that all of the offered problems will be problems in every situation, or that all the offered benefits will apply either. Before stating that any of these problems or solutions exist, you should make sure that they do.

The text begins a new subject. Project partnering takes place when two entities join together in a project. The text lists four scenarios on page 126 that serve as examples of how this might happen.

  • Two companies join together for a project. The project requires multiple skills, and each company has some of those skills.
  • Several companies form a temporary organization so they can all contribute to the completion of a large project.
  • A company bids on a contract that requires more resources than it has. It gets the needed resources by joining with another company that has excess of what is needed. The second company is acting like a subcontractor.
  • A company bids on a contract and gets it. Other companies agree to participate in the project to complete it, but the bidder is responsible for all contract work.

Partnering may be done to provide better service to the contract, to win a bid that a company might otherwise not win, or to gain access to a technology only one of the partners has. The text explains that partnering may not be visible to the customer offering the contract. This lack of visibility may not seem fair. It is not fair to the customer if there is any attempt to defraud them or to portray a bidding company as something other than what it is. It is fair if the bidding partners are sincere in their offer of services in the bid.

The text explains that a joint project needs strong management. The text suggests that the joint project could be managed in the usual way by one project manager, by project managers from each of two companies, or by a steering committee composed of people from all companies. In the last case, the text suggests that the steering committee may still appoint a chief and a deputy project manager for actual project management work.

The text expands on the idea of creating a joint project for the purpose of synergy. It does not use that word, but that's what it means: to create something from the combination of two things that does not exist when they are separate from each other. In this section, the text also discusses managing a project as a partners. It similar to general project management, but there are recommendations to share assignments, to share management, and to share other aspects of the project among the staff from the partner companies.

The authors spend three pages on strategic issues, which they explain as complications to the plans we make for our projects. Like life, projects are affected by external forces, and we must deal with them. When problems arise, like changes in laws and regulations, or competitive pressure from our product's market, we must address the issues. The text presents a slightly different version of the same process it uses for everything else on pages 132 and 133: Identify the problem, assess its scope and effects, develop an action plan, and implement the action plan.

The next point in the chapter concerns stakeholders. The definition on page 134 is pretty good before it gets too verbose. Let's say that a stakeholder is an entity with an interest in the project.

What a project manager must do regarding stakeholders is to determine which ones will affect the outcome of the project.
The text offers some examples of stakeholders who stopped or slowed projects when their interests were not addressed by the project staff. On pages 134 and 135, the text presents of points to help us determine what influence particular stakeholders have.

  • Determine who the stakeholders are.
  • What stake does each stakeholder have in the project and/or its outcomes?
  • What are the opportunities and challenges associated with these stakeholders?
  • Where do the stakeholders fit on a Linear Responsibility Chart? Do we report, inform, or gather information from them?
  • What can the stakeholders do the help or hinder progress in the project?
  • What are the stakeholders likely to do?
  • What should the project team do to optimize opportunities and minimize challenges with the stakeholders?
  • How will the team know if it is successful with the plans from the last bullet?

The bullets above summarize the content from the next several pages. You should consider the expanded material when making plans to form effective interactions with the stakeholders of your project.

As an assignment for this part of the chapter, assume you are working on a project that has a number of stakeholders who are resisting the changes that project will implement. Form a group. Name the group members. Pick some members to act as stakeholders and others to act as the project team. Use role play to work through a situation from the text. Have the team state a mission for the project. Have the stakeholders state their points of resistance and their chosen actions from the chapter (or your imaginations). Use the ideas from the text and from your experience to determine a course of action for the project team to take. Document all of the above, and whether your group can reach consensus about an action plan.

The text begins a section about managing teams on page 140. It tells us that we need to balance three activities of project management teams. This seems a bit odd to me, since the three activities it mentions are not in conflict with each other.

  • operational competence - providing high quality products and servvices in the present
  • strategic effectiveness - developing products and services for thee future based on assessed needs
  • functional competence - maintaiining our skills to be able to meet the needs of the first two bullets

The text changes direction for a few pages and predicts that we must change our enterprise from one in which teams have defined roles to one in which they are formed for projects as needed. This approach has been tried in some organizations, and sometimes it works, but it is not the standard that the text seems to think it is. In fact, the text seems to be ignoring some of its own advice about people resisting change and wanting some kind of stability in their lives. I wonder if this part of the text was pulled from another book.

The comments of the text about the dynamics of working on a team are less related to the topics of the text than we might wish. As such, we should move on to the next topic.

The text reminds us again that senior managers have strategic responsibilities in their organizations. As such, we should remember that projects sponsored by senior managers must be related to strategic objectives in our reports and outcome summaries to those managers.

The text discusses the role of a Board of Directors in the oversight of projects. The short answer is that a Board of Directors should maintain a periodic review of the progress of a project, requiring adjustments as needed when the project lags behind schedule or fails to meet requirements. Our project reports should be made available on a timely basis, and must show an accurate accounting of what the project has and has not done.

The text finds it necessary to tell us that projects that take place in more than one on country or that are done by multinational companies may be called international projects. On page 153, the text points out that a reason for doing an international project might be that there are lower labor costs in one country than in another. The advantages of such a project are not very different from the advantages of projects in general. It is more informative to look at the possible disadvantages on pages 156 and 157. They apply to any kind of foreign work. These are some examples:

  • time zone differences may hinder communications and approval schedules
  • holidays vary from one country to another, requiring coordination of work schedules
  • different languages may make the project challenging

Portfolio management for projects has to do with the idea that we should manage how many projects we can handle as a company at the same time. There is a related question. How many projects could we handle if they were all small, all large, or a mixed group of various sizes? A more detailed answer for a particular company appears in the example chart on page 161, which shows us a company that plans to handle ten kinds of projects at once, and how many of each kind they plan on being able to handle at once.

Obviously, a company must know something about their ability to run and complete projects successfully, their comfort level with different types of projects, and the number of staff they can expect to be available for project assignment at any given time. On pages 164 and 165, we see a chart of project characteristics that might be used to select which projects a company would want to consider, either together or separately.

The last topic in the chapter is managing multiple projects, which relates directly to the idea of having a portfolio of projects. The text makes several points about economies that may be achieved by working on similar projects, working on projects that can use the same resources, and working on projects that use similar technologies. We are advised on page 171 that there are several reasons that we might want to work on a project by itself:

  • the project is special because of its urgency
  • the project must come before other projects on the time line due to handoffs from it
  • the project is more complicated than usual
  • the project will be given a great deal of attention and must be done well at every step
  • the project uses a new kind of technology