Unlike other forms of strategic planning, project strategic planing is, in many ways, a more straight forward and structured activity, largely because a project, by its very nature and definition is a finite exercise with a clear start, clear finish and hopefully a clear set of defined outcomes. As such, project strategic planning is, or should be, a case of planning how to get from the start to the finish in the most direct way with as few diversions and changes of schedule and budget as possible.
For many, the concept of a project strategy plan starts and finishes with the project schedule, typically a Gantt chart showing all of the activities required to get your project from concept to completion, and most definitely the Gantt chart schedule is key to that success, but it is not the only part of the planning process needed to get your project over the correct line at the right time.
Project Strategic Planning
There are two principal facets to project strategic planning; firstly, a project must serve an organisation’s strategic goals, i.e. it must deliver something that is part of the organisation’s plan for its future, whether that be the roll out of a new policy, development of a new software tool or the construction of a new plant or office building; secondly, those engaged with running and executing a project must have a strategy for how best to deliver that project, i.e. their execution strategy.
For many people working in projects, the task its self is their whole reason for participating, whether it is a relatively small and short contribution or a major long term senior role, most project participants do not see how their project fits into their organisation’s strategy, nor, where the project is for a client, how the project fits the clients strategy. This disconnect is the cause of frequent issues in terms of a project not delivering the value anticipated, it may be a great project but it can still deliver incorrect outcomes.
Yet, without divulging all of their long term plans, it can be relatively straight forward for an organisation to outline to its employees and contractors just where the project they re so committed to delivering fits into their corporate strategy. If a contractor really understand that their client needs a particular thing for a specific date it becomes a lot easier for them to ensure the right bits of the project are available at the right time, without that knowledge, the contractor will generally work to their own schedule to deliver the overall project on time, yet that outcome may be less than optimal for a client.
An example of this could be a contractor designing and manufacturing a product for a client that the client needs for a specific marketing campaign, if the key information on the product, whether that be specifications, art work, photographs of prototypes or whatever, are not available on specific dates the launch of the campaign could be jeopardised, putting the whole investment from the client at risk of failing.
The second side of project strategic planning is the planning of the execution strategy for the project. As mentioned above, for many projects, and for many project managers even, the schedule, typically depicted as a Gantt chart, is all the strategy planning they will undertake, yet a regular review session to consider where those tasks on the Gantt chart should be best executed and by who can make the difference between a successful and an average outcome.
For successful execution strategy development the project should actually consider each task or series of tasks on the Gantt chart, considering the who, where and how for each; is it best to do all of one task in one location or can they be split to allow more people to work on them consecutively. If they are split how does that effect the project risk profile. What previous experience do each of the participants have with this task, this client and working with their colleagues, and again how do their experiences impact the risk profile. Activities such as these can be done in a rolling way, looking a few weeks to a few months into the future so that tasks can be considered long before they need to be undertaken.
In some instances, this execution strategy review may lead to short term pain such as increases in costs on a few tasks, but done properly the management of project risk and identification of upcoming efficiencies and improvements should lead to a better outcome for the project and overall a better schedule, cost and quality.
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