Process Improvement

How strategic project management keeps the big picture in mind

January 26, 2024
8 min read

A breakdown of strategic project management

Nobody wants to fail. But when organizations embark on new projects without tying them to strategy, the misses can be epic. Like a final tab 1,400 percent over budget and project delivery a full 10 years — that’s right, an entire decade — late. Today’s Sydney Opera House is an instantly recognizable and widely photographed landmark, but it’s also an often cited lesson in project management failure. And it’s not alone.

Ninety-nine percent of big projects fail in one way or another. While projects can get derailed for all sorts of reasons, survey after survey shows that mismanagement and a lack of communication are at the root of the biggest project blowups.

That’s where strategic project management comes into play.

What is strategic project management?

Strategic project management, or SPM, is an approach that improves management and communication by aligning project activities with the overall strategic goals and objectives of an organization. It involves the application of strategic thinking and planning to the management of projects, ensuring that the projects ultimately contribute to the long-term success and competitiveness of each organization.

If you’re curious to learn about strategic project planning, you’re not alone. As a comprehensive approach, strategic project management integrates project management principles with strategic planning to ensure that projects align with and contribute to a company’s overarching goals.

The difference between strategic project management and traditional project management

SPM goes beyond traditional project management by fostering a proactive, adaptive, and strategic mindset throughout the project lifecycle. The emphasis on effective resource allocation, risk management, and stakeholder engagement are key differences between strategic project management and traditional project management. Traditional project management may overlook the broader organizational context, leading to resource inefficiencies and missed opportunities. Instead of focusing on those short-term objectives, SPM provides a holistic view that considers the broader implications of projects on an organization's future.

According to a survey of project managers conducted by Capterra, the average project manager spends 40% of their day on task management and administrative tasks, and just 17% of their time on high-level project prioritization and strategic project planning. Shifting that approach and embracing strategic project management can give managers a better way to collaborate and can help ensure that projects not only meet their immediate goals, but also contribute to the organization's growth over time.

Benefits of strategic project management

Strategic project management goes beyond traditional project management to look at the big picture. That small but intentional shift — to create a more comprehensive framework for project management — is one that Diane Alsing has seen deliver big results at Avanade, a management consulting company.

“If you leverage project management correctly, you’ll have a strong team driving the organization’s goals, and you can get that return on the investment you’re seeking from your projects,” Alsing says.

Some additional benefits of developing a strategic project management plan include:

Competitive Market Advantages Via Improved Efficiency

SPM gives organizations a way to execute projects that align with their strategic vision while maintaining effective resource management. By prioritizing initiatives that contribute to long-term goals, SPM ensures that resources are allocated efficiently, risks are mitigated, and outcomes are measured against KPIs.

Identifying high-value projects

SPM ensures that projects are in line with a company’s goals and objectives. This provides clarity of purpose, which means teams can focus their efforts on initiatives that contribute to the overall success of their organizations.

Greater stakeholder engagement for project success

SPM places a strong emphasis on stakeholder engagement, ensuring that key stakeholders, including senior management, are actively involved and informed throughout the project — especially when tight deadlines are at stake.

Having greater stakeholder engagement would have helped project manager Krista Phillips, who serves as PMI’s PPRC president. While working on a project with companywide implications at a large multinational corporation, Phillips discovered one division totally unaware of the ongoing work, because that division had been unintentionally left out of all the planning processes.

“I don’t know how the [project leaders] missed that, but they missed a whole unit,” says Phillips. “So when the [project] went live, they were like, ‘What is this?’ That caused the project team to miss scope.’”

Effective and measurable impact

SPM employs KPIs that are directly tied to project strategy, which means organizations can measure the success of projects not just in terms of task completion, but also in their contribution to overarching strategic goals.

Continuous improvement over time

Strategic planning in project management fosters a culture of continuous improvement by actively seeking feedback and lessons learned from each project. This feedback loop enables teams to refine project management processes, adapt to changing conditions, and enhance overall project performance.

Developing a strategic project management framework

Developing an SPM framework involves adopting a forward-thinking approach. Consider these best practices to help your organization become more strategic:

1. Set project goals and priorities

Start by aligning project management with your organization's strategic planning. Clearly define the overarching goals and objectives that the project should contribute to. This involves a thorough understanding of your organization's mission, vision, and long-term strategy.

2. Identify potential obstacles

Conduct a risk assessment that considers both project-specific and strategic risks. Identify potential obstacles that might hinder the achievement of your strategic objectives. Develop mitigation plans to proactively address these risks, so projects can remain on course and aligned with the broader corporate vision.

3. Allocate resources

By optimizing the allocation of human resources, budget, and time, leaders can ensure that projects with the greatest strategic impact receive the most support.

LiquidPlanner CEO Liz Pearce recommends that PMs use project management systems that provide resource visibility and forecasting tools, so companies can better allocate resources and quickly make decisions — ultimately reducing what she describes as “schedule thrash.”

“Exceptional … managers are masters at balancing supply (resources) and demand (break/fix issues alongside the project),” Pearce says.

4. Have a communication plan

Foster a culture of engagement by involving key stakeholders, including senior management, in decision-making processes. Communication is crucial to keep stakeholders informed about the strategic significance of projects, progress updates, and any adjustments made to align with evolving priorities.

5. Establish KPIs

Define and track KPIs that directly reflect progress toward project management strategic objectives. These metrics provide a tangible way to measure the success of projects in contributing to the organization's strategic goals. They can guide project leaders to areas that need attention — and away from those that don’t. A manufacturing shop floor manager can, for example, set up a regular cadence in which they run efficiency reports every Wednesday for the past week. A week of data will give a good indication of what is going on, and can be used to compare to past weeks, and then set goals with supervisors based on what worked on the shop floor, what didn’t, and what are the proposed solutions for any issues that occurred.

6. Seek feedback from stakeholders

Foster a culture of continuous improvement by actively seeking feedback and lessons learned from each project from members of the team. Use this information to refine project management processes, adapt to changing conditions, and enhance overall project performance.

By following these steps, companies can develop a robust strategic project management framework that optimizes resource allocation and enhances overall organizational competitiveness.

Project managers should also develop industry-specific frameworks to make sure that the intricacies of their work is accounted for. A framework for well-planned construction projects, for example, will emphasize the importance of early detailed planning to avoid rework and mistakes. This framework may start with project design and project procurement before moving to project reconstruction and project execution, and also build in project control that includes tracking the work, activities, and tasks, as well as tracking the budget. Finally, project closure should include a punch list, certifying that equipment and systems work properly, and budget closeout.

Strategic project management is a long game approach to organizational success

SPM isn't just a random acronym. It's the secret sauce for organizations looking to play the long game and win big.

SPM connects the dots between strategic goals and project outcomes with precision and flair. It's not just about completing projects; it's about crafting a roadmap to organizational wins.

Why should organizations hop on the SPM bandwagon? Because when everyone's playing checkers, having effective project management strategies lets you play 4D chess, making moves that not only win battles, but also conquer entire market landscapes.

For anyone who has ever juggled projects, stakeholders, or the occasional existential crisis, SPM is an organizational superhero. Software and SaaS solutions take SPM up another notch — streamlining processes, so managing projects is as smooth as a James Bond exit.

Are you ready to transform the way your organization works? See how Quickbase can help your teams generate exceptional results that drive business growth.