Strategic Thinking

Many project practitioners are eager to dive into planning. I'd like to share some questions they should consider and fully understand during the initiation and planning phases: How important do you think it is that project managers understand the business case for the project? Or the organization's overall strategic goals? If those elements are unclear, how can they get more information on these topics?

Project managers need to understand the project business case in depth. This understanding is essential in anticipating problems and mitigating risks throughout the project lifecycle. The PM must understand at an early stage how project objectives align to the organizational strategy—which is, in part, a plan of objectives, policies and actions to set the overall direction of the organization. The organizational strategy is usually expressed in terms of mission and vision.

If this information is not clear, you must request support from the PMO or portfolio manager, who commonly have the task of managing the portfolio. Portfolio management is a bridge between organizational strategy and program/project management. As such, all governance levels are linked to ensure that each organizational action is ultimately aligned with the defined organizational strategy.

Requirements management is an area in which understanding the organization's larger strategic goals can add a lot of value. How have you seen a strategic mindset help improve requirements management, either during project planning or execution? A project manager who knows the organizational strategic objectives in depth and manages requirements will surely add more value than one who doesn’t.

The PM must imagine scenarios in the short, medium and long term that allow the team to set goals and tasks aligned to organizational strategic action. In this context, the project planning process contributes to the improvement of organizational strategic planning. The PM should design and consistently execute the planning process, ensuring that the project objectives reinforce the achievement of superior results. Are there any anecdotes or examples you can share from your own organization where taking the time to ask the right questions upfront helped better the project's strategic alignment?

Linking organizational strategy to project objectives is complex. To achieve this, you must think in terms of processes, procedures, roles and responsibilities along the hierarchy of the organization. This is where PMI standards help to have an overall vision and mark the way forward. I used the standards by adopting processes to develop procedures for managing projects, programs and portfolios to bridge the gap between organizational strategy and project objectives.

What advice would you have for project managers who want to carry a strategic mindset through project execution? When, for example, should they begin to question whether a long-running project still aligns with an organization's shifting strategic goals?

I would advise they consider the following topics:

  • Know about the main objectives of the organization; know the business strategy and possible external variables that may affect project results.
  • Conduct a SWOT analysis (strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats) to determine the status of project objectives in relation to the business strategy.
  • Imagine future scenarios and analyze the impact they may have on project objectives. Design a plan of action based on this analysis.
  • Link the results of your project with key business indicators. Consider different perspectives (financial, customer, process, human resources, etc.).

Is a strategic mindset something that project managers can carry through to the project's close? How can a project manager ask strong questions and think critically (for instance, about gathering lessons learned)? A strategic mind map can help carry a PM through the project life cycle, including closing. If the PM has aligned to the strategic vision of the organization, he or she can:

  • Help the team translate the objectives of project tasks and achievable goals
  • Organize regular meetings with staff to discuss the situation and evaluate project objectives aligned to organizational strategy
  • Share with the team relevant information, strategies and action plans to ensure that the objectives have been achieved
  • Communicate the importance of the project for the organization


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