Strategic Project Management: How To Be The Future Of PM

Explore the role of a strategic project manager in handling internal and external factors, paving the way for successful projects, and fostering organizational development.

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Picture a world where your projects are crystal-clear from the start. Where goals align with strategies, and you can confidently track your progress and stay on course. Imagine having the perfect team in place, with the right people handling the right tasks.

This level of focus is called strategic project management, and it's the key to success for any project manager.

By honing in on the correct processes, communication channels, and tactics, you can deliver quality results that meet your project's goals while remaining efficient.

What is strategic project management?

Strategic project management is essentially an advanced version of traditional project management. It is comparable to digital, six sigma, or agile project management but with a unique focus. While the core principles of project management remain intact, a strategic project manager has a more holistic view of how various internal and external factors can impact a project.

Organizations that employ portfolio managers and consulting companies that use program managers or hybrid account/project managers are more likely to have a strategic project management approach.

While how you would manage a portfolio differs from how you'd handle a single project, the fundamentals of how you do that as a PM are the same. The difference is the strategic view that you take. And you can do that on the portfolio and single project levels. It's all about perspective. You can always think strategically about your project and what will make it run smoothly while meeting its goals.

➡️ Here's how to manage multiple projects strategically.

Why organizations should employ strategic project management

In today's fast-paced and ever-changing business environment, organizations need leaders who are more flexible, adaptable, and strategic, not only about the focus of their output but getting it done in the most thoughtful, efficient way possible.

That doesn't always mean following formalized steps to get to a finalized product—especially if going to market faster is critical.

The fundamentals of project management still apply here. It's also about an understanding that you can change your approach and be more flexible (or even fully agile) if it will help you to meet project and organizational goals. That's thinking strategically about process and management, and it can be done on any project with the proper application of pre-planning and team collaboration.

Then there's the business side of things. Traditional project management is more behind-the-scenes. I've been there. Sitting at my desk while my whole team meets with a client, committing to projects with unrealistic budgets and timelines.

It's a painful place to be, but it's a place that doesn't exist when organizations invest in strategic project managers.

Putting a project manager in a role, or even partnership, that is accountable to the strategy of that project will see better outcomes in terms of efficiency, collaboration, morale, and project success. And it doesn't stop there. Putting the right PM on the right project with the right team makes everyone successful.

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How to apply strategic project management

Applying strategic project management involves adopting a more deliberate and forward-thinking approach. Here are some essential best practices to help you become more strategic:

1. Have a solid project management process in place

By having a consistent approach to project management, you can focus your energies on the strategic aspects of your projects. Invest time in understanding project management principles and methodologies and build a toolkit that includes templates and tools to help you plan your projects, allocate resources, communicate with stakeholders, and report on project status.

➡️ Here's everything you need to know about creating a solid project planning process.

2. Embrace portfolio management

There's a whole world of opportunity for you if you want to dig into strategically managing projects. Portfolio management will have you orchestrating several projects for one program, often wearing your strategy hat.

Be sure to get reasonable estimates for your projects. A clear definition and understanding of the resource constraints under which the project must be completed will help you not only define your project's strategic path but also help you do it in a way that keeps it within your budget.

3. Get to know your team

People impact everything. Without a good process, estimates, and project goals, you'll struggle to find a strategic approach without the right people.

While people are often called resources, you must remember they're far more than that. You're talking about talented human beings helping you meet strategic goals, not cogs in a machine. Do everything you can to get to know these people. Their talents, interests, personality types, and communication styles affect how they're staffed on your projects—sometimes more so than their availability.

If you work in a very large organization and you never know whom you're working with, take the time to get to know folks and talk about project goals, team values, and communication preferences. This stuff allows you to think more strategically about your project and team.

4. Focus on goals

Defining project goals and ensuring they are aligned with your organization's goals is crucial. Be sure to communicate these goals to your team and stakeholders and keep them updated as the project progresses.

It's all about communication and setting or maintaining expectations. If you want to be sure you're on the right path, ensure your stakeholders and team are aligned with those goals. It's risky running a project without that level of alignment.

5. Be adaptable

Projects and businesses change constantly, so you need to be open and able to adapt to new circumstances. Anticipate risks and opportunities, and adjust your approach accordingly.

This requires flexibility and pivoting when necessary while maintaining sight of the project's goals and objectives. Develop clear risk management strategies, but be prepared to adapt if needed.

6. Prioritize

With adaptability comes the ability to have difficult conversations about how realistic expectations are and where your team can or should focus.

When goals change or projects take an unexpected turn, you should be ready to facilitate difficult conversations and help your team prioritize tasks based on goals and constraints.

7. Listen and learn

Stay curious and keep learning about your team, discipline, company, and industry. By gaining a big-picture view of these factors, you'll be better equipped to take a strategic approach to your projects.

Also, check for issues or risks that could impact your project or present new opportunities. Doing that will allow you to avoid problems or risks affecting your project.

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The future is a more strategic you

You don’t need certification to be a strategic project manager. Of course, the proper training or education and a firm understanding or knowledge of your project and industry will always set you up for success.

But getting a seat at the table to think and talk about strategy will open your eyes to so much and allow you to be more strategic about your practice and career as a project manager.

Take some time to think about what can make you more strategic in your role. It could be a shift in how you look at your projects, formalizing processes to allow for more focus on the strategic path, or finding new ways to manage and lead your team.

With the right approach and mindset, you can start taking steps to make your future as a strategic project manager a reality.

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