PM Articles > Kent McDonald > Tying Projects to Organizational Strategy

Tying Projects to Organizational Strategy

In my spare time, I serve on the board of the Greater Iowa/South Dakota Chapter of the Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation (JDRF). I got involved with the organization about 8 years ago because I have a nephew who was diagnosed with Type 1 Diabetes, and it provides me an opportunity to give something back to the community while providing another outlet to practice my project management and leadership skills. I mention my involvement with JDRF because it provides an excellent example of how tying projects to strategy can make managing projects easier. It provides a clear picture of your end goal, and guiderails that help you make those day-to-day decisions on your projects.

Why Were We Doing This Again?

JDRF has a very clear and concrete mission around which it builds its strategy—to find a cure for Type 1 diabetes and its complications through the support of research (see JDRF's website). The national organization maintains responsibility for determining which research projects the money raised by the local chapters is used to support.

In our local chapter, our strategy is centered on utilizing the most effective and efficient way to raise funds for research by establishing and maintaining strong relationships with our donors and volunteers. To accomplish this strategy we have three "projects" that we pursue on an annual basis: the Walk to Cure Diabetes; the Hope Gala—a black tie dinner complete with silent and live auction; and the Ride to Cure Diabetes.

Because these projects are directly driven from our strategy, we are able to understand why we are doing them and clearly state what we are trying to accomplish. This is a powerful effect, because aside from a few staff members, the events are planned by teams of volunteers that are all motivated to make the events a success because we are all working toward the same goal—to raise money for funding research.

You can replicate this type of focused effort and motivation at your organization, with people paid to work on these projects, by identifying a similar tie to the organization's strategy. If you can identify what value the project adds to the business and communicate that clearly to the project team, chances are you will have a similarly motivated team.

At JDRF, when considering a new project we always ask if it helps us either raise money effectively or establish and maintain relationships with our donors. It probably doesn't hurt that we are running with rather limited resources, and so are very selective on what new projects we take on. This check back to strategy during our decision process has proven very helpful, and has allowed us to stay focused on the few projects we choose to do. This is a practice that more organizations could learn from. It helps provide focus and prevents project portfolios from exploding beyond a manageable level. Granted, many organizations are larger that our local JDRF chapter, so they need processes to ensure that proposed projects are checked against strategy—which is where a good project portfolio management process comes in very handy.

Since each project is tied to a strategy (raising funds for research) and focused around a specific event, it's very easy to determine when the projects are done and quantify their success. The measure of funds raised to support research is a very tangible measure of value added to the business. Most organizations are not as fortunate to have such a concrete measure for every project, but tying those projects to strategy will make coming up with a similarly meaningful measure that much more successful.

Decision Guiderails

Admittedly, my local JDRF chapter does not have a huge issue with deciding what projects to do. We have a specific set of events that we undertake every year, and when opportunities arise in new areas within our geographical area of responsibility we only add events of the same type. Where the close tie to strategy really helps us is making day-to-day decisions within each of these initiatives.

The old adage is that you have to spend money to make money, however JDRF prides itself on being one of the most efficient non-profits in the country. Currently, roughly 85 cents of every dollar we raise goes straight to supporting research. This focus on efficiency, which is embedded in our strategy, influences many of the day-to-day decisions we make about our events. Two examples of that influence have happened at our chapter in the last few months.

One of our events has been held on the same weekend every year since its inception almost 15 years ago. This year, our usual venue indicated we could not have that weekend because they had other events that were committing to spend more money in room rent and food costs. Even though it meant breaking with a long-held tradition, we gladly changed the date. We preferred to maintain an efficient event, rather than spending more so we could stick with the same date.

In another case, we have a bike ride where people raise a certain amount of money to travel to a destination and ride 100 miles in a single day. Up until this year, the destinations have been very nice locations, but the cost to get the riders there ate up a considerable chunk of the donations. This year we were able to work with other chapters and the national organization to establish a bike ride in the Midwest instead. The travel costs are lower and the amount of money raised for research is increased.

We also use the focus on strategy to help determine our approach to each event. We strive to make the Hope Gala one of the most elegant charity events in Central Iowa, but we find ways of creating that elegance in the least expensive manner possible. We expend a lot of effort getting as many services donated as we can, to keep expenses low. What we can't get donated we find creative ways to get discounted in exchange for positive publicity for the organizations we work with.

Most organizations aren't planning black tie dinners and bike rides as their major projects, but there are some parallels, primarily understanding what the project is intended to accomplish and approaching that project accordingly.

How to Take Advantage of Strategy

So how can you replicate some of these advantages on your projects at work? I have found the following practices extremely helpful in tying our local chapter strategy to the projects that we implement. They have also worked well on the projects I work on at my job.

  • State your strategy clearly. Everyone involved with JDRF finds it easy to understand what we mean when we say our goal is "to find a cure for Type 1 diabetes and its complications through the support of research." Find some way to state your organization's strategy in an equally clear manner that your project team members can get their arms around.
  • Communicate your strategy as broadly as possible. In order for people to act in a manner that supports your strategy, they have to know what it is. Having a clearly stated strategy is important, but it doesn't do much good if no one actually working on the projects has heard it.
  • Establish agreement on what strategy the project is trying to support. Have a conversation with your project team to make sure everyone understands what you are trying to accomplish and what that means to the project, so they can make the appropriate day-to-day decisions.

JDRF is probably one of the few organizations I know of that is actively striving to put ourselves out of business. We will know we are successful when a cure for Juvenile Diabetes is found and we no longer need to raise funds for research. Until that time comes, we will position our projects to be as successful as possible by keeping that ultimate goal in mind.

Related Links
Work on clearly stating goals at the project level using our Project Mission Statement guidelines. An Agile perspective on Project Value Models can help you prioritize the projects most important to your organization. When you have to make a choice, a clear tabulation of project alternatives and tradeoffs can make the choices easier to correlate.

Not all comments are posted. Posted comments are subject to editing for clarity and length.

This article, well intentioned as it is, illustrates a basic blurring that occurs on many projects of strategy and outcomes.
The link to your organization's strategy is a reason for doing the project. You should be able to measure each project's planned contribution to your strategy (in relative contribution terms)
However, your project's outcomes are what you are going to deliver - your measures of success.
To illustrate.
Your strategy may be to increase the share of wallet of your customers.
Your project's outcome may be to create a customer profitability system that front line bank staff use to cross-sell opportunities.
Your project's measure of success is the measured cross sales.
Another project to, say, bring a new product to market, would also contribute to the same strategic objective.
Your strategic alignment gives you a reason for doing the project; your outcomes gives you your measure of success. But these are two different dimensions and should be seen and managed as such.
Whether your project has contributed value to your organization will be measured by its achievement of its outcomes, not its strategic alignment

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