Project Practitioners > Why Not Link Projects to Strategy?

Why Not Link Projects to Strategy?

By Randy Englund

Barriers to Implementation

It is relatively easy to develop models for selecting portfolios of projects that are thorough and integrate objective and subjective data. When all is said and done, however, people may throw out the results and make a different decision. Sometimes the reason is a hunch, an instinct, or simply a desire to try something different. Sometimes people have a pet project and use the process to justify its existence, or a hidden agenda may be at play—perhaps the need to maneuver among colleagues, trading projects for favors. Politics at this stage cannot be ignored, nor are they likely to disappear. It is imperative for leaders to become skilled in the political process.

Any attempt at leading change in how an organization links projects to strategy is bound to meet resistance. The concept receives almost unanimous intellectual support. Implementing it into the heart and soul of all people in the organization is another story. It goes against the cultural norms in many organizations and conjures up all kinds of resistance if the values it espouses are not the norm in that organization. The path is full of pitfalls, especially if information is presented carelessly or perceived as final when it is work-in-process.

Some people resist because any process is too analytical. Some want decision-making to be purely interactive, intuitive, or the purview of a few people. A complete process cannot be forced upon people if the organization has more immediate concerns or unresolved issues. Resistance occurs when there is no strategy, the strategy is unclear, or people are uncomfortable with the strategy. Work on the process may come to a standstill when people realize how much work is involved to fully link projects to strategy. If the pain is not great enough with the status quo, people are not ready to change.

When people sense that the leader does not authentically believe in any of the elements, such as the goals, the process, or the tools, they are hesitant to follow with any enthusiasm. When the leader lacks integrity and exhibits incongruity between words and actions, people may go through the motions but do not exert an effort that achieves meaningful results.

Enablers for Effective Implementation

It is possible to lead people through a change process if the leader asks many questions, listens to the concerns of all people involved, and seeks to build support so that people feel they have an active role in developing the process. A flexible process works better than a rigid one. Cultivate “champions” who have the credibility and fortitude to carry the process across the organization. Believe that change is possible.

When the effort appears too massive, one approach is to go after the low-hanging fruit. Start with one of the more pressing issues. Still have a vision for what the organization can ultimately achieve but understand that patience and pacing are necessary to get there.

Consider also that a linking projects to strategy process is hierarchical—it can be applied singularly or collectively, up or down the organization. A mental model of linking projects to strategy is like fractals and chaos theory. As a viewer moves through layers, each is a reduced-size copy of the whole, exhibiting all its similar but chaotic traits—unpredictable and sensitive to small changes. The leader invoking a new process-in-action experiences both order and disorder. Behavioral patterns appear in irregular but similar forms. Amidst unpredictable actions, it is possible to find patterns of similar behavior. The process or the behaviors do not vary across the layers as much as the type of projects on which they are utilized. It is not necessary for every level in an organization to apply the process, but it is much more effective if they do. Be accountable to take action where you are. Each individual, team, or organization can apply a portfolio management process and achieve its benefits.

For people who get frustrated when progress is slow, I urge individuals and teams to invoke the power of one and “just do it.” Small changes in initial conditions have enormous consequences. Eventually successes or small wins get noticed. The practices start to permeate an organization. This can happen in the middle, move up, and then over to other organizations. A project office helps facilitate this transformation. A PMO may also act as a conduit for success stories and best practices.

Teams of people following a systematic process and using convincing data to support their arguments more often produce better results than individuals. Their projects have more visibility, and the quality of dialogue and decision making improve. The power of using criteria that is tightly linked with strategy and known by everyone in the organization is the mitigating effect it has to guide behavior in constructive ways. Having a process means it can be replicated and improved over time until it is optimized. It also means other people can learn the process and coach others, thereby creating a learning organization.

In summary, a successful complete manager:

  • Knows that projects without strategic emphasis often end in failure.
  • Develops an upper management team to oversee project selection.
  • Focuses on the goals of what an organization should do before limiting choices by considering only what the organization is capable of doing.
  • Works to develop a system of projects and links them to organizational strategy.
  • Guides the development of consistent criteria that are used to prioritize projects.
  • Selects projects based on comparative priority ranking of contribution to strategy.
  • Reduces the total number of projects to minimize possible disruption.
  • Knows that a system of projects utilizes a common resource pool and that the pool may be abused without cooperation across the organization.
  • Develops a system to manage the resource pool and reward interdepartmental cooperation.
  • Allows unallocated capacity in a resource pool for emergencies and for creativity.
  • Believes in the power generated by a learning organization.
  • Creates a model for linking projects to strategy and supports it with authenticity and integrity.

Join Alfonso Bucero, myself, and other esteemed colleagues from around the world in Madrid, Spain on November 15-16, 2010 to address “Managing Portfolios in Turbulent Times.” See for more information.

Randy Englund, Englund Project Management Consultancy,

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

Google on Logical Framework or LogFrame and you will see that linking the allocation of scarce/limited resources to projects in order to achieve strategic goals has been around for 30 years or more, a tool/technique primarily used by the international development community.(World Bank, UN etc)

Like so many other tools and techniques, because it was "not invented here", the use of the LogFrame Approach (LFA) has largely been ignored by the private sector.

Dr. PDG, Jakarta, Indonesia

Dr. Paul,

Thank you for informing us about a community that is using tools and techniques to link projects to strategy.

About 15 years ago, I also found pockets of excellence where effective portfolio management practices were applied within HP. The problem is...these practices are still not widespread enough. Repeatedly when I survey participants in my seminars and courses, I more often find horror stories about too many projects underway with no apparent process in place to prioritize and link the projects to strategy. That's why I keep trying to understand reasons why effective portfolio management is not happening and then help educate people on what they can do. Thanks again for adding to the dialogue.

Randy Englund

Project portfolio management software is the most effective way to link strategy to projects. Adoption is key here as well, which is why I recommend @task as the tool of choice.

Jessie, I disagree. Software is not the most effective way to link strategy to projects. First you need to have a process that all people support and commit to implement. Getting this support and agreement is the hard part as I attempt to outline in my post. Implementing software is relatively easy but often fails if it does not fit the culture of the organization or is not understood or accepted by the people on whom it may be imposed.

My advice and keep working on a process first that gets into the heads and hearts of the people, then think about software that may help administration of the process.

Randy Englund,

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