At Ten Six, we are seeing a distinct shift in the way people perceive project management. No longer is project management just about getting things done on time, on scope and on budget. Stakeholders are looking to project teams to really deliver business value.
When projects start, they typically have a business case that shows how the work to be delivered will generate return on investment or otherwise improve the organization somehow. Time and time again, executives approve the business case and then put it in a metaphorical drawer. The project manager might not even get to see it. And yet they are expected to deliver something to achieve those results.
Focusing on outcomes
The ‘traditional’ approach to project management is to focus on outcomes. The project manager’s role is to finish a number of tasks to deliver a certain product.
Program management, defined by the OGC guidance in Managing Successful Programs (MSP), centers on delivering outcomes. In other words, you manage a program towards a particular future state – a specific vision of how things will look when you have achieved the outcomes. There may be several products along the way, but the important thing is the overall vision. MSP and program management ensure that at all times the team keeps one eye on the business case and one eye on the value proposition. Under the umbrella of a program, the focus on value is clear.
Linking projects to value
Not all projects form part of a program. A project to implement Primavera, for example, will most likely stand alone. Some companies may choose to do this as part of a business transformation effort, but many companies will decide that new software implementation can be done outside of the program management structure.
When a project is not part of a program, there is often no one looking at the value proposition. A program has oversight and consideration about whether or not the work is going in the right direction to deliver something worthwhile. A project by itself doesn’t.
The value proposition of projects
Project managers can provide this oversight and consideration. There is no reason why the project management role should not include constant checks back to the business case – in fact, many project management standards and methodologies recommend this. But there is more to delivering value than just checking whether you are still on track to deliver against the business case.
Project managers should also be sense-checking against delivering business value. The difference between ‘value’ and the business case is that the business case could stack up financially but the actual deliverables of the project could be completely contrary to the corporate objectives for the organization as a whole.
Too many project teams find themselves working on initiatives that don’t fit into the big picture. They might not even know what the big picture is. And the organizational culture of some companies means that project managers don’t feel able to ask.
The most successful organizations create a culture where corporate strategy is transparent. Objectives at the top are aligned to personal objectives set for the team further down the hierarchy. Individuals know how their contribution helps the company stay in business. Project managers are empowered to challenge the business case if it doesn’t align to organizational objectives. They are free to ask difficult questions about why the project needs to happen and how the deliverables make a contribution.
Joanne Flinn, author of The Success Healthcheck for IT Projects, says that executives leading successful projects initially focus on value. She suggests four questions to ask about value:
- Is the value based on dollars, building a strategic capacity or addressing regulatory requirements?
- What are the short and long-term objectives of the project?
- What are the needs or interests of the varied stakeholders?
- How does this project affect time to market or business resilience and responsiveness?
These questions will help project teams and others establish what ‘value’ actually is for their project. When project managers ask their sponsors and key stakeholders what ‘value’ means to them, the organization and the project, they have a better chance of aligning that Primavera implementation, or whatever else the project is working to achieve, with business goals. And an aligned project is one that is far more likely to be successful, to deliver a worthwhile outcome and make a positive contribution to the organization overall – achieving that elusive value proposition.