If you want to move the discussion away from strategic alignment for projects and towards strategic execution – doing the work that will help you meet your business goals instead of just talking about it – then strategic planning is essential.
The Project Management Office has a huge role to play in these discussions. There is rich data and deep expertise in the PMO, and the C-suite should be tapping into these to inform the planning for the upcoming cycle.
Here are five ways that your PMO can contribute to the strategic planning cycle and help keep your business on track to meet its corporate goals.
1. Be Objective Experts
Being objective is easier for PMOs which have been around for a little while because these will have greater archives of project performance data to draw on.
This data is a goldmine of information about the projects that performed the most reliably, and which targets were hit and which were not. You can also pull data on which departments performed well, delivering on time and on budget.
Even if you only have a few months of data to draw on, positioning yourselves in the PMO as objective experts on project performance is a good idea. It’s a mindset, an outlook. It is part of how you talk about the PMO and the value it brings. It can also take a lot of emotion and politics out of the strategic planning process because you are helping to keep the discussion grounded in facts and outcomes, not hopes and wishes.
You’ll know you have achieved this when managers start coming to you for data on project performance to help them make better decisions.
2. Get A Seat At The Table
It’s virtually impossible to influence the outcomes of strategic planning if you don’t have a seat at the table. You need to be in the discussions, helping to shape the outcomes and providing that objective expert voice.
You might have to influence your way into those conversations, especially if there are some senior leaders who seem unwilling to engage with the PMO or see your function as purely a reporting and admin one.
A “seat at the table” looks different at different levels of the business. That’s to be expected, since organizations have their PMO functions at different levels. A PMO set up to support the work of the IT department, for example, is not going to have the same board-level influence as an enterprise PMO with a PMO Director who already has a seat on the Board or who works for the CEO.
However, if you want to ensure that your PMO is effective in aligning projects to strategy, you’ll need to be present in the discussions, whatever level they take place at. The IT department PMO should be working with IT senior leadership to ensure that any projects approved meet the strategic objectives for the division as a whole for the coming period, so you can be strategic at any level.
3. Assign Project Managers Early
As soon as a project is approved you can assign a project manager. This can make a huge difference in the planning of the project as you’ve got an expert on the team already. Having a project manager work with the relevant business experts to draw up plans and make all those early project decisions can be a significant factor in ensuring that achievable goals are set for the work. It can also help manage stakeholder expectations effectively from the beginning.
4. Measure Value
This year’s strategic planning cycle should look back to last year’s. Success metrics should directly link to strategic goals. For example, a strategic imperative might be to cut budgets while maintaining customer satisfaction levels at their current rate. Success metrics for projects should link directly to these, ensuring there is a clear line of sight between what a project or program can deliver and the strategic goal it supports.
All that is fine on paper. You can make most projects “align” to most things when discussing them around the table. But in practice, it’s execution that matters and that’s where the PMO has a significant role to play.
By looking at last year’s success metrics and project outcomes you should be able to better predict which projects will directly correlate with the strategic vision this year. Draw on the PMO’s experience of measuring value to inform the decisions being made in this year’s planning cycle.
5. Build The Talent To Make the Right Decisions
Strategic planning isn’t done by crunching numbers into a spreadsheet. OK, that’s part of it, but at the end of the day the decisions about which projects to approve and which to pass on are made by humans.
Giving those decision-makers the skills to make the right choices is an admirable longer term goal for your PMO. Granted, it isn’t going to happen overnight, but it is something to be working towards through mentoring, coaching, formal training, having the tools to provide fantastic decision-support information and generally educating your senior management population.
A white paper from PMI states that high-performing PMOs are more than twice as likely as low performers to have the right skills in the team (58% versus 27%). They are also far more likely to have adequate numbers of people (42% versus 24%). The right talent in the business at all levels – and enough of it – is going to go a long way in ensuring that the right decisions are made.
You’ll know you’ve achieved it when there is robust and healthy discussion about expensive vanity projects that result in them not being approved as they aren’t a good fit for the strategy.
The point of a PMO is to improve performance across projects and programs and get a better return on investment from doing so. Being involved in the strategic planning cycle is definitely part of that and with these tips you can ensure your PMO is contributing effectively, regardless of your PMO maturity or longevity in the organization.