A strategic project can carry significant risks as well as high expectations. They’re often executed as a series, with several linked initiatives driving the company toward better efficiency, an improved financial status, or a more competitive market position. Strategic projects are high-profile, high-impact, can’t-fail efforts, and your team needs to get them right the first time.
Though that may sound like an intimidating prospect, there are some steps PMs can take right now to be sure their teams are able to hit the ground running when a strategic project comes their way.
Review your skills
While PMs should always be looking for ways to boost the team’s knowledge base and internal skill set, there may be competencies you simply don’t have in-house—either because you haven’t needed them in the past or because their development wasn’t a priority. The best opportunity to find and address any gaps in your group’s expertise is right now, while there’s still time to shore up those critical areas. Look for potential mentoring partnerships, either inside your project team or across your broader professional network. Training sessions offered during industry conferences are another option for increasing your group’s skill set quickly.
Along with the standard proficiencies most project teams are expected to possess, you should also evaluate where soft skills need to be sharpened. Strategic projects often require advanced facilitation and leadership experience, for example, plus familiarity with the most effective ways to gain cooperation and drive accountability within a matrix environment. Considering the size of your group and how frequently you anticipate executing strategic projects, you may determine the best and most time-effective strategy is to bring in an experienced project management consulting firm to augment your internal capabilities.
Build communication channels
Healthy information flows aren’t developed overnight. PMs need to continually nurture their connections with the executive team, sponsors, high-level stakeholders, and other collaborators. Rather than try to cobble together a working communication program once your next strategic project is underway, look at where your existing channels would benefit from some targeted development today.
- Do you already provide your senior staff with on-demand access to the latest project status?
- Is someone on your team participating in regular leadership meetings or discussions on corporate strategy?
- Does the executive group pass along key information on long-term goals and business planning to the project team?
If these communication activities aren’t part of your usual routine, look for ways to build a more robust program so you have the framework in place when you need it.
Know your company’s project culture
Some organizations just don’t have the kind of infrastructure that can support driving a strategic project from planning through execution. Silos may stand in the way of robust information sharing, for example, or sponsors from different divisions may not be accustomed to working together toward a common goal. Few PMs will be able to fix those issues singlehandedly, but there are steps you can take ahead of time once you know where potential pitfalls lurk.
Begin by reviewing previous strategic projects.
- What problems arose during those efforts and how were they resolved?
- Did egos or company politics present challenges during the planning or execution stages?
If you identify high-level obstacles that are beyond your ability to influence, your first priority is to avoid becoming embroiled in the internal strife. Think about partnering with a project management consultancy that can bring a neutral perspective and outside expertise to your strategic effort. The addition of an unbiased viewpoint can often help sidestep cultural and organizational issues and keep your initiative on the path to success.