Roadmap for Project Manager Success

by Chris Patrick, PMP

Aligning Projects to Organizational Strategy


As project managers, we sometimes get caught in the heat of the project management “moment” and lose sight of the fact that projects are part of a larger initiative. The objective of this article is to remind project managers of the important role they have in bringing a company’s organizational strategy to fruition.

How many times as a project manager have you been tempted to say the following:

  • “Where did this project come from?”
  • “Should I stop working on this project and start on this one?”
  • “Why are we doing this project?”
  • “We don’t have the resources to do this project!”

One of the reasons project managers worry so much is because they tend to accept the projects assigned to them and don’t take the time to understand how the project aligns with the company’s organizational strategy. It is certainly appropriate to assume that “There must be a need for this project if someone is willing to pay for it.” However, the project manager must recognize that this approach may not take into account what is truly in the best interest of the client or company.

Organizational strategy alone is a rather broad topic. By its very nature organizational strategy can apply to all business functions—Finance, Human Resources, Marketing, and Operations being some of the most important to the project manager. This article focuses specifically on the technical project manager and introduces a practical approach to help the project manager to effectively align projects to a company’s organizational strategy.

Focus on Strategy from Project Start

Now for the million dollar question: How does a project manager recognize if a project aligns with the company’s organizational strategy? Instead of “how”, perhaps it is better to ask “at what point” does a project manager recognize their project aligns or may not align with a company’s organizational strategy? The short answer is—anytime during the pre-planning stage.

In most cases the Requirements Document or other similar business requirements document would be the first piece of documentation a project manager should consult to analyze the request. Full knowledge of business requirements, along with input from available SMEs (Subject Matter Experts), will help the project manager understand from the very beginning if the approach is best for the company.

This article is broken into three sections to help the reader gain a basic understanding of how to ensure successful alignment between the company’s organizational strategy and the project:

  • Recognize the Strategic Value of the Project
  • Inform the Client of Potential Value Gained or Lost
  • Ensure Success Through Participation

Guideline 1: Recognize the Strategic Value of the Project

Project managers need to remind themselves that every project must contribute value and is designed to meet the future needs of its clients. The key word is “value.” From a management standpoint, it is essential to be able to relate the value of the project to the organization’s strategy in both quantitative and qualitative terms. I believe everyone would agree that the most successful companies have an organizational strategy. Unfortunately, few project managers take the time to understand the value linkage between the organizational strategy and their projects.

For example, let’s say I am married with 3 children. We decide to go shopping for a car with only one objective: that it runs. Our choices are:

  1. Vehicle A – Cost $25,000 (Expensive, safe, roomy, reliable)
  2. Vehicle B – Cost $15,000 (Cheaper, roomy, reliable)
  3. Vehicle C – Cost $5,000 (Cheap, not so reliable);

If we strictly base our decision on cost and the fact it runs (most clients tend to think this way), we would purchase Vehicle C which is less roomy, not very reliable, and jeopardizes the safety of our children. The point is that project managers need to help clients recognize the long-term value in selecting Vehicle A over Vehicle C.

It is important to note that Vehicle A is not always the best decision. For example, Vehicle C may be a temporary solution until the family finds a better car. The objective is to help the client “recognize” the value of selecting Vehicle A over Vehicle C by guiding them to consider and quantitatively rank all relevant factors, such as:

  • How long do we plan to keep the car?
  • What are the projected long term costs in maintenance and repair?
  • How much space do I have for parking the car?
  • What kind of mileage do I want to get from the car?

Then restate the conclusions in more qualitative “business terms” so that the client has a clear understanding of the “value” in their choice.

Guideline 2: Inform Clients of Potential Value Gained or Lost

It is important that the project manager helps the client to recognize the risks associated in selecting one alternative over another. You may even find that the client has, in his or her mind, already selected the cheapest alternative. When informing a client about risks it is imperative to be quick and competent in your response. This can be done in three easy steps:

  • Brainstorm
  • Understand
  • Respond

Brainstorm – Schedule a 30-minute brainstorm session with no more than two SME’s (Subject Matter Experts).

Understand – Clearly understand the technical aspects of all options. Open a document on the computer and draft (in business terms) a clear response to the client.

Respond – After you have gathered your thoughts, it is best to arrange a meeting with the client and invite no more than one SME (to make the client feel important yet not threatened) to present your response.

It is important to use common sense when speaking to the client and avoid using words such as “in the best interest of the company” or “the best choice for long-term goals and objectives.” Most clients are professionals in their field and they will always feel there is a real business need to their request. The key is to give the client the perception that you are working together with them to address this business need.

Guideline 3: Ensure Success Through Participation

The project manager must actively engage the client and create an environment where the client is a key participant in the decision making. Far too often the project team and IT staff and will go behind closed doors, have little or no interaction with the client, and then return to the client with the supposed perfect solution.

In order to effectively align projects with the company’s organizational strategy, it is critical to create an open and honest dialogue. Make sure the client knows you want to include them in determining the approach which best aligns with the company’s organizational strategy. For example, explain that you held a 30-minute brainstorming session with the SMEs to obtain a clear understanding of all technical options and the pros and cons of each option. Remember to speak in business terms that will make sense to everyone listening to the conversation.

Some may argue that the crucial factor to ensure the success of integrating organizational strategy with projects lies in the company’s ability to create a process that is open and transparent. As project managers, we have a similar responsibility to create an environment with our client that is open and honest.

Make Strategy Your Concern

The outcome of effectively recognizing, brainstorming, understanding and responding to client requests results in:

  1. Clearer organizational focus
  2. Best use of scarce organizational resources such as people, equipment, and capital
  3. Improved communications across projects and departments.

No matter what tools you use as a project manager, it is essential to be competent and well informed when working with the client to ensure successful alignment between the company’s organizational strategy and the project.

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