What is a Strategic Initiative?
An initiative is considered strategic if the following criteria are met:
- It helps achieve organizational strategic goals and objectives (perhaps, as part of a portfolio of projects and programs), and positions the organization for value delivery to its clients and key stakeholders;
- It implies a change or improvement in the organization, making it unique from everyday operations;
- Resources capability and capacity are prioritized and allocated to implement the initiative.
Strategic Initiatives should necessarily help the organizational decision-makers to think this way:
Of all the work we have planned to do in a quarter or a year, which components are the most important to get right to accomplish our goals? If we only have the resources to dedicate towards a few initiatives (of too many planned), which would they be?
When we look at this definition of strategic initiatives, we get to know that these initiatives can cover more than just a project.
They can be related to a complete program or a bunch of different projects interconnected with each other.
PMO Contribution to Enabling Strategic Initiative Management
A program or project management office (program management office (PMO) facilitates the governance practices). It is a management structure that standardizes the governance processes and facilitates the sharing of resources, methodologies, tools, and techniques.
It provides professional expertise using staff highly trained in applying governance practices to provide oversight, support, and decision-making capability to the program.
PMOs can play a crucial role in helping enable Strategic Initiative Management by actively supporting the implementation of key strategic projects and programs. However, the role of the PMO within the company must, in turn, become more strategic, and it must develop its capabilities accordingly.
Research by the Project Management Institute (PMI) over the past years shows that executives consider leadership commitment and clear milestones and objectives critical for the successful delivery of strategic initiatives. Despite the importance of these factors, the interactions between senior leaders and PMOs are often not sufficient for companies to meet the challenge. PMOs that have bridged this gap are able to add real value in supporting the delivery of strategic initiatives.
Furthermore, PMOs that succeed in helping underpin business growth report to a range of senior executives — from senior vice presidents to the C-suite level — and the majority have a highly visible champion in the senior executive suite.
PMI research further identified several critical issues for successfully delivering the change that heavily impacts the role that the PMO can play. Based on the research, the following four vitals are identified — imperatives in which the PMOs can serve a critical support function.
Focus on Critical Initiatives:
The first imperative involves a process by which PMOs support the business in identifying the clear, actionable steps into how implementation efforts will proceed. All PMOs encourage the creation of milestones, activities, and objectives for strategic initiatives.
PMOs need an enhanced process for helping the organization align, define, track, and communicate meaningful milestones and objectives, specifically in the context of developing Roadmaps for strategic initiatives.
Roadmaps must identify the set of critical milestones that provide senior leadership with a basis for operational insight into what the initiative is about, what the critical known risks and interdependencies are, and how the initial implementation is progressing. The alignment of what is being tracked and communicated with what is critical for success is key to driving implementation.
PMI’s research on PMOs shows that aligning projects with strategic objectives has the greatest potential for adding value to the organization.
Develop Simple yet Effective Processes:
Establish program-level routines that track milestones and objectives, communicate progress, and help identify issues early without adding undue burdens on the businesses and functions executing the work.
PMOs must tailor their approaches to the needs of the organization. Strategically aligned PMOs eliminate redundant meetings and excessively long reports. Rather, they apply the rigor that is required to both support the business in strategy execution and help ensure progress and spot emerging problems without weakening ownership of the initiatives.
With the initiative roadmaps having been rigor-tested, the PMO well-positioned, its role clearly understood, and the right processes established for gauging progress against upcoming milestones and objectives, strategically aligned PMOs provide the means for the business managers tasked with delivery to provide senior executives the information they require with enough time to make course corrections and ensure that the initiative gets delivered in terms of both impact and timing.
High-performing PMOs tailor communications to different stakeholder groups i.e., limiting the information communicated to executives about the overall status of the program (that is, current achievement against targets) and any emerging issues that require executives to intervene with the range of tools at their disposal — for example, removing roadblocks, fast-tracking decisions, prioritizing projects and reallocating resources.
Nurture Talent and Capabilities:
PMOs need to occupy a new role in the implementation of strategic efforts, which requires enhanced capabilities. PMOs must have the right people in place to actually support value delivery out of strategic initiatives. It is no longer enough to focus talent development only on technical project-management skills.
Organizations also need to develop a portfolio of talented project management staff with strategic and business management and leadership skills. PMI’s Talent Triangle illustrates the three critical skill sets necessary to drive the successful implementation of strategic initiatives.
If the PMO teams aim to help the organization implement strategic initiatives more effectively. They must develop the ability to deal constructively with highly complex and unanticipated situations, ask key questions, define the scope of problems, and break large challenges into smaller tasks. Delegation, coordination, and risk management are crucial as well.
In addition, PMO teams must be able to motivate people and influence them without formal authority.
In essence, PMO leaders need to be “part evangelist, part therapist, and part coach” to successfully transition the company to a more disciplined approach to execution.
Encourage a Culture of Change:
Given the scope of competitive pressure and the frequency of disruption an organization has to deal with, the fourth imperative for successfully delivering strategic initiatives is, therefore, an organization-wide understanding of delivering on strategic change initiatives. PMOs can play an important role in fostering this by helping set the right context for desired behaviors. For instance, through milestone-based information that is readily available to support cross-functional collaboration on critical strategic initiatives.
However, Change in Governance starts at the top. Successful implementation of initiatives requires that the PMO be given the time, resources, and attention of senior leadership in order to add value. It is critical that the C-suite and the extended leadership team are aligned on what each strategic initiative is intended to deliver and how this will be achieved.
Leadership must feel accountable for and have a sense of ownership of the change connected to realizing the vision and strategy of the company. Must “speak with one voice,” visibly demonstrating this commitment to the rest of the organization.
The next question that arises is how to implement the organizational change narrative explained above? The implementation of strategic initiatives demands loads of commitment from key stakeholders, and much can go wrong during the journey.
Accordingly, PMOs need to foster transparency about problems as they come up, providing senior leaders with the means to make course corrections in time to ensure that the overall initiative achieves its target impact.
Communication is another critical factor that builds organizational support for successful implementation. Rather than the communication between a PMO and the senior executive team. In this context, we are referring to the way that major strategic initiatives are introduced and discussed throughout the organization generally.
The best communication for any important strategic program starts with leaders articulating the case for change. Why it is needed, and how the organization and employees will benefit from each new initiative. Executives and the PMO must also explain each initiative clearly — how it will work, who’s driving it, its alignment with the organization’s strategy, the intended outcomes, and how it affects the stakeholders overall.
Together, these four vital steps provide C-Suite executives and the extended leadership team with the confidence and forward-looking course corrective ability necessary for the organization to execute effectively and develop the skills and confidence to take on even more ambitious change.
The companies that can develop these capabilities and advance their project management to a more strategic orientation will significantly improve their ability to implement strategic initiatives, potentially establishing a basis for real competitive advantage.