July 26, 2017

Strategy helps you finish further up the field

I recently had the pleasure of cheering on a young member of my family at a school sports day/field day. Children competed across a wide range of disciplines from hurdles and javelin to swimming and running, with different events complementing different talents. I was always a long distance running enthusiast because there are so many more variables than in a straight sprint: to come out on top you have to size up the competition, track conditions and race length before getting yourself in position to strike at just the right moment.

This strategic approach should provide inspiration for life away from the sports field too, and is one I like to apply to the world of project portfolio management. Without having an end-to-end plan in place, your projects could end up out of sync for many reasons, such as burnout or unforeseen delays.

Failing to take a strategic approach to projects can prove damaging in the long run. Doing your research is important: it could be something as simple as checking in with progress of neighbouring departments, which would have stopped the UK Ministry of Justice from spending £56million on a back-office IT scheme designed to achieve something the Cabinet Office had already built.

Outlining how all parties involved in the project will work together is also important: when the UK Government’s delayed Universal Credit scheme was being put together, coding got underway using the Agile programming methodology. This approach delivers working, tested, deployable software on an incremental basis, but the problem was that the departments involved were not capable of working in this manner. It can often prove costly to regroup with the clock ticking and the meter running.

Longer-sighted thinking and thorough preparation are needed to avoid making similar mistakes. Here are three key top-level strategic areas to focus on that can make a difference:

  • Understanding business requirements. Have a shopping list in your pocket before leaving home: know exactly what you want to get out of the project. Not only will this make a direct hit with the target more realistic, it will also make it easier to identify opportunities to achieve better results by taking a different course, or even finishing in a different place than you anticipated.
  • Communication within the project team. This is fundamental: the foundations must be laid for effective communication to take place between team members throughout the duration of the project. If the lines of communication are not open, or a team member feels uncomfortable using them, the ship will never be steered away from any approaching icebergs.
  • Appreciation of available resources. How can you budget effectively if you are not aware of available funds, personnel or space? Possible delays could hold up other projects, or even worse, take budgeted resources away from them.


Taking these three strategic areas into consideration will go a long way to ensuring a successful project outcome. But these are just some of the strategic areas you should focus on, are there any others that particularly resonate in other regions?