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TitleWhat Project Strategy Really Is
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4 February 2012 � Project Management Journal � DOI: 10.1002/pmj

INTRODUCTION �

W
ith accelerated competition, increased economic pressures, and
rapid technological change, researchers and practitioners are
continuously searching for better ways to manage projects. Yet,
both communities are gradually realizing that many projects are

still managed in an ineffective way, thus leading to significant losses in pro-
ductivity, profitability, and employee morale (Davies & Hobday, 2005;
Williams, 2005). It seems that the traditional emphasis on meeting time,
budget, and project performance (or scope) goals is no longer sufficient to
guarantee the achievement of organizational objectives (Shenhar & Dvir,
2007). A new approach is thus emerging, collectively called “strategic project
management” (Cleland, 1998; Davies & Hobday, 2005; Jugdev, 2003; Shenhar,
2004). The strategic project management approach is based on the realiza-
tion that projects are, most of the time, initiated to achieve business results
(Pennypacker & Dye, 2002) and that project management implementation
should be better aligned with the higher-level enterprise strategy. What that
implies is that organizations, project teams, project managers, and execu-
tives must better learn how to focus project execution on achieving the busi-
ness results of the mother organization—more profits, additional growth,
and improved market position, to name a few (Cleland, 1998; Shenhar,
2004). Ironically, however, the traditional approach is still widely ingrained,
and is still accepted as the common way of running a project: When project
managers and project teams are engaged in day-to-day project execution,
they typically are not focused on the business aspects. Their focus and atten-
tion, rather, is operational, and their mind-set is on “getting the job done.”
While this mind-set does contribute to project teams doing their work effi-
ciently, left alone, it may lead to disappointing business results and even
failure—when the job was not done effectively.

We support the view that a new mind-set and approach must be built on
top of the traditional project management concept. Strategic project man-
agement will not discard the traditional mind-set; instead, it will expand it.
Meeting operational goals and efficiency has always been and will continue
to be important for project success (Shenhar, Levy, & Dvir, 1997). But in the
modern organization, project teams should and could be asked to do more.
They should learn how to better understand the needs of the higher enter-
prise and then plan and execute their projects, not just for meeting time and
budget goals, but also for creating customer satisfaction and, above all,
achieving business results.

Although sometimes challenged by traditional thinkers, these changes
are perhaps inevitable and unstoppable. However, they are not trivial, for at
least three reasons. First, as mentioned, such thinking represents an

What Project Strategy Really Is:
The Fundamental Building Block in
Strategic Project Management
Peerasit Patanakul, Stevens Institute of Technology, Hoboken, NJ, USA
Aaron J. Shenhar, Rutgers University, School of Business, Newark, NJ, USA

ABSTRACT �

Strategic project management is gradually becoming

a popular and growing trend within the discipline of

project management. The general idea is that project

management teams must learn how to deal with the

business aspects of their projects, as well as better

support their company’s business strategy and sus-

tainability, rather than just focus on meeting tradi-

tional time, budget, and performance goals. Although

this approach has been gaining popularity, strategic

project management has not yet become an explicit

and widely used approach in the practice of project

implementation. One of the concepts mentioned as

an important element is project strategy; however,

no universal framework or even a clear definition of

what project strategy is has so far emerged. The goal

of this article is to fill in this gap and provide a useful

definition and a framework for the further study and

implementation of the project strategy concept.

Specifically, to achieve this goal, we first look at the

origins of strategy in military and business research

to discuss the question of what, exactly, project

strategy is; we follow this discussion with an explicit

definition of a project strategy. We then outline a

framework for building a dedicated project strategy

document for an individual project, and show how

this framework can guide the project planning and

execution processes. Using a case study approach,

which included an action research phase, we demon-

strate how project teams can adopt the strategy con-

cept in a natural way that would lead their project to

better business results.

KEYWORDS: project strategy; strategic
project management; competitive advantage;
project success

Project Management Journal, Vol. 43, No. 1, 4–20

© 2011 by the Project Management Institute

Published online in Wiley Online Library

(wileyonlinelibrary.com). DOI: 10.1002/pmj.20282

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