Project management – can you be agile and strategic?

Project management – can you be agile and strategic?

Can you be both agile and strategic in project management? Based on our recent research, The Future Project Manager, AXELOS invited consultant trainers Duncan Wade and David Hinde to explore the debate in this first part of a two-part blog post series:

Project managers need to have a more strategic focus and be prepared for increasing adoption of agile methods.

These were the key findings in AXELOS’ recent research, The Future Project Manager, which explores the sector’s emerging trends and what they mean for practitioners’ skills development.

Embracing contradictory concepts

David HindeBut how can project managers actually embrace what seem to be contradictory concepts?

David Hinde - director at Orgtopia who has worked in project and programme management for 20 years - said: “It does sound contradictory but strategy and agile are not polar opposites. Organizations can have a broad direction but are also thinking about their values and purpose. Apple under Steve Jobs was about ‘creating a dent in the universe’, which involved strategic goals but needed agile to create disruptive products like the iPhone and iPad.”

Duncan Wade – Director of Human Interface Consultancy and lead trainer in PRINCE2® and PRINCE2 Agile® - said: “Project managers have two faces: one is hoping to see and have influence on an organization’s strategy while the other is looking at delivery. It’s healthy if they are creating strategy that also gets implemented.”

Is strategy within the project management remit?

With project managers’ principal focus on “getting stuff done”, it leaves little time for strategic input, which coincidentally isn’t always welcomed by managers responsible for strategy.

David highlighted the regular disconnect when project managers are not involved in devising strategy: “While PRINCE2 makes the point early on in the business case about aligning a project with organizational strategy, if project managers are not involved in those steps there is a disconnect between the feasibility of the project and the products created.”

Duncan WadeDuncan pointed out the number of roles involved and layers of an organization that have to collaborate and communicate: “With PRINCE2, the project board is supposed to interface with the wider organization and ensure projects are delivering against the aims while communicating with senior management; this is theory, the challenge is in practice!”

Describing the “daisy chain” links across an organization needed to join up the views of senior management and project delivery, Duncan added: “Some organizations communicate well along the chain but others, without a clear strategy, leave project delivery to do only the best it can.”

Strategic exposure for project managers

David suggested: “If you want to get a better understanding, learn some models such as SWOT, or Porter’s Five Forces Analysis. You need greater connections with senior managers, for example through a working group to create links across the organization’s hierarchy.”

Duncan supported the idea of senior management engaging with project managers through coaching and mentoring: “Business needs to invest in communications paths across the organization and put together practices so groups talk to each other and share what matters.”

He also sees good reason for project and programme managers to develop greater recognition of each other’s traditional areas of responsibility: “The research shows us that [project and programme managers] have to be interested in both outputs and outcomes. Outputs that are not fit for purpose aren’t useful and we should address and recognize the need for products to deliver the outcomes specified in the first place.”

Read part 2 of this two-part blog post series, Project management – what is agile and is it strategic?.

For project management practitioners wanting to advance their careers, AXELOS Membership supports people who are thinking about or already have PRINCE2 certification. It helps develop skills through online resources, tool kits, plus content to support studies and help you pass exams and meet your CPD requirements. Membership allows you to record your CPD and earn a digital badge.

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