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John P. Reiling: Three Approaches to Strategic Project Management

Strategy and project management are tied together quite closely – or should be! Here’s a look at three practical and useful approaches to help you link strategy to project management to produce results. Why Strategy and Project Management?



Three Approaches

1. Von Clausewitz  Carl von Clausewitz was a Prussian General back in the early 1800’s. He is most famous for writing the book “On War”, in which he includes extensive sections about military strategy. These sections on strategy generalize some key concepts on strategy that are still relevant to understanding strategy today.Von Clausewitz initially defines strategy as something that ties together all disparate actions – projects, initiatives, alliances – into a cohesive, purpose-driven whole. Think of all the disparate projects, departments, subsidiaries, etc. in your organization. How are they tied together around a common and shared goal or purpose? Then he brings this down to earth and talks from an implementation-focused perspective, where he acknowledges that some things cannot be planned in advance, some things will inevitably go wrong, and adjustments will be needed “in the field”.This is where I think strategy and project management begin to intersect. Project managers need to be aware of the strategy – why to project exists, and how it fits into the purpose and objectives of the organization. The project manager and project team become the “boots on the ground” who need to understand the strategic context and use that knowledge to make the course corrections along the way.Lastly, von Clausewitz warns that it is ineffective to solely develop and implement strategy at high levels within the organization – bolstering the idea that project and program managers have an important role in strategy!

2. Five forcesThis perspective on strategy derives from the five forces of competitive strategy developed by Michael Porter of Harvard University. This framework is very practical and useful for identifying industry gaps that could be opportunities for your organization – and spawn profitable projects and programs with a clear purpose. I won’t spend much time here, as I have already outlined what the five forces are about in my previous post “Put on Your Strategic Thinking Cap”. Take a look there!

3. Balanced Scorecard  The Balanced Scorecard concept was developed at Harvard Business School back in the 1990’s by Robert S. Kaplan and David P. Norton. In short, the Balanced Scorecard is a great common sense way to link organizational strategy to implementation levels through key measures. Implementation levels can include business units, departments – and projects and programs. And a key aspect of balanced scorecards is that metrics are not just financial but also include three additional perspectives – hence the name “balanced” scorecard.The “balance” derives from considering four measurement categories that can indicate whether you are on track to achieving your strategic goals.

  1. Financial – What financial goals and constraints does your project have, and how do they map to the overall organizational strategy?
  2. Customer – Who is your project or program’s customer, and how does that fit with the overall organization’s customers? How could you measure success with how your project approaches customers?
  3. Internal Business Process – Does your project or program alter a process in some meaningful and strategic way? If so, how can you measure your progress toward that end?
  4. Learning and Growth – How does your project effect your organization’s learning and growth, embedded in people? Do people need to develop in some way to map back to strategy and to make the project a success, and how can you measure this?

These four perspectives provide a more holistic view of success for the company. While initiatives in any of these four areas should eventually show up in the financial results, they are unlikely to show up in quarterly or monthly results, and there are measures other than financial that can best show progress. The Balanced Scorecard accommodates these other measures that fill the gap between financial results and strategic results.


Understanding strategy and how it links to, and can be extremely useful for, your projects is critical to your success as a project or program manager! Strategic thinking has many flavors, and an early treatise on military strategy by Carl von Clausewitz outlined the role strategy has in unifying all initiatives to act as a whole toward a common objective. Michael Porter developed the five forces analysis framework for strategic thinking which is useful for thinking about industry structure to help identify opportunities for projects and programs that will enhance your company’s strategic position. The Balanced Scorecard, developed by Robert Kaplan and David Norton, bridges the gap between high level strategy, implementation, and the incorporation of critical metrics beyond just financial.

John Reiling, PMP, PM Training Online


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