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Strategic Project Planning
Similar to a ship with out a sail, a project without a clearly articulated strategic plan is destined to drift aimlessly. Here are a few things to think about when planning your next project.
All too often there comes a point in a project that we begin to wonder, “Where are we going?” Regardless of size of the project there seems to be a tendency to reach a point of uncertainty in the overall direction of the project. The disconnect permeates throughout the project team and wrecks havoc on the ability to achieve positive results. Similar to a ship with out a sail, a project without a clearly articulated strategic plan is destined to drift aimlessly. Here are a few things to think about when planning your next project, think of it as a road map to identify the Strategic Project Plan.
Mission Statement: Similar to a business plan, the strategic project plan stands to benefit from clearly identifying a Mission Statement. As a stand-alone item, Mission Statements may seem lofty and lacking in sufficient level of granularity but they can come in handy when you feel the project drift into uncharted territory. A Project Mission Statement, like the center-mast of a ship, is critical in ensuring that your project stays the course. Without it you might as well pack it in and wait for the rescue boat. And if you’ve ever seen a rescue boat, they’re not very elegant means of transportation.
This is not to say that a Mission Statement, in traditional terms, is absolutely required. GE for instance, uses an operating philosophy and clear objectives built on 4 strategic principals. The critical component is that their strategic principals are clear, simple yet meaningful. It’s the same with a project Mission Statement, there needs to be some overarching purpose that can be used to support the entire project.
GE’s 4 Strategic Principals
- Build leadership businesses
- Focus on reliable execution and financial discipline
- Drive growth as a process
- Spread ideas across great people and teams that share common values
Here are a couple corporate Mission Statements;
- “We help people trade practically anything on earth.” eBay
- “To inspire and nurture the human spirit— one person, one cup, and one neighborhood at a time.” Starbucks
- “The Chicago Bulls organization is a sports entertainment company dedicated to winning NBA Championships, growing new basketball fans, and providing superior entertainment, value and service.” Chicago Bulls
Likewise, a Project Mission Statement should be clear, simple and direct. Notice the statements above are quite flexible, so much so that they support a lot of different initiatives. It’s the same with a Project Mission Statement; it needs to have the strength to withhold the weight of our objectives, goals and action plan, as well as the uncertainty that surrounds even the strongest plans.
Here’s a Project Mission Statement we can use that sticks with our our sailing theme;
“To travel the world in a sailboat.”
Project Objectives: Objectives are oftentimes misinterpreted as Goals, however like a Mission Statement, they tend to be somewhat fluffy. Nonetheless, they go one step further by acting as the glue that will hold together our project strategy. Here are a few Objectives I cooked up based on our mission to travel the world in a sailboat;
- Ensure our passengers and crew are safe at all times
- Improve our marine navigation skills
- Have fun
- Write a book about ‘island hopping’
Although they’re rather broad, the objectives contain an element of specificity that enables us to connect our Project Mission Statement with our Project Goals.
Project Goals: Goals are oftentimes where strategic project planning gets messy, partly because defining them can be challenging but more often than not, it’s because we skip the mission/objectives phase and dive straight into what we need and when we want it without really appreciating our mission. One thing I’ve found that works well is setting goals on a large, medium and small scale. This varies somewhat from the typical long-term and short-term approach because I find that saying long-term/short-term prematurely forces a discussion around time lines. Not that I’m trying to avoid commitment but it’s been my experience that associating time frames in the Action Plan promotes focus on “what” and not “when”.
Lets start defining our Project Goals by first breaking out the objectives so that we can focus on one at a time. The important point here is to ensure that we associate each goal with an objective, so lets consider what goals we can define to achieve our objective ‘to have fun. One way to determine a few goals would be as simple as asking “What do we consider ‘fun’?” One fun-related goal might be to visit the British Virgin Islands, another might be to see the northern lights and a third to study marine life in the Galapagos Islands. The list could go on but you get the idea. Goals need to be concrete and feed directly into our objective - to have fun.
Action Plan: For me, the Action Plan is the best part of every strategy session because it’s where we leverage all the work up until now and actually start detailing how we’re going to attain the mission. Of course, for our mission of traveling the world in a sailboat there are a plethora of tasks that need to be defined. Again, for discussion purposes, lets focus on a single goal, similar to how we defined our goals. Lets look at our goal of visiting the British Virgin Islands;
- Evaluate the top 5 marine navigation systems
- Interview sailors that have sailed to BVI
- Chart a course from our current location to BVI
After drafting a number of action items, lets begin quickly prioritize them using 1, 2, 3, 5 and 8, where 1 is the least important. At this point we simply need to generally identify how much they mean to us.
- 1 - Evaluate the top 5 marine navigation systems
- 8 - Interview sailors that have sailed to BVI
- 3 - Chart a course from our current location to BVI
The strategic project plan gives us a good starting point for a more detailed planning and execution. Depending on the size and scope of the project it’s possible that we need a couple iterations of the plan in order to move into executing the strategy. We’ve covered alot of ground already, so lets save the next phase for another day. Developing a strategic plan is oftentimes the single most critical element of any project. Similar to a ship without a sail, a project without a strategic plan is bound to forever drift. Taking the time to create a Strategic Project Plan with your team and ensuring that it’s a collaborative effort will serve you well on those days when you’re wonder whether you’re on track.
Learn more about the author, Shawn Cheatham.
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