Strategic Project Management Made Simple–Beyond PMBOK©


This is a series of notes on Terry Schmidt’s book Strategic Project Management Made Simple, which adds the Logical Framework Approach to traditional project management in order to facilitate strategic planning.    The first chapter of his book is Thinking Outside The Bar Chart, and introduces the reasons why strategic planning is important.

1.  Beyond PMBOK©

The main reason why Terry Schmidt wrote his book is that the Project Management Body of Knowledge or PMBOK©, is necessary for project management but it is not sufficient for you to do projects well.    You need to think strategically, which means to allow the objectives of your project with the strategic goal of the organization.

If the objectives of your project do not align with the strategic goals of the organization, or they get out of alignment of that goal in the course of the  project, then the sponsor may decide to terminate it.     PMBOK© does mention the fact that the statement of work, the “seed” of the idea of the project, if you will, needs to reference the business case, which is the strategic business goal of the organization.    However, the planning process as taught by PMBOK© does not ensure that those strategic business goals will be met in the course of completing the objectives of the project.

The Logical Framework Approach, however, does ensure that those strategic business goals are met, because they are considered as an integral part of the planning process right from the beginning.

2.  Complex projects–some common dynamics

In the course of his long career in project management, Terry Schmidt has consulted on a lot of complex projects.  Although the application area that these projects were involved in varied, the dynamics of these projects has many factors in common.   I have taken his list of complex project dynamics and expanded with a column that shows the project management areas that are involved, based on a description of each dynamic.

Dynamic Explanation Project Management Area Affected
1. Complex Can’t always see a clear solution path at the start Integration
2. Hard to measure Can’t easily track progress Scope/Quality
3. Time pressure You need to move fast Time
4. Consequential Success brings benefits; failure brings pain Cost
5. Hard to measure Can’t easily track progress Quality
6. Ad hoc team May require new players coming together as a team HR/Communications
7. Risky You can’t control all the variables that the solution requires. Risk
8 High stakes Important to the organization Stakeholder
9. Multiple stakeholders Involves and impacts many parties Stakeholders/

Procurements

10. Visible People who count are watching and keeping score Stakeholders

You can see from this chart that ALL project management areas are represented in the list of dynamics of complex projects.   Some dynamics cover more than one area, but the one area that is represented by multiple dynamics on this list is the area of Stakeholder Management.     It is managing the “ecology of people” surrounding the project, both within the organization and outside of it, in order to reduce the risk of their influencing the project in a negative way.    Although Stakeholder Management is considered an outgrowth of the Communications Management project management area, it has many common elements with the area of Risk Management.   This is because Risk Management deals with events which can positively or negatively impact the project, whereas Stakeholder Management deals with people who can positively or negatively impact the project.

3.  Start Smart

There’s a common expression “well, it’s not rocket science”, implying that it’s not an especially complex point.   There’s a reason why “rocket science”, or what NASA is involved in, got into the vernacular as being the end all and be all of complex projects, and that’s because they the Apollo Moon project was the most complicated engineering project of its time.    A lot of project management principles that are practiced today have their origin in the American space program, and one of the most valuable planning principles is NASA Rule #15:

A review of most failed project problems indicates that the disasters were well-planned to happen from the start.  The seeds of problems are laid down early.  Initial planning is the most vital part of a project.

Dr. Donald S. Remer, President of the Claremont Consulting Group and the Oliver C. Field Professor of Engineering Economics at Harvey Mudd College put NASA Rule #15 into economic terms in what he calls Remer’s Rule of 10:

It costs approximately 10 times more to fix a problem at each later stage of the project. 

A problem that costs $10,000 to fix in the planning stage will cost $100,000 to fix at the design stage, and $1,000,000 to fix during the construction stage.

The lesson that NASA Rule #15 and Remer’s Rule of 10 point to is clear:

INVEST SUFFICIENT PLANNING TIME AND EFFORT EARLY BECAUSE THE COSTS SAVINGS ARE HUGE

4.  SPOTS syndrome

It may seem ironic, but Terry Schmidt, who is writing a book on strategic planning, is also a big critic of strategic planning–as it is typically practiced.    

Here are the problems he sees with typically produced strategic plans.

  • Produced as a ritualistic exercise
  • Vague
  • Full of jargon
  • Lack the right “hooks” to be actionable

Such plans gather dust on a shelf, and thus suffer the “Strategic Plan on Top Shelf” or SPOTS syndrome.    Terry Schmidt’s mission with his book is to take strategic plans and make them living, breathing documents that help combine the best ideas of Strategic Planning and Project Management.

But before going into details of Strategic Planning, Terry Schmidt wants to go through six dangerous mistakes made during the planning process.    That will be the subject of the next post.

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