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Five Ways to Apply Strategic Planning to Project Management

written by: Joe Taylor Jr. • edited by: Michele McDonough • updated: 7/6/2011

For the past few decades, many influential companies have adopted strategic planning to help them chart paths to long term success. Learn how to turn their best practices into powerful project management philosophies.

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    For the past few decades, many influential companies have adopted strategic planning to help them chart paths to long-term success. Strategic planners account for the effects of the global marketplace on their companies and initiatives, emphasizing the need to evaluate the broader impact of decisions. However, strategic planning doesn’t always have to be reserved for “big picture" projects. A growing number of successful leaders now use strategic planning for project management, scaling down the principles of a holistic management style to fit day-to-day activities. Business experts suggest five ways that project managers can apply strategic planning to their daily work:

    1. Leverage the strengths of your entire team. When utilizing strategic planning for project management purposes, strong leaders understand how to get team members involved at levels beyond their job descriptions. By building skills assessments and professional development opportunities into a project strategy, successful managers can grow in-house talent capable of completing projects more efficiently over the long term.
    2. Schedule time to reassess and adjust your strategy. In numerous surveys of project managers, respondents noted that most unsuccessful projects collapsed because of rigid plans. By understanding that projects evolve over time, successful leaders can leverage strategic planning for project management. Making routine adjustments after planned assessments helps team members feel a stronger sense of direction, especially if projects require radical changes.
    3. Make personal ownership part of the strategy. While it’s easy to view project management from the sterile perspective of task lists and Gantt charts, most successful leaders understand how to leverage the emotional buy-in from team members. When using strategic planning for project management, experts advise scheduling time for icebreakers, team bonding, and other social activities to reinforce the personal and professional connections to a project’s success.
    4. Drill down from strategy to tactics. According to successful project managers, very few plans “take care of themselves." Yet, in many organizations, leaders expect team members to figure out the tactical details necessary to achieve project milestones. When using strategic planning for project management, leaders can work with team members to get specific about the execution of project segments. This way, team members can make adjustments sooner for elements that don’t follow the initial plan.
    5. Make strategy adjustments on the fly. Even with planned assessments and a spirit of flexibility, some projects still require emergency adjustments. For instance, a project may have to reach market sooner because of competition. Likewise, the loss of a key team member due to illness or career change may force teams into emergency planning mode. Regardless of the external factor motivating a new plan, teams should be ready to quickly shift back into strategic planning for project management success.