Published here November 2010

Introduction | Book Structure
What We Liked | Downside | Summary

What We Liked

We really liked the way the book covers its subject territory from end to end in a systematic progression. As noted on the previous page, the book's sequence follows a corporate business life cycle that must be tackled on a regular basis at the highest executive level. This cycle essentially breaks down into five successive elements, namely:

  • Corporate planning
  • Portfolio management
  • Program management
  • Project management, and
  • Benefits realization

It is interesting to compare this sequence of phases to a very similar project portfolio management life cycle that we posited in 2008,[5] and shown here as Figure 3.

Figure 3: Enterprise Project Portfolio Management System Life Cycle
Figure 3: Enterprise Project Portfolio Management System Life Cycle

Each of the author's elements, which show up as gated stages in Figure 3, is described in detail in the book. However, in the first phase, the author goes one step earlier to establish or validate the organization's vision and mission. Thus the book targets an even higher level in the organization and indeed the sequence might piggy back on, or even substitute for, the classic annual corporate business planning cycle.[6] Nevertheless, the principles displayed are essentially the same.

While on the subject of "vision", vision, especially corporate vision, is not a term that appears very often in the definitive world of project management literature. It is not discussed, for example, in the Project Management Institute's Guide to the Project Management Body of Knowledge.[7] Yet perhaps it should, since it is the driver for projects and has a significant impact on project risk management.

As the author explains:[8]

"A vision is a high-level statement of ambition."


"Visions are developed to either preempt or respond to different factors that are capable of forcing business to change. These change influences fall into three broad categories:
Trends or Certainties Influences that are sure to happen; when they do, they will change the environment in which the business operates.
Risks or Uncertainties Influences that might happen; if they do, they will significantly change the business environment.
Expectations and Constants Values stakeholders continue to expect the business to provide, no matter what happens to the business environment."

We also appreciated the rigorous consistency in the way the book's content is displayed in a "How to do it" mode. As author Lawrence explains:[10]

"Each chapter is organized into five sections:
Context A discussion of the chapter's overall goals, the thinking behind the chapter, and its contribution to the overall cycle.
Why Do It? An explanation of the value offered by the chapter's outcomes.
What to Do Detailed descriptions of outcomes, tools, and deliverables.
How to Do It    A description of adaptable step-by-step processes and tricks of the trade that can be used to achieve desired outcomes. Useful templates, sample meeting agendas, and typical responsibility assignments are also provided.
Summary A single paragraph that summarizes the role the chapter plays in the overall Strategic DNA lifecycle."

That in itself is a valuable template for authors of project management "How to" books.

Lawrence's book is well illustrated with charts, diagrams, templates and bulleted lists to support his advice. One example on the subject of project control we found of particular interest. As he says:[11]

"The degree of control must be balanced to optimize the likelihood and degree of success without burdening project teams with unnecessary administrivia. ... Deciding where to position the implementation structure on this spectrum determines the desired level of empowerment and control, which directly affects administrative costs."

We can almost hear the "Agile Software" brigade shouting "Hallelujah"! More importantly, the spectrum of control and the consequence of too much or too little are well illustrated in this chart, see Figure 4. If the curves on the chart were truly representative, then the position of "Optimum Performance" would suggest more control rather than less. Admittedly, this is in the environment of "Implementation" and hence is where it should be.[12]

Figure 4: The spectrum of management control
Figure 4: The spectrum of management control[13]

The book's chapters on program and project management tread the well-trodden path of project management execution, albeit lightly, suited to the book's intended audience of leaders of organizations. Nevertheless, these chapters contain valuable insights. For example, in a section titled, "Manage Organizational Change Proactively" the author states:[14]

"By definition, strategy is about change. Many strategic portfolios result in a great deal of change for people working in and with the organization. If not properly engaged, those people can develop open and hidden resistance to change. This resistance will frustrate the projects (and the people tasked with them) until they fail."

How true! Time and again we see this as a source of project failure in the real world.

We enjoyed reading the chapters on Results Realization Measurement, Learning and Feedback. As Lawrence suggests, monitoring the progress of work realization towards production of deliverables of the strategic projects only measures the results for individual projects. However, these metrics do not reveal whether the strategic objectives are actually being achieved. Therefore, it is also necessary to monitor the strategic performance metrics to find out if the assumptions behind the original strategies are being confirmed.[15]

It is just surprising how many companies engage in elaborate corporate visioning and planning, yet fail to analyze operational performance in a meaningful way in order to improve their corporate planning processes. Indeed, Lawrence observes:[16]

"Many organizations consider their strategic plans to be major undertakings that, once approved, become mandatory and unquestionable texts of almost biblical proportions. This can be dangerous. When results fail to live up to expectations, such plans prove impossible to change."

Lawrence might also have added that such plans, like the bible, often sit on the shelf rarely reread but nevertheless providing a general feeling of comfort and warmth simply to know that they exist.

Lawrence provides this useful reflection on "success", given the source of possible strategic flaws, see Figure 5.

Figure 5: Common strategic flaws
Figure 5: Common strategic flaws

Finally, we found the following two charts most useful as scales of responses for various priority levels and types of options for variances in performance outcomes, see Figures 6 and 7.

Figure 6: Prioritizing responses to fix variances
Figure 6: Prioritizing responses to fix variances
Figure 7: Types of responses to fix variances
Figure 7: Types of responses to fix variances
Book Structure  Book Structure

5. Developed for a business presentation in 2008 and first published in 2009, see
6. Note: The author advocates against this by observing that "The continuous improvement aspect of the Strategic DNA lifecycle should not replace these annual reviews", page 268
7. Guide to the Project Management Body of Knowledge, Project Management Institute, 2008
8. Hobbs, p3
9. Ibid, p2
10. Ibid, p xix
11. Ibid, p124
12. Author's comment: "In fact the curves in the diagram were never meant to be reliable. They were merely to illustrate the concept. In practice their position is highly dependent on the specific organization's situation and culture. I certainly don't suggest the curves are based on extensive research. In fact, I don't necessarily favour 'more' or 'less' control, I just think it should be 'appropriate' for the organization's culture and environment.
13. Ibid, p125
14. Ibid, pp149-150
15. Ibid, p225
16. Ibid, p247
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