This series of papers has been developed from our work in upgrading TenStep's PortfolioStep™. For more information on TenStep's internal consulting methodology, please visit http://

Published here November, 2007.

PART 2 | Projects, Programs, Portfolios, "Other Work"
Establishing the Management Environment | The Organization's Strategic Plan
The Role of the Project Management Office
The Role of the Project Portfolio Steering Committee | PART 4

The Organization's Strategic Plan

Organizations frequently invest in change, almost for the sake of change. That's because others are doing it, it is perceived as "best practice" and, so the argument goes, is bound to bring improved capability and performance. Or even perhaps because management subconsciously feels that it will be seen to be "doing something" and thereby justify its existence. However, much research suggests that such approaches produce poor success rates and poor returns.

As we have said earlier, the need is for focus, but you also have to start in the right place. Just as with project management, you don't "do a project" simply because it seems like a good idea, you do it for the sole purpose of creating a deliverable, that is, a product or service. You then work backwards to establish what you have to do, in what order and when, in order to "evolve" the project.

In a very similar way, a whole organization needs to understand what it is about, where it is today, where it wants to be tomorrow and beyond, and what benefits that will produce to keep it afloat. In short, it needs a clearly defined set of end goals resulting from a vision, mission and set of objectives, and a properly planned route to get there. Of course, this is standard management stuff, and most organizations have some kind of stated vision or end goal.

Unfortunately, this goal is often:

  • Poorly defined
  • Not adequately communicated, understood, shared and owned
  • Vague, unrealistic, or without the means for achievement
  • Requiring some leap of faith and perhaps miraculous intervention
  • Expressed in terms of establishing capability rather than in attaining benefit value

If you are faced with this problem, the subject must be approached delicately. It is not generally well received if you start by telling senior management what they should be doing. However, it is quite feasible to research the organization's records, gather whatever information is available and hold a brainstorming session amongst your group and invite them to "translate" that information into a realizable and valuable end state. You can then take that to senior management and ask: "This is what we understand, is it where we should be headed?" The results may even be surprising.

Having validated an end state, it should be possible in a similar way to establish a set of associated benefits and their necessary enablers. The enablers are the products of projects, often a set of projects, a program and ultimately a portfolio of work. When fully assembled and prioritized, this becomes the strategic plan.

Note again that we have worked backwards. We have not started with a strategic plan and tried to figure out all the projects that we can think of to fulfill the strategic plan. Those that do take this approach should not be surprised that they quickly find themselves overwhelmed and overloaded.

As an example, you may have decided that your end goal is increased market share. One enabler of increased market share could be improved image. Improved image could be enabled by improved service. Improved service could result from fewer complaints. Fewer complaints would flow from fewer errors. Fewer errors would result from substituting a simpler process, or fewer steps in an existing process, or more automation, or some of all three. These four options represent the most immediate projects and the portfolio management issue is to decide which project or projects will produce the most effect - i.e. the most benefit.

This example is obviously a very simple case but it serves to illustrate the approach. In more complex cases, you will find it useful to plot the situation graphically. Such graphical illustrations are called benefit maps and benefit maps provide very clear depictions of the strategic plan.

Establishing the Management Environment  Establishing the Management Environment

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