A strategy is all about planning. I’m sure you’ve heard all the buzzwords about cycle plan, multi-year strategy, strategic roadmap, and corporate strategy. Amazon has over 70,000 books on strategic planning. I haven’t had the chance to read all of them but the majority of strategic planning books include a mix of the following:
- Mission review
- Goal planning
- Internal and external factors
- SWOT analysis
- Long-range plans
- Short-range action plans
This may sound like an excerpt from an MBA capstone course but a simpler view of strategic planning can be applied by answering a few key questions.
- Where do you want to be?
- Where are you now?
- How will you get there?
- How do you know when you arrived?
These questions appear easy to answer at first, but there’s often a lot of data that needs to be collected to help you ready-aim-fire. Project management software tools are associated with managing the project schedule but effective PM tools can help drive a strategic plan forward.
1. Help teams think visually.
Despite our reliance on corporate jargon and jumbled acronyms, people still think better using simple pictures and diagrams. Gantt charts, visual timelines, process flows, Kanban boards and mind maps all provide visual representations of strategic visions, roadmaps, and ideas.
The mind map below provides a visual framework to develop and refine a strategic plan. If a strategic objective or supporting project needs to be removed, the team can remove the idea from the node. Project management software does more than schedule projects. Project management tools help teams communicate and visualize their goals and plans.
2. Helps organize ideas, opportunities, and actual projects
As strategies are defined, ideas get generated, then qualified as opportunities and eventually funded as actual projects. PM software helps capture these ideas, evaluate the opportunities and prioritize selected projects. Each opportunity can be evaluated and scored based on risk, cost, benefits, and probability of success within the organization. Much like a financial portfolio, organizations can choose a portfolio of projects that balance risk with reward.
3. Helps develop and track product roadmap
In product-centric organizations, every product has a product owner and a strategic plan to meet the needs of the market and existing customers. Ideas are gathered from existing customers and integrated with the overall product roadmap. All of these feature requests are maintained in a product backlog and prioritized for future releases.
By using the Kanban board or a tool like Liquid Planner’s Card View, a product roadmap can be tracked across releases and refined across iterations. A glance at the Card View provides insight into requirements that are on hold, in design, prototyping, etc.
4. Helps manage short-range action plans
Every strategic plan relies on short-term operational projects to achieve its objective. Each of these projects requires tracking across the team, department and corporate portfolio. Gantt charts provide one view of time-phased data, but PMOs and executive teams typically need additional metrics to monitor the health of the portfolio. By building dashboards, PM software provides meaningful metrics that allow teams to drill into the project data. By providing visibility into the portfolio, organizations can manage their short-term plans better while aligning with the strategic plan.
Here’s an example of a LiquidPlanner dashboard surfacing specific data and project information.
5. Supports what-if analysis and modeling
What’s the impact on projects in the portfolio if you decide to defer a project start date? What if the CIO wants to pull a project ahead? These decisions are answered by modeling schedules and resource commitments in your scheduling software. If there’s a change in the strategic plan the results in accelerating or delaying a short-range project, PM software helps identify delays, constraints and other impacts.
As more projects are delivered across a shared resource pool instead of being capitalized by dedicated teams, the need for what-if analysis and resource modeling increases.
6. Validates plans with organizational constraints
A strategic plan can not achieve results without actionable and realistic plans. As much as organizations want to hold scope, time and cost fixed, the reality is that the project triangle adjusts as time passes. Project management software will help validate assumptions and confirm the plans are actionable and realistic.
If you’ve overseen and managed a project, you probably know the analogy that nine women can’t have a baby in one month. Every organization has its constraints and a solid project management platform helps model what is realistic given resource constraints and a team’s existing workload.
PM software is more than a fancy project schedule or a website that lets you share documents. The right PM software provides organizations with insight and meaningful information to initiate strategic projects, monitor execution and make better decisions. If you’re not using a project management software solution to support strategic planning, you risk losing out to your competition.