Project Management *is* Strategic Execution

word cloud - strategic planning

The theme for this month’s Harvard Business Review is Strategy or, more specifically, strategic execution.  In support of this month’s theme, Donald Sull, Rebecca Homkes and Charles Sull co-wrote an exceptionally good article, “Why Strategic Execution Unravels and What to do About it?,” that made me stop and think about the tremendous role and impact that project management has on the success (or failure…) of executing organizational strategy. Additionally, the article mentions a couple of visual project management tools that are worth mentioning, which may increase the odds for successful outcomes.

Simplistically speaking, strategic execution is really the sum of two distinct processes: strategy development and strategic implementation.  Strategic Development involves analyzing the competitive environment in which the organization operates and then making a series of decisions about how the organization will best position itself to compete in the marketplace. This initial process ends with a series of goals or objectives for the organization to pursue, along with metrics to ensure that progress is being made. Strategic Implementation, on the other hand, involves making decisions regarding how the organization’s resources (i.e., people, processes and systems) will be allocated, aligned, prioritized and mobilized towards achieving the identified goals and objectives. Successful implementation is well planned, communicated, aligned from top-to-bottom, monitored, controlled, managed and effectively rewarded.

For those of us who live and breathe project management, that last sentence should sound awfully familiar. Successful project execution also results from activities that are well planned, communicated, aligned from top-to-bottom, monitored, controlled, managed and rewarded.  While not all strategic goals will require formal project management to succeed, nor will all projects necessarily align with strategic intent, the underlying point of the article is that strategic execution greatly benefits from effective and efficient project management approaches and discipline.

What does project management bring to strategic execution?

  1. Portfolio Management
    1. Organizes executive-level strategic direction into portfolios of project-based work; each prioritized, sequenced and resourced appropriately
  2. Governance and Oversight
    1. Provides a methodology for tracking actual vs. estimated work effort, delivery of anticipated outcomes, budgetary and performance metrics, benefit realization and milestone-based funding gates
  3. Project Management
    1. Recognized standard methodology and approach to organizing, planning, monitoring and controlling task-based work designed to deliver a specific outcome
  4. Resource Management
    1. Track and report on organizational resources (CapEx, OpEx, Labor) allocated to the strategic plan
  5. Communications Management
    1. Information collection, formatting and dissemination from a “single source of truth”

One of the interesting things the HBR article calls out regarding this topic is that, despite all of the planning, methodology and process steps that take place before executing on a strategy via project management, “no Gantt chart survives contact with reality.”1 That’s true!  Only within PMP exam questions do projects run perfectly according to plan.  Successful execution of project-based work rarely follows the “happy path.”  Project managers must be nimble in their ability to adjust course as facts, results and market changes dictate.  Additionally, appropriate mitigation plans to known, expected, and even unexpected issues and risks will help to smooth out impacts that change, both good and bad, may bring to the life cycle of the project.

Finally, the article also references a couple of visual tools that help with strategic execution:

  • Balanced Scorecard
    • Typically a structured report or dashboard leveraging visual design and automated data management tools
    • Used by executives and managers to track and manage execution activities aligned to strategic goals
    • Focused on only a small, easily manageable number of data points that are typically a mix of financial and non-financial metrics
  • Strategic Road Map
    • A timeline-based plan that aligns strategic goals, across many time horizons, with specific action plans, projects and/or technologies that will deliver upon the defined goals
    • Uniquely powerful, visual-based collaboration and decision support tools that align technology choices to business objectives, govern project selection, and guide project portfolio prioritization discussions

I’d strongly recommend this article, along with the rest of the HBR March 2015 issue, for project and portfolio management professionals.  Lots of great professional development “nuggets” in there!

The visual tools referenced in the article, along with over twenty-five other visual project management communication concepts, are explored in greater detail within Visual Project Management,  now available to interested readers!


The authors of the article also hit upon a specific point regarding the struggle that organizations have “disinvesting” from strategic initiatives.  Changes in strategy can alter project portfolio prioritization decisions or shift resource allocations.  Poorly performing projects may have unintended and/or negative ripple effects across other initiatives in the portfolio or overall strategy.  When do organizations “cut bait,” eat the sunk costs and move on?  This is something that all project management professionals struggle with at some point over the course of their career and will be the topic of a future blog post.


Visual Project Management – Infographics


Information graphics, more commonly referred to as ‘infographics,’ are graphical representations of data and information.  They are created to communicate a concept or tell a story in an easy to comprehend and memorable visual format.  Infographics represent the end product of the previously discussed larger field of study known as data visualization, which leverages the brain’s natural ability to visually capture and neurally process images and patterns for better understanding of complex and/or disparate data sets.

Infographics have existed for hundreds of years in various forms or another.  Early usage was typically limited to collections of statistical graphs and charts within publications such as an almanac, atlas or encyclopedic works.  Infographics really caught on within the newspaper industry where they were (are) commonly used to show weather data, depict statistically-driven map displays known as cartograms, or publish polling results, along with more traditional visual representations of statistical data such as charts and graphs.  A great example of newsprint usage of infographics is the daily ‘Snapshot’ that the USA Today™ uses to articulate current events or visually represent survey results.


With the explosion of data sources available on the internet, inexpensive graphical design software, low cost (or even free) mobile apps and vast audiences available via social media, infographics have experienced a sort of renaissance in the past few years.  What used to be the sole domain of graphical designers in news rooms or design shops has now been made available to the general public.  These days, anyone can be an infographic designer.

The use of infographics in project management practice is rapidly increasing as more and more project managers seek to communicate project status, performance metrics and complex information in a format that is quickly and easily digestible by their harried stakeholders, sponsors and oversight bodies.  Some of the more traditional project management documents artifacts that are being re-designed into infographic-form include:

  • Project Status Reports
  • Project Process Checklists
  • Project Deliverable/Key Milestone Checklists
  • Project Marketing Materials
  • Project Stakeholder Briefings
  • External Stakeholder/General Public Communications
  • Project Risk Mitigation Plans
  • Project Scope Definition Awareness


As the concept of visual thinking and the use of infographics continue to build momentum among the greater project management practitioner community, an increasing amount of traditional document artifacts and communication methodologies will take on a more infographic look and feel.  The frenetic pace of business and the changing model of project oversight place increased demands on the project manager to communicate in a more concise and efficient manner, and infographics certainly appear to meet those criteria.

The use of infographics in project management practice, along with over twenty-five other visual project management communication concepts, is explored in greater detail within Visual Project Management, a recently released publication by Paul R. Williams, and now available to interested readers!

Visual Project Management – Project “War” Rooms


Whether they are called war rooms, situation rooms, command centers or mission control rooms, centralized and purpose-built project meeting spaces provide a dedicated location for project teams and stakeholders to co-locate and visually communicate the activities associated with the execution of critical projects.  The idea of a war room is to physically gather an entire project team into a ‘single location’ to facilitate communication, problem solving, risk mitigation and status reporting.  The single location can be physical, virtual or some combination of the two based on the specifics of the organization’s business structure and/or resource model.

Modern day corporate war rooms are modeled after military command centers set up during World War II. The use of these rooms significantly aided military and political leaders by providing a centralized location for fact-based knowledge sharing and well-informed decision-making.

While not focused on winning an armed conflict (thankfully!), project management war rooms provide much of the same knowledge sharing and decision-making benefits of their military counterpart:

  • Direct, as-needed, verbal communications between team members rather than a reliance on phone conversations, emails or the need for separate meetings
  • Heightened sense of team commitment, togetherness and feeling of shared responsibility
  • Complete focus on the effort and its end-goal rather than “business-as-usual” or daily operations
  • A controlled, single-source hub of information for leaders, contributors, stakeholders and interested lay-people
  • Increased awareness of performance or other important metrics

In a nutshell, the Project War Room is essentially a room-sized communication tool.  Everything in the room is visible to anyone in the organization.  Project team members, who work in the room for the duration of the project, call it home.  They can also see and hear what everyone else in the room is working on, which creates a self-sustaining culture of accountability.  Project stakeholders, who visit the room on a regular basis, can quickly get up to speed on progress, current status and any issues that may be facing the team.  This allows them to engage and participate immediately, rather than waiting for a dedicated status meeting.

War rooms serve as a controlled source for communicating important project information that may include posting of change notices, requests for immediate actions/decisions or general status updates.  These communications also typically include data visualizations of key performance metrics such as budget, schedule, issues, risks and overall project health.  The main goal of any project war room is to communicate effectively enough that anyone unfamiliar with the project should be able to grasp the status of the project rather quickly after entering the room.

Project War Rooms, along with over twenty-five other visual project management communication concepts, is explored in greater detail within “Visual Project Management,” a recently released publication by Paul R. Williams, and now available to interested readers!

Visual Project Management – Mind Mapping

By far the most popular visual thinking tool in use today is Mind Mapping.  A mind map is simply a diagram used to visually organize information.  The majority of mind maps are simple, handwritten documents used to capture notes, ideas, thoughts and comments during meetings or planning sessions.  Many software packages have also been developed to convert handwritten notes into a more presentable format or to facilitate the capture of ideas in real-time.

Mind mapping uses specific visual imagery and parent-child relationships to capture and organize “strings” of thought.  Each thought captured is likely to trigger additional associations and thought patterns, spurring yet another string of thought.  At the center of the map is the central theme, or the base concept that is being considered.  Radiating out from the central theme are the major ideas directly related to the central theme.  Additional sub-ideas can branch out from the major ideas as needed to organize the concepts and their relationships.  A simple mind map is shown here to help the reader visualize these relationships.


(Click Graphic To Enlarge)

Employing the mind mapping approach within the world of project management makes absolute logical sense.  Project managers are tasked with the organization of large amounts of project-related data points and ordered lists.  While these data points, lists and other information are all related to the overall management of a particular project, they are not all structured, classified or utilized in the same manner. Because mind maps lend themselves so easily to organizing different categories of data and information quickly, orderly and visually, they have become an incredibly popular tool among project management professionals and provide additional key benefits that include:

  1. An ideal framework for documenting Work Breakdown Structures
  2. Easily documenting in-scope and out-of-scope items
  3. Organizing project resources, roles and responsibilities
  4. Organizing project notes in a centralized location
  5. Listing key project milestones, deliverables or other goals set by the project stakeholders
  6. Serving as an “parking lot” for keeping meeting agenda topics, change requests, scope clarifications and other discussion points for future use or reference


Mind maps are also very useful in briefing new team members on the project.  When a new team member is assigned to the project, the map will provide a picture of the overall project goals, bringing them up to speed very quickly. They can instantly see, via the graphical overview of the tasks and other pertinent project information, how all of the data points on the map interrelate, including importance and impact, within the greater scheme of the overall project.

Mind mapping, along with over twenty-five other visual project management communication concepts, is explored in greater detail within “Visual Project Management,” a recently released publication by Paul R. Williams, and now available to interested readers!

2015 ProjectWorld East Update

As promised in my previous post about attending Project World East at Walt Disney World in Orlando, Florida from March 23rd-24th, I have received a 20% speaker discount code for those interested in attending.


Please make sure you use the discount code: PWEASTPW when completing your registration to capture the 20% discount.

Looks like a GREAT agenda again this year, and I’d love to meet followers of this blog during the conference!

Hope to see you in Orlando in March!

2015 Project Management Online Resource Awards!

Since Hollywood’s award season is now fully underway, I thought I’d have a little fun and share my favorite project management bloggers and “tweeters” for 2015.  In all seriousness though, one of the things that always impresses me is the eager desire that project management practitioners have toward life-long learning, fulfilling professional development obligations, and volunteering their services, along with mentoring, knowledge sharing and collaborating with others in the project management profession.  So, in that spirit, I would like to announce this year’s award winners!


2015 PM Blogger Award Badge


  1. PM Hut
  2. Herding Cats
  3. Girls Guide to Project Management
  4. PMI Voices
  5. (Cornelius Fichtner) –
  6. Susanne Madson
  7. Ron Rosenhead – http://
  8. ProjectManagement.com
  9. Agile Scout
  10. Scrum Alliance


2015 PMOT Award Badge


  1. @rkelly976 (Robert Kelly – Host of the weekly #PMChat on Twitter)
  2. @mkaplanPMP (Michael Kaplan)
  3. @ThePMCoach (Thomas Kennedy)
  4. @PMVoices (The PMI Blog Team)
  5. @corneliusficht (Cornelius Fichtner)
  6. @ronrosenhead (Ron Rosenhead)
  7. @galleman (Glen Alleman – Herding Cats)
  8. @PMArticles (
  9. @pm4girls (Elizabeth Herrin)
  10. @agilescout (Peter Saddington)
  11. @Project_World (Project World & World Congress for Business Analysts Conference)
  12. @PMIcongress (PMI Global Congress)
  13. @ProjManagers (
  14. @jerryihejirika (Jerry Ihejirika)
  15. @ProjConnections (



Visual Project Management – Dashboards

A dashboard is a collection of performance data, represented in graphical format, to provide an “at-a-glance,” real-time snapshot of the health of a project, process or work unit.  Dashboards are typically designed as a display of multiple data points such as text boxes, charts and other pictographic information, presented on a single page or electronic portal.  They depict current status and historical trending of individual key performance indicators, along with other pertinent material that is used to support informed decision making.

Portfolio Metric Tracking Dashboard

Dashboards are referred to as such because they are modeled after automobile dashboards that contain gauges providing real-time information and feedback.  Just as the displays on an automobile dashboard summarize the performance of hundreds of individual components and interconnections under the hood, business dashboards do the same for the dozens of individual business processes and performance metrics in the back offices of many organizations.

Innovation Scorecard-Dashboard Template


Most dashboards employ in their design a graphical device known as a “Stop Light” to communicate status and health at a glance.  Green indicates all is well and proceeding as planned, yellow is used to trigger additional attention, indicate negative trending or solicit an action step, while red indicates the item being measured is in trouble, has stopped and/or requires immediate attention.  Typically, these color-based states have pre-determined variance thresholds that indicate when a key performance metric moves through the color scheme.

Project Health Check Template

The use of dashboards in project management practice is a natural fit.  Sharing vital project performance metrics in a concise and consistent manner is a key communication responsibility of all project managers.  While not appropriate for all project reporting needs, a dashboard is ideal for communicating at a higher, summary level.


Inside Visual Project Management


As promised last week, here’s a listing of the major sections and chapters of Visual Project Management.

  1. Visual Thinking Overview
    1. Visual Project Management
    2. Introduction to Visual Management Concepts
      1. The Data Visualization Concept
      2. The Visual Thinking Concept
  2. Visual Thinking Tools that Support Project Management
    1. Mind Mapping
    2. Process Mapping
    3. Storyboarding
    4. Root Cause Analysis
    5. Charting, Diagramming and Graphing
    6. Drawing and Sketching
    7. Wireframes and Use Cases
  3. Visual Project Reporting Tools
    1. Earned Value Analysis
      1. Traditional EVA Diagramming
      2. Tolerance Limited EVA Diagramming
    2. Dashboards
    3. Road Maps
    4. Lean Concepts – Kanban Boards
    5. Agile Concepts
      1. Scrum Overview
      2. Scrum Boards
      3. Sprint Burn-Down Charts
    6. Infographics
  4. Visual Project Collaboration Tools
    1. Project War Room
    2. Project “Science Fair”
    3. Visual Project Displays
      1. Project Display Walls
      2. Project Collaboration Wall
      3. Project Showcase or Exhibition
      4. Project Flight Planning and Status Board
      5. 3D Project Environments
    4. Project Social Media
    5. Gamification in Project Management

Visual Project Management also contains over 75 data visualization examples to better understand the concepts explored in the book.  Additionally, a lengthy bibliography of both print-based and web-based resources is also provided.

As far as the release date is concerned, it appears that March 1st will be the “official” date, but some copies will be available sooner than that.  More to come!

Visual Project Management

VPM Banner

It’s official!  My new book, Visual Project Management, will be headed to the publisher next week for final edits, formatting and cover design!  In celebration, and to give my loyal blog followers an advance preview, I am including an excerpt from the book with this post.  Enjoy!

In today’s time-compressed and lean business culture, busy executive sponsors and key project stakeholders simply do not have the luxury of time to digest a verbose, three page project status report on a weekly basis. Likewise, their double-booked calendars can no longer support attending status briefing meetings that simply regurgitate information that is otherwise available in alternative forms.  Conscious decisions must constantly be made by project decision-makers regarding when to be engaged and when to simply monitor progress.  Based on this new reality, managing project-based work in a “business as usual” fashion is no longer a feasible option.

Time-honored, structured processes and document-laden approaches to managing projects are rapidly being left behind in favor of more agile-based methods. Lengthy, paper-based project artifacts take significant time and effort to both generate and consume.  Established waterfall and command-and-control structures no longer address the new, innovative manner in which work is now being conducted and managed.

Taking cues from the productivity gains experienced using lean manufacturing approaches in the 1980s and the re-birth of incremental software development methods in the 1990s led to the 2001 formation of the Manifesto for Agile Software Development[i], better known simply as the Agile Manifesto.  This movement wasn’t created to eliminate software development and project management methodology, but to make it more balanced, less rigid, lighter in documentation and fluid in planning.

Agile-based methods of managing projects have started to become entrenched in even the most conservative industries like financial services, insurance and healthcare. Self-managed teams are beginning to replace top-down structures.  Time-boxed “chunks” of work, rather than start-to-finish individual task sequencing, has allowed for increased velocity of completing deliverables.  Focusing on the most important work versus the work that is simply next in line has produced more functional products.

Make no mistake, however, that traditional project management methodologies still play an important and valuable role in executing upon the strategic visions of many organizations and their products/services. The focus shift on ‘doing the right thing’ as compared to ‘doing the thing right’ has pushed both traditional and agile methods forward in a positive way.  Cross-pollination from a number of different methodologies has led to an impressive diversity of custom approaches dedicated to finding the most efficient and effective way getting the work done.

One of many new customized approaches gaining traction in project management circles today is a concept that presents project-related information in a visual, often graphical, form to improve clarity, visibility and understanding of the scope and operation of the effort. This “Visual Project Management” approach, serves as an additional tool for project management professionals to provide:

  • At-a-glance views of project status
  • Real-time project status tracking
  • Real-time issue management and resolution status
  • Data rich environments for better decision making

The key benefit of this new approach is speed. Critical project information can be produced, replicated and digested in more effective and efficient ways.  Another advantage visual project management provides is that the information is delivered in such a way that anyone can consume it at a time, place and manner that is convenient to them.

Traditionally, project information distribution has been based on “push” methods of communication. In push-based communication, the sender, or project manager, decides the “who, how, what and when” regarding project information flow.  This information is typically delivered in the form of e-mails, status reports, project status meetings, conference calls and in some cases, instant or text-based messaging.  The recipient doesn’t really get a choice regarding whether they receive the communication or not.  Nor do they have a say in what format it is delivered.

Alternatively, more and more information is being made available electronically, meant to be digested when the recipient has the time to review it. In this “pull-based” form of communication, information is simply posted to a common location, akin to a bulletin board or document library.  The recipient chooses what information they want to receive and when they want to access it.  Most importantly, it allows for the opportunity for the project manager and the project stakeholders to have a conversation about what information and specific data points are most important to them.  Then, leveraging any number of visual thinking tools, the project manager can design the format that most clearly and efficiently serves the stakeholders needs.

[i] Beck, Kent; et al. (2001). “Manifesto for Agile Software Development“. Agile Alliance. Retrieved 14 June 2010.


Next week, I will post the actual table of contents for Visual Project Management, which includes a listing of the actual data visualization tools explored in the book.  In the coming weeks, I’ll be providing updates on the publication process and more information on where the book can be found for purchase.

You’re Invited to ProjectWorld East!

After receiving some fantastic feedback regarding my presentation on “Visual Thinking Concepts for Project Management” at the ProjectWorld/World Congress of Business Analysts Conference in Seattle last September, the conference event team has invited me to give an encore presentation at the 2015 PW/WCBA East event at Walt Disney World in March 2015!

ProjectWorld/WCBA East will be held at the beautiful Grand Floridian Resort at Walt Disney World from March 23-24th, 2015.  More information including pricing, venue and the agenda can be found HERE at the PW/WCBA East website.  Early-bird discounts are already available for early registrants.  I should also be getting a special “speaker discount” soon, which I will be sure to provide here in the near future so you can use that to lock in a great low rate!

Don’t miss this great opportunity, if anything to just experience the venue!  This is a amazing chance to get actively engaged in your profession, earn a bunch of PDU hours on career-enhancing topics and network with your peers from across the United States (and the World!) on project and portfolio management, business analysis and leadership discussions.  For those of you who were unable to travel to the ProjectWorld event in Seattle last September, consider this is to be your second chance to experience the highlights of that great event, along with some new workshops and interactive sessions.

You can also follow Project World on social media:

And…while this will be announced with greater fanfare soon, I can finally share that I am putting the finishing touches on a book that goes far more in-depth into the visual project management concepts that will be shared during my presentation.  In fact, it should be through final edits and ready for publication just in time to make available for conference attendees, especially those who attend my session!

Hope to see you in Orlando in March 2015!