Project Management Through The Eyes of the C-Suite

I don’t mean to be curt or callous, but the simple truth is, to the C-Suite, projects are simply financial transactions.  Period.  They are nothing more than a means to an end.  A necessary investment of resources to execute upon the strategic intent of the organization and achieve a desired benefit.  Some projects are investments in maintaining the status quo, while others are investments in new ideas or improving existing approaches, and others still are more like bets upon strategic leaps into the future.  But they are all investments.

For better or worse, C-Suite executives typically see the world through three lenses:

  1. Run The Business
    1. Keep the lights on and the money coming in the door
    2. Improve operating efficiency
  2. Improve The Business
    1. Process improvements
    2. Product/Service extensions
    3. Efficiency gains
    4. Cost reduction
    5. Doing more with less
  3. Plan For The Future
    1. Strategy development
    2. Vision achievement
    3. Innovation management and new product/service development
    4. Strategic execution

In fact, many project portfolios are indeed designed, built and governed using these three focus areas.  Investments are deployed, whether they are capital expenditures (CapEx), operational expenses (OpEx) or simple human resource utilization, in order to achieve some defined benefit to the organization.  Many times, the intended benefit is financial, like additional profit generated from a new product or service the project is delivering, or cost savings derived from new processes or approaches being implemented.  Other times, the benefit may be to simply stay within regulatory compliance or increase technical capacity or a myriad of other reasons that don’t directly benefit the bottom line.

Because investment types and intended benefits can be so diverse, leveraging a portfolio management system that actively categorizes, maps and balances the various projects across the organization’s desired cost/benefit and risk/reward parameters is key.  Below is a sample project portfolio 2×2 grid that is geared toward balancing investments across the innovation spectrum while ensuring enough focus on sustaining existing profit lines.


So now that we better understand why the C-Suite thinks drastically different about projects than those who manage them, and we know why they are many times grouped into various portfolio categories, what types of project and portfolio-based information do these executive-level folks require to maintain a certain comfort level that “all is well?”

  1. Full cost of the project investment
    1. CapEx, OpEx, opportunity cost
  2. Expected return on that investment
    1. Financial benefits, non-financial benefits, risk mitigation, goodwill
  3. Payback period
    1. How long until the project pays for itself or benefits are realized
  4. Organizational change impact and timeline
    1. How much disruption will the project introduce to the organization and for other projects in the portfolio
  5. Alignment to strategy, vision, metrics, etc.
    1. Does the project fulfill a key organizational strategic goal or align to the vision
  6. Investment performance/KPIs
    1. At-a-glance view of key project health and performance metrics
  7. Visual-Based information
    1. Must be highly visual, quick to digest and comprehend, and support rapid decision making

As project management professionals, it’s easy to get wrapped up in the minutia of day-to-day project management.  We often focus our thinking on the complexity of tools, methodologies, data points and processes at our disposal.  We concentrate on tasks and issues and risks and deadlines.  Too many times we report status in PM jargon such as, earned value, variance, critical path, float, capacity, baseline and other terms meaningless to those who actually consume those reports.  Quite frankly, our attention defaults to the who, what and how, often at the expense of the why.

Understand that the reason you have a project to manage in the first place is based on a higher-level, executive decision to make an investment, on behalf of the entire organization, that is expected to deliver some benefit or solution, in alignment with organizational strategy.  Make it a point to see your project through the eyes of your C-Suite, understand what’s important to them, and communicate in their language, not yours.  If you do, you may find increased success along your project management career path!


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