From Strategic Outcome Management to Management of Outcomes

Another post in my process of digesting the outcomes of the recent PMO Symposium held in early November in Orlando…  As a result of attending this conference, I’ve been spending some time of late thinking about the nature of “strategy” and how PMOs and EPM tool sets fit into that.

My first thought of course, was to dig up an old book that’s been sitting on my shelf, an oldie but a goodie that I’ve tried to work through in the past, but never successfully.  This time, it was a lot more relevant – and a bit easier to work through.  If you’re looking to skim a rock over the surface of strategic thinking, there are probably worse places to start than Strategy Safari by Mintzberg, Lampel, and Ahlstrand.

Of course, I am still somewhat confused as to what the term “strategy” actually means, but my general conclusion after reading that book is “it depends,” which needless to say, is an answer that has always resonated with me.  Essentially, strategy boils down to a vision of the future along with the associated steps that are identified to achieve this future.  Now what that particular vision consists of or how it is defined?  That is another question…and a topic for another couple of blog posts.

(An old mentor of mine, might claim then that the strategy is the crystallization of our values, which when applied to the present world, allow us to identify a desired future state – but I digress.)

The book posits a number of different schools of strategic though, ranging from the centrally directed Planning School to the more emergent practices of the Learning School – both approaches to strategic thinking that I have seen in the client organizations I have worked within. 

An EPM tool could potentially support each (or at least some) of those schools in different ways.  For instance in the Planning School, we could take a top down capital budgeting approach to portfolio management, while in the Learning School, we could leverage a tool to identify constraints and therefore identify where the organization is actually heading.

Regardless of which school we subscribe to, let’s say, hypothetically, that we can define this desired future.  Not only can we define this desired future, but as an organization we can come to some sort of consensus as to what this future looks like.  Once we’ve done that, it’s but a short step to defining a set of characteristics that define initiatives that will get us one step closer to that desired future.

Those characteristics might look something like this…


And maybe, just maybe, we can come to a common agreement as to the relative ranking of those priorities.  That ranking may look like this….


Now here I should throw out a caveat that there is no software package that will manage your project portfolio.  There are however software packages that help you identify your priorities and assist you in calculating what the optimum portfolio may be in specific circumstances.  This is an example of that.

So once we have our desired outcomes defined, and our projects mapped to those desired outcomes, how do we assess how well we achieve those outcomes?  To quote this post I wrote before, how do we move from ensuring that we’re building the right thing to ensuring that we’re building the thing right?

Enter benefits realization, one of the (many) missing links in project management, and probably one of the leading justifications for the implementation of a PMO – insofar as project managers have traditionally been unsuited to the challenge of returning to a project 6 months to a year after completion to assess whether or not the project achieved the predicted ROI.

We can estimate our benefits over time as part of the business case…


….and then come back later and assess how well we met our targets:


So here what we’ve done is move down several layers of the V Model I wrote about in this post.  We’ve moved from the level of tracking project alignment to desired strategic outcomes to the level of managing our project outcome.

From Strategic Outcome Management to Management of Outcomes

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