Organizational Project Management – How OPM Connects Strategy to Results

By Michael Ipsaro, PMP, CCE/A

At a recent conference, I attended a break out session that focused on Organizational Project Management (OPM) and project methodologies, specifically an overall approach to implementing them as a practice standard, and the benefits of doing so. The presenters spoke about today’s increasingly competitive global environment for Government and industry, and how these organizations are constantly striving to find ways to “improve their capabilities and performance in the delivery of strategy.”

They proposed OPM as a flexible, business-driven approach for tailoring the Project Management Institute’s (PMI’s) globally recognized standards to the unique needs and circumstances of a Government or industry organization to maximize its delivery of strategy.

At the heart of this methodology is a framework which connects an organization’s highest-level mission and vision to the hands-on execution of projects. PMI has defined OPM as “the systematic management of projects, programs, and portfolios in alignment with the achievement of strategic goals.” Project Managers (PMs) are often focused on “doing things right” (aka efficiency, process), however the OPM framework can help focus on “doing the right things” (aka line of sight between strategy and project delivery/results). While some in the federal sector are trying to implement a type of OPM construct, particularly in lines of business/operations and IT shops, I have not seen many Acquisition/Contracting organizations buy into the OPM model. Should they?

Why OPM Matters

OPM provides a framework for your organization to move through change based on consistent, recognized practices that provide a repeatable way to do business based on continuous learning and improvement through lessons learned. This can translate to greater customer satisfaction from higher quality and faster time to delivery. The framework is focused on executing rather than creating strategy. It consists of the organization’s vision, mission, strategic objectives, and its portfolios, programs, and projects. An important outcome of this framework is the alignment of organizational strategy with deployment (portfolios) of priority strategy initiatives through delivery of programs and projects. This line of sight from strategy to portfolios to projects to operations gives stakeholders a clear view of the link between strategy and value or results.

Standards vs. Methodology – More than Semantics

The building blocks of OPM are the standards and methodologies used to implement it. As discussed during the session, many times these words are used interchangeably. However, there are key differences between the two.

For example, a standard focuses on “what” portfolio, program, and project management practices have been established. It’s important to note they represent “best” practices of project management, but should not be interpreted as “perfect” practices. Typically, standards are developed by global subject matter experts (SME) spanning multiple organizations and domains. These SMEs typically possess many years of experience implementing tactics or tradecraft. They have compiled these standards based on many lessons learned through various methods such as trial and error. Because of global application and functional focus, standards are typically prescriptive in nature. The sports metaphor “playbook” was used to describe a practice standard, as it represents the best possible scenario, uncovered out of a vast array of possible practices. An example of a playbook for project management is the Project Management Body of Knowledge (PMBOK Guide). This guide represents practices that can be applied to nearly every domain or environment that uses or could use project management practices to deliver a capability to meet a need or achieve a goal.

A methodology on the other hand focuses on “how” project management practices are applied or used to provide “good” project management. They are developed by your organization and should be flexible and adaptable as circumstances change. Using the sports metaphor, it would be your organization’s “game plan” that is fitted to unique circumstances such as context, client, complexity, etc. For example, if your client requires application of specific pm practices to meet unique requirements of that environment (e.g., agile implementation, milestone reviews in accelerated schedules), you could develop a methodology that complies with and fits that specific client environment.

Call a Tailor to Help You Fit OPM to Your Organization

Beware adopting a one-size-fits-all approach; the expression “fitting a square peg into a round hole” comes to mind. One way to avoid this situation is to have a “standardized methodology” (at the organization or enterprise-level) that can be applied organization-wide. The custodian or tailor may be your organization’s strategic or enterprise Program Management Office (PMO). Further, the standardized methodology may be based on widely recognized standards such as PMBOK, agile manifesto, or NDIA ANSI EIA 748-A-740. However, at the project or task level of your organization, teams could work with the strategic PMO or “tailor” to configure additional unique methodologies to fit specific, local, and unique requirements.

Some Key Takeaways

  • Organizational Project Management (OPM) provides a flexible, consistent way for public and private organizations to improve their capabilities and performance in the delivery of strategy.
  • Appreciate differences between standards and methodologies, and consider when to use a playbook or a game plan.
  • Keep your OPM model focused on execution of strategy to enable line of sight.
  • Use standards that reflect widely recognized and respected practices.
  • Use methodologies that are based on or largely consistent with standards.
  • Apply tailoring to help your project teams configure standardized methodologies into specific methodologies.
  • Consider a strategic or enterprise PMO for OPM model delivery.

PMI has developed the OPM3 to “improve your processes, and increase and measure your maturity against a comprehensive set of organizational best practices.” Managers may be tackling larger and more complex programs and projects, and doing so within shorter timeframes and smaller budgets. The need to tie outcomes to organizational strategy makes OPM worth investigating.

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