Events over the past couple of weeks in relation to the US economy were a reminder that there is little separation between the political theatre and the market place.  Some who have intimated in the past that arenas such as business and politics were far apart did not understand the true integrative nature of the world today.  While the outcome is unclear one important lesson that we have to draw in the business world is that everything is connected.  Things that might seem irrelevant on the face of things might have a tremendous impact on our organizations, stakeholders, and indeed our projects.

Within project management I’ve observed that some of the biggest risks arise when the project manager and the team misunderstand this interconnectedness between their project and the rest of the environment.  We see major challenges when there is little understanding that the project is part of a bigger eco-system that it not only depends on but also affects.  Whether the project is part of a corporate program, a strategic portfolio, or linked to other organizations’ initiatives, the ultimate outcomes in terms of success or failure has a greater impact on people that may seem disconnected for the project.  Similarly, changes in the marketplace, the political environment, the global economy, organization, leadership, and a wide host of variables will undoubtedly affect the project, either for the positive of the negative.

Understanding this integration is not simply about building an organizational project management framework, although that is often needed, but it is about ensuring that everyone understands that projects are undertaken to deliver something that is bigger than the project itself.  In other words, the point of a project is not simply the project but rather the strategic or business goal associated with it.  This is why it is important to establish those clear success criteria beyond simple cost and time parameters.

Furthermore, being aware of the potential links that our projects have within the overall environment allows the team to be better prepared in the way they build project plans and respond to risks.  I can recall in one instance where I was asked to manage a project for an organization discovering that there were at least 3 other corporate initiatives that were launched at the same time that offered similar solutions to different departments in the organization.  Had we proceeded to manage each one of these initiatives in total isolation we would have failed miserably.  However, once the team along with management recognized this interdependency we were better prepared to deliver successfully.

In my opinion the true power of project management is not the management of one project at a time but the ability to build a clear continuum in the organization that shows where and how projects and operations are connected.  That’s what makes executives look up and start paying attention to the benefits of the profession.