”Strategic”… you keep using that word…

Inigo Montoya 02.

It seems more and more we’re seeing ‘strategic’ (or ‘strategy’) added to everything project-related (much like ‘Agile’ is) – 

  • Strategic Project Management
  • Strategic Project Managers
  • Strategic Projects
  • Strategic PMOs

And I get it, we all want to feel that our work is *important* and provides value. ’Strategy’ is much sexier than ‘business as usual’.

And the other alternative is an even more painful proposition – that we’re doing things that are either pointless or provide no value. 

But adding adjectives and descriptors doesn’t make it so. 

And in the words of Señor Montoya, “You keep using that word. I do not think it means what you think it means.”

Merriam-Webster defines ‘strategic’ as – 

1. Of, relating to, or marked by strategy

2. Necessary to or important in the initiation, conduct, or completion of a strategic plan

3. Of great importance within an integrated whole or to a planned effect 

What do all of these definitions have in common?

They denote that for something to be considered ‘strategic’ it has to be aligned with, or important or critical to the ‘strategy’. 

This means that ‘strategic’ is a designation determined by the strategy.

In other words, you, or your dept, *cannot define yourself as ‘strategic’.* Only the owners of the strategy, or the strategy itself can determine if you, your dept, or the work you’re doing is *strategic*.

You as the Project Manager, or PMO Leader, don’t get to determine if you’re a ‘strategic’ anything. Strategic describes the work you’re doing, which is determined strategic by the strategy. And even if you are actually working on something strategic in nature, it doesn’t make ‘you’ strategic. 

Plus, and I know I’ll hurt some feelings here – it just makes you (and by extension, all of of us) look silly (and a bit desperate).

Name another dept or role that adds ‘strategic’ in front of their title – Strategic Accounting, Strategic Sales, Strategic Software Engineer, Strategic Executive Assistant, Strategic Grocery Cashier. 

See, it doesn’t work. 

BUT, and here’s the important part – not being ‘strategic’ doesn’t mean ‘unimportant’.

Strategy is about movement and stretching the boundaries, about reaching the next rung. But no organization operates in a 100% ‘strategic’ mode. In order to enact a strategy, the org still needs the foundational aspects of the org to keep going, to support the majority of the business while the strategy tests the edges (*especially* if things go sideways and the strategy doesn’t work). 

I would guess that most orgs operates at a minimum 50% strategic/50% ‘keep the lights on’ split (probably closer to 25%/75%). Remember, a key part of any strategy is also ‘remaining in business’. So that ‘keep the lights on’ work is still ‘valuable’ as it’s what allows the organization to remain in business and pursue its strategy.  

And if you’d like to be involved in projects that are more strategic in nature, then I suggest focusing on improving the delivery of the projects you *are* involved in, and showing that you can deliver regardless of what category the project falls into.  

Simply changing your title isn’t going to do it. 


*originally published on LinkedIn

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