What Do We Mean By “Strategy?”

Throughout my book, CPM Mechanics, I refer to a Project Schedule as a Project Execution Strategy. But this begs the question: just what is a strategy? According to the Online Dictionary, a strategy is “a plan, method, or series of maneuvers or stratagems for obtaining a specific goal or result.”

It’s All About What We Value Most

Okay, but  … when it comes to Construction Project Time Management, I’m not sure if that definition helps all that much. Since a strategy is aimed at pursuit of an objective or goal, a strategy must therefore reflect held Values. This points a light on one of the challenges of creating a single Project Schedule: A Project Schedule  is a strategy for successful project achievement.  But … “success” is defined differently by different contributors.

[If I may interrupt myself, last week I wrote a blog about the relationship between Objectives, Values, Beliefs, and Implementation (read:  execution).  I invite you to read that blog , as it will have a direct bearing on what follows below.

Let us never forget that a schedule is a temporal document, first and foremost. What this underscores is that the contributions provided during the Schedule Development process can be expected to deal with time usage … and (more to the point) those contributions will necessarily reflect the individual Values of those making the contributions … as to how Time is to be used:

And the choices and considerations are many:

  • Resource Management: Earliest Use, or Most Efficient Used
  • Schedule Use: Exclusively Used for Time Management, or Coordinated with Others
  • Duration Padding: Maximum Wiggle Room/Ample Contingency for Unknowns, or Tight Coordination
  • Management Autonomy: Flexibility to make field decisions, or centrally controlled
  • Schedule Purpose: Forge Commitments, or Express Intentions
  • Schedule Accuracy: Stable Predictions, or Reasonably Precise Direction
  • Capacity Disclosure: Maximum, or Minimum

Different Values Lead to Different Schedules

I realize that some of the above bullet items are a bit too cryptic to be immediately meaningful, but I do not want to bog down this article with too much detail. Obviously, I could write a fair amount about each of the above choices, but doing so would run the risk of us losing sight of the main point. Which is … that different Project Participants would value different goals. Accordingly, each would envision a different schedule, because each would have a different Implementation Strategy to favor and prioritize those valued outcomes.

Adding Insult to Injury

And consider that all of the above was just considering the Project Schedule as an Execution Strategy. If only the Project Schedule’s usage was limited to those who are in charge of prosecuting the work itself! That, alone, would be enough of a challenge to negotiate – the wide diversity of Objectives, Values, and Beliefs.

But now, add to its temporal use the  several other common uses of the Project Schedule, such as for Cost Management, Risk Management, Claims and Dispute Resolution, Resourcing and Staffing, Contracts Management, Procurement Management, Finance Management, etc. Hopefully it is obvious to you, as it is to me, that each one of these Schedule Stakeholders will have a quite different set of Objectives, Values, and Beliefs with respect to their more narrow business focus, as well.

Forget the Sizzle: It’s about the Steak

My passionate appeal to all Schedule Stakeholders: no matter how selfishly you want the Project Schedule to serve your professional needs … please, please never diminish the Schedule’s temporal functionality and effectiveness. For if the Project Schedule is ever permitted to lose its ability to perform as a true model of Project Execution Strategy, not only will all other uses of the Schedule become unreliable, the very success of the project itself it put into the greatest jeopardy.

9 Responses to What Do We Mean By “Strategy?”

  1. Julie Garcia says:

    I feel the term Project Execution Strategy better describes what a schedule is intended to do. The schedule should be the overall plan of a project to finish on time and under budget. This takes input from multiple sources and constant communication. It also takes an openness/transparency that many are lacking. I think schedules get manipulated and contorted to represent what the end result should look like versus an accurate representation of what actually is. It takes buy-in from everyone involved in the project, for a project schedule to be useful and successful.

  2. Zach Reed says:

    Personally, the key point here is communication. It is a poor strategy to execute a plan without first communicating that plan with the individuals involved. Since there are so many personalities and approaches that are brought to the table it is essential to get a reading on the expectations that have been set especially personal, unspoken expectations that drives one’s decision-making process. A plan should not be made in isolation, which points to the value of communication as well as listening to the experience and expertise of others.

    In the grand scheme, it’s about the project: not just the schedule or cost, risk or claims, etc. It is easy to approach a project with only one aspect in mind. Personally, having been involved with program finance for several years, my mind immediately goes to the financial side of things. But, as many of us know and can relate to, many of these separate parts are tied such that, for example, a change in schedule is usually followed by a change in cost. All of these components come together to, hopefully, create a successful project if managed in a balanced way.

  3. Ed Backiel says:

    Strategy is the specific, detailed plan to get from start to finish of a project. The strategy needs to incorporate all aspects of the individual activities needed for completion, and account for any possible challenges utilizing the projects objective and prior experience to determine the most efficient path.

  4. Sue Backiel says:

    I believe a successful strategy in based on good communication skills, experience, knowledge and flexibility in ones thinking. While guidelines are important and a good starting point, there is always room for improvement. A schedule is only as good as the planning that goes into it and the people that are working it.

    • mwoolf says:

      Excellent point, Sue. Your last point is perhaps the most important ingredient in ultimately valuable Project Scheduling: basing it on the input of the Project Team that will be bringing it to life. A strategy is a statement of intended Way Forward. All too often, today, schedules are overlooked for this role, and instead seem as some otherwise pointless exercise mandated by a contract and a drain on valuable time and energy. Sad, really. Because a good schedule makes all the difference between project success or failure.

  5. dave black says:

    I agree with the author’s conclusion that a Project Schedule should be kept as a model of “Project Execution Strategy”. He defines a strategy as aimed at the pursuit of an objective or goal and therefore must reflect values. A project schedule reflects the values of those making the contributions as to how Time is to be used.
    This is applicable to every team trying to execute a strategy, because everything involving people will always reflect their values. Often the values driving the schedule are acknowledged but although they’re not core values held by the people executing the strategy, yet they still execute it. People can value hard work and work diligently through a schedule yet not be motivated by the results the schedule is trying to achieve. People can agree that a particular strategy should be executed yet not agree on the way the results of the schedule are accomplished.
    Different project participants would value different goals, because of the uniqueness of individuals, and a result of their upbringing, culture, and teaching. Success is different for different people and agreement on what is success is immaterial as long as the participants accept and are committed to achieving the leader’s view of success.
    A strategy is necessary to complete a project and may change during the project execution. Naturally, it will reflect individual values however they have to coalesce as a team to make the strategy executable. All team members will have to work together to execute the strategy and if they don’t then everyone will be doing their own thing and nothing will be accomplished. Following the schedule even if it has to be adjusted periodically is how a project becomes successful.

  6. mwoolf says:

    Chase, I might agree with you that experience is what yields the better Project Execution Strategies. I don’t think the words are actually synonymous. One may have much experience, but if he or she does not express it to anyone, then there is no Strategy to be followed. On the other hand, a Strategy that is compiled by newbies with no practical experience is probably not a very good Strategy to follow.

  7. Connie Bremer says:

    This blog provides food for thought as it touches on the value of a schedule and the various stakeholders’ views and interpreted added value that a schedule conveys. It’s also noted that a schedule is a model that hopefully reflects the project work execution strategy. If the reflection is distorted, the schedule quickly becomes meaningless dates that soon lose its purpose, to assist in managing time.

  8. Chase Childress says:

    I think strategy, as described above, is essentially synonymous with experiance. Speaking from a GC point of view, it is my experiance that the Senior personnel are typically plan out the execution of “the work” in a logical manner based on past experiances that have brought them success.

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