Project Management and Business Strategies
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Published: Tue, 27 Feb 2018
Which way to go? This is a question that organizations will ask themselves in a certain time, because organizations are faced with challenges of strategic direction. Some organizations are instigated by challenging opportunities, other organizations want to overcome significant threats. The business strategy can move an organization from where it is now, to where it needs to be in the future.
Johnson et al (2009) states that the strategy of an organization is often likely to be complex, uncertain and mostly it affects operational decisions and requires an integrated approach. But the most typically and crucial components of strategy are change and innovation. Project management is essential for managing and reducing the inherent risk associated with change and innovation. That’s why many projects are the result of strategic decisions of organizations, because projects manage changes on an effectively and efficiently way. Changing organizations need projects for making change and for obtaining its business strategy and -objectives.
Nowadays sustainability is a very hot (strategic) item for organizations. Organizations are integrating ideas of sustainability in their marketing, corporate communications, business strategy and in their actions. Centraal Boekhuis, a (leading) logistics service provider in stocking, storage, distribution and transportation of books, has also formulated a covering policy on sustainability for the strategy period 2009-2011 (Board of directors Centraal Boekhuis (2009)). Sustainability for Centraal Boekhuis means commitment to corporate environmental performances as well as sustainable performances on social and economic aspects. Several projects on behalf of sustainability will be conducted as well as projects will be conducted on behalf of other strategic targets. But is it possible to make project management sustainable, in order to make other projects contribute to the policy on sustainability too?
In this research the relation between project management and the pursuing of the realization of business strategies will be looked at. Then the main research question will be answered: how will the business strategy influence the selection and execution of project management within organizations, and how will this in consequence lead to sustainable project management? The hypothesis is that when project management is constructed and selected in accordance with the business strategy, and more specifically linked with sustainable business strategy, projects will contribute to the realization of the business strategies as well as it subsequently will contributes to sustainability. The actual research will be executed through a web survey among several organizations as well as a case study of Centraal Boekhuis, which contains in-depth interviews with about 10 representatives’ project employees from Centraal Boekhuis. The research will also contain the study of qualitative data, for example the study of documentation and reports that are in stock within the company about strategy, project management and sustainability.
1. INTRODUCTION & BACKGROUND
To understand project management within organizations it is important to understand projects. The Prince2 Foundation (2005) defines a project as a temporary organisation that is needed to produce a unique and predefined outcome or result at a pre-specified time using predetermined recourses. In practice projects bring recourses, skills, technology and ideas together to achieve business objectives and deliver business benefits. But why is there a need for projects within organizations?
Organizations are continuously striving after agility and success by for example introducing new products and services or by improving business processes or activities. Many projects are the result of organizations that wants to manage such changes on an effectively and efficiently way. According to Bryan Atkin and Adrian Brooks (2009), Change Management is the key towards innovation of organizations. In order to make progress and achieve greater efficiency and better value for money and to be more effective or competitive, organizations have to do things differently and have to make changes. Maylor (2005) stresses that Project management is essential for managing and reducing the inherent risks associated with change and innovation. Changing organizations need projects for making change.
Recently Johnson et al. (2009) gives an interesting definition on business strategy. The definition describes that strategy contains the direction and scope of an organization over the long term, for achieving advantage in a changing environment throughout configuration of resources and competences with the aim of fulfilling stakeholders’ expectations.
Aforementioned definition displays that the fundamental principle of making changes of organizations can be the result of aiming towards targets that contributes to the fulfilment of the business strategy. In practice this means that organisational changes and the application of project management for realising those changes can thus be the result of the long term direction and scope of an organization. Simply said; project management can move an organization from where it is now, to where it needs to be in the future to meets its business strategy and -objectives.
As mentioned above the management of projects within organization is among other things related to its business strategy, but how will the business strategy influences the selection and the execution of project management within organizations and how can project management thus contributes to the realization of the business strategy?
For example, The board of directors of Centraal Boekhuis (2009) has formulated a covering policy on sustainability for the strategy period 2009-2011. Several projects on behalf of sustainability will be conducted as well as projects will be conducted on behalf of other strategic targets. But is it possible to realize more strategic focus, by linking all projects to the business strategy of an organization? This leads to the main research question of the thesis: how will the business strategy influence the selection and execution of project management within organizations, and how will this in consequence lead to sustainable project management? Another interesting question will be: if project management is constructed and selected in accordance with the business strategy, and more specifically linked with sustainable business strategy, will projects contribute to the realization of the business strategies as well as it subsequently will contributes to sustainability?
1.2 The organization; Centraal Boekhuis
Centraal Boekhuis is a (leading) logistics service provider in stocking, storage, distribution and transportation of books. More than 500 publishers and over 1500 booksellers use the service facilities for distribution, transportation, information and administration. For publishers is Centraal Boekhuis the entry into the Dutch and Flemish (book) markets. For booksellers in the Netherlands and Flanders, Centraal Boekhuis is the provider of the assortment of Dutch-language books, general as well as educational or scientific books, and a selected range of foreign-language books (staff directory guide Centraal Boekhuis, 2007).
Besides taking care of stocking, storage, distribution and transportation of books, Centraal Boekhuis also offers administrative or financial services. For publishers the company organizes complete stock and sales recording, invoicing and debt collection. Booksellers as well benefit from a broad range of information technology services. The majority of Centraal Boekhuis’ services are integrated in a single automated system (CB Online), so customers have access to the operational and management information they need, focused on their company’s business processes.
Upon request, Centraal Boekhuis will also arrange the storage, distribution and transport of office supplies, stationary and greeting cards. All logistic activities and processes are linked with the transport centre’s delivery network. The centre’s range of services includes processing special offers and returned goods, (temporary) storage, order picking and carrying out special mailing campaigns with value-added logistics.
The Transport Centre of Centraal Boekhuis organizes transport from and to countries outside the Benelux. In England is a consolidation point bounded, where shipments from 1600 English publishers intended for Dutch bookshops are collected and forwarded to the Netherlands. This enables Centraal Boekhuis to offer customers attractive services. Shipments from Germany and America are transported along similar lines.
For over 135 years Centraal Boekhuis have been the logistic partner in the Dutch book trade. In 1871 the Vereeniging ter Bevordering van de Belangen des Boekhandels (VBBB) in Amsterdam lay the foundations for Het bestelhuis van de Nederlandsche Boekhandel, presently called Centraal Boekhuis. Publishers send their boxes with books to that warehouse of books, where the boxes were distributed across the Netherlands.
Many years later, in 1926, the VBBB decided to found Centraal Boekhuis in Amsterdam. Well-established publishers were obliged to store their books in the central depot of Centraal Boekhuis in Amsterdam. From now on the book stores and publishers could order their books with Centraal Boekhuis from one central point in the Netherlands.
In 1973, because lack of space, Centraal Boekhuis grounded their company in Culemborg, where the company nowadays is still grounded. In that same year is Het Bestelhuis and Centraal Boekhuis merged into one company: Centraal Boekhuis B.V (Intranet Centraal Boekhuis, 2008).
The daily management of Centraal Boekhuis is directed by the Senior Management Team (SMT). The lead direction of the 5 Senior Managers is directed by a Chief Executive Officer, namely Hans Willem Cortenraad. They have weekly meetings to discuss the company’ policy and how this policy is best directed to the line managers. Centraal Boekhuis in figures (2009)
- Full time employees: 579
- Publishers: 500
- Booksellers: 1500
- Available Dutch titles: 80,000
- Number of copies delivered per year: 60,000,000
- Number of delivery addresses per day: 2500
- Number of packages transported per year: 4,500,000
- Number of pallets transported per year: 300,000
2. PROBLEM STATEMENT & RESEARCH QUESTION
According to Project Management Institute and Morris (2006) oorganizations often want efficiency, good financial results and success and they want it fast. It is for that matter that organizations generally focus on short-term results, such as immediate realizable financial goals. However, Centraal Boekhuis for example expects also from its employees to achieve results that corresponds to the overall long term objectives of the business strategy. This contradiction pointed me in the direction to ask myself if it is possible to operate more efficiently if the portfolio of projects is continuously linked to the business strategy of Centraal Boekhuis. My hypothesis subsequently is that the overall business strategy will be the input for the project portfolio planning and in turn, project success impacts the goals and objectives of the business strategy.
Nevertheless, the solution isn’t that easy. For instance, organizations are nowadays more often integrating ideas of sustainability in business strategies. It is for that matter unavoidable that there will be projects related to sustainable strategy, namely environmental or social projects. However, will projects on behalf of other strategic objectives also be sustainable? That’s why I assume that when project management is constructed and selected in accordance with the business strategy, and more specifically linked with sustainable business strategy, projects will positively contribute to the realization of strategies as well as it subsequently will contributes to sustainability. 
The main question and hypothesis will be clarified for a reasonable interpretation of the research construction and approach.
In this research the relation between project management and the pursuing of the realization of business strategies will be looked at. Foresaid leads to the following research question:
- what is the impact of the business strategy on the selection and execution of project management within organizations, and will this possible influence in consequence lead to sustainable project management?
The hypothesis is:
- when project management is constructed and selected in accordance with the business strategy, and more specifically linked with sustainable business strategy, projects will positively contribute to the realization of the business strategies as well as it will positively contributes to sustainability;
- the result subsequently is that the overall business strategy will be the input for the project portfolio planning and in turn, project success impacts the goals and objectives of the sustainable business strategy.
Why is it so important to link the project management of an organization to its business strategies, in order to make projects sustainable? As stated by Johnson et al (2009) it is ultimately the fulfilling of the business strategy to aim on the fulfilling of the expectations of the stakeholders. If an organization have stated sustainability within their business strategies, stakeholders are involved in monitoring if the strategy is achieved the objectives and if there is corrective action needed. This is called strategic control and it will keep an organization in track with its achievements on behalf of its strategy (and also sustainable strategy). According to foresaid it is plausible that it is important to state sustainability in the business strategy, for making sure that projects will meet the objectives and goals of sustainable strategy.
3. GOALS & OBJECTIVES
I will try to find out if a business strategy, specifically a sustainable business strategy, can positive influence the way on how projects will be selected and executed, as I expect it to be. I will test the hypothesis that the overall business strategy will be the input for the project portfolio planning and in turn, project success impacts the goals and objectives of the sustainable business strategy, to see if it is possible to make project management sustainable. If so, this offers an interesting new insight in sustainable project management, which could be the basis for more research.
First it is important to study literature to get familiar with the several subjects of this thesis. The several subjects that will be described are project management, business strategy and of course overall sustainability. Next I will try to describe the multifarious relative contexts between the several subjects described in the literature, in order to make my hypotheses plausible. The most important objective of the literature review is to create an elementary basic assumption for further research.
Furthermore the research methodologies that I will use are a case study research and a web survey. For the execution of the case study research are various data (re)sources used, namely in-depth interviews and the study of business documentation and reports. The case study research methodology will be used to get insights in how Centraal Boekhuis arranges its business strategy, especially how it is arranged towards its project management. Then it is important to look at how the sustainable policy of Centraal Boekhuis affects the daily operations as well as the sustainable policy affect its project management.
For comparison and further research I will send a web survey to approximately 100 companies with sustainability stated in their business strategy. Hopefully this will give me insights in how other companies arrange their project management related to its business strategy and maybe they have certain methodologies to make project management sustainable, so I have some interesting data to work with.
My research will focus on project management, business strategies, sustainability and sustainable project management in an attempt to find relative contexts to integrate business strategy and projects in order to facilitate development of sustainable project management. Overall I hope that the executed research will create a certain frame work for linking project management to the overall business strategy of an organization, in order to make project management sustainable.
4. LITERATURE REVIEW
As mentioned earlier my research will focus on project management, business strategies, sustainability and sustainable project management. Therefore the theoretical background of my research will also be focused on foresaid topics.
4.1 Business Strategy
The traditional literature about business strategy is often about the general definitions of business strategy, where organizations focus on where they want to be on the long term (mission and vision) and how this is achieved (goals and objectives) (Alblas & Wijsman, 2001) in order to gain competitive advantages. The current literature about strategy describes more that strategy is about the importance of achieving advantage in a changing environment throughout configuration of resources and competences with the aim of fulfilling stakeholders’ expectations (Johnson et al., 2009). Aforementioned shows that the current literature on business strategies discusses the importance of the characteristic aspects change and configuration (Kloosterboer, 2005). The relative context between business strategy and changes is an important aspect that must be taken into account before I continue my research.
According to Bryan Atkin and Adrian Brooks (2009), Change Management is the key towards innovation of organizations. In order to make progress and achieve greater efficiency and better value for money and to be more effective or competitive, organizations have to do things differently and have to make changes. Harvey Maylor (2003) characterizes project management as essential aspect for managing and reducing the inherent risks associated with change and innovation. Therefore changing organizations need projects for making change.
4.2 Project Management
The Prince2 Foundation (2005) recognizes that organizations are continuously striving after agility and success by for example introducing new products and services or by improving business processes or activities. Many projects are the result of organizations that wants to manage such changes on an effectively and efficiently way. Furthermore Prince2 (2005) defines a project as a temporary organisation that is needed to produce a unique and predefined outcome or result at a pre-specified time using predetermined recourses. In practice projects bring recourses, skills, technology and ideas together to achieve business objectives and deliver business benefits.
According to the International Project Management Association (2006), professional project management is broken down into the following three competences (see also figure one): Technical competences for project management; behavioral competences of project personnel; and the contextual competences of projects’ programmes and portfolio. The technical competence covers the techniques of project management, for example the practice of Prince2. The behavioral competence represents the professional behavior of the project personal, like project management skills. The contextual competence is the linkage between the project and organizations involved. The vision on project management by IPMA in the International Competence Baceline presented in October 2006 will be critically looked at for my research. This project management approach will also be studied and discussed during the master program of the Master of Facilities Management and Real Estate. The eye of competence figures the integration of the elements of project management as seen trough the eyes of the project manager.
So the essence of project management is to support the execution of an organization’s strategy to deliver a considered necessary outcome (Clifford and Gray, 2002). The research of recent literature shows us that project management is nowadays recognized as one of the primary business processes (Atkin & Brooks, 2009). It is for that matter that organisational changes and the application of project management for realising those changes must be linked to the overall business strategy of an organization, in order to accomplish the business goals and objectives. Simply said; project management can move an organization from where it is now, to where it needs to be in the future to meets its business strategy and -objectives. For this thesis I will mainly focus on the SWOT analysis, because this management and strategy tool is used by Centraal Boekhuis for defining its strategy.
The SWOT analysis can be used as a strategy formulation tool. It helps organizations to identify its Strengts, Weaknesses, Opportunities and Threats (SWOT). The Strengths and Weaknesses represent the internal factors that create value or can destroy value. Opportunities and Threats are the external factors that can influence the organization value (Ahaus, 2005).
4.3 Business Strategies vs. Project Management
According to Sabin Srivannaboon (2006), previous research on project management and its relation with business strategy mostly links the project management with business strategy through critical project selection, viewing it as part of the alignment process (For example Bard, Balachandra & Kaufmann (1988); Cooper, Edgett & Kleinschmidt (1998); Englund & Graham (1999) etc). Also often displayed in previous research is project portfolio management. This is another concept suggested in the literature to ensure the strategic alignment of project management and business strategy and it is defined as a dynamic decision-making process, which an organization can update and revise its list of active projects (see for literature: Turner & Simister (2000); Cooper, Edgett & Kleinschmidt (1998) etc.). Current literature shows us more about the research that has been done on the alignment of project management with business strategies of organizations, for example research of Sabin Srivannaboon (2006), Tony Grundy (2001) Peter Morris & Ashley Jamison (2004) etc.
4.4 Sustainability & sustainable project management
On Wednesday the 4th of November, member of the House of Representatives Esmé Wiegman talks about faith in Sustainability and vice versa, please note: in church! That sustainability has even penetrated the Christian church sais a lot. We are all confronted with it and action is expected of us.
Sustainability is a hot item, that is no surprise. Looking at the quotes mentioned below you can conclude that there is no process in an organization that is not interfered with sustainability items. “Managers are more and more beginning to consider the environment as an additional parameter on which they base their decisions.” (North, 1997) That is what Klaus North wrote is his environmental business management introduction in 1997. And Carin Labuschagne wrote almost a decade later: “Various driving forces originating from society, government employees and business partners are forcing companies to both incorporate sustainable development in their business practices as well as to align all internal operations and practices with the principles thereof.” (Labuschagne, 2005).
Sustainability, what does that really mean? Norwegian prime minister Gro Harlem Brundtland formulated it as followed; “The development that meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs”.
As Labuschagne already said, there is no process in an organization that is not interfered with aspects of sustainability. Project management is just one of these processes that cannot be ignored. That is also made clear in the APM sustainable outlooks, where is mentioned that they are considering a database with project and programme managers who have specialist knowledge, experience and expertise in sustainability issues generally or by specific sectors, locations or types of project. They also plead for the triple bottom line approach in every project. The triple bottom line approach includes environmental, social and economical sustainability (APM, sustainable outlooks).
As organizations become more and more focused on environmental responsibilities, project managers cannot stay behind. (Zoyd Reed Luce) Where sustainability is grounded in almost every strategy of every large organization, this automatically is reflected in the projects of an organization. Project manager are forced to focus on sustainability these days, it becomes part of the project.
4.5 Theoretical Framework for aligning projects with strategy
There are several articles expanding on the idea that there should be a certain focus on the corporate strategy when managing projects, for example the articles of Tony Grundy (2001) or Morris and Jamison (2004). Milosevic and Srivannaboon (2006) support this vision in their article and wrote an article which describes a theoretical framework for aligning project management with strategy. Milosevic and Srivannaboon have developed an empirically based theoretical framework that explains the impact of business strategy on project management – and vice versa – and discusses how mechanisms can be used to strengthen that alignment.
As discussed earlier, strategy is about the importance of achieving advantage in a changing environment throughout configuration of resources and competences with the aim of fulfilling stakeholders’ expectations and defending it against competitive forces (Johnson et al., 2009). Milosevic and Srivannaboon have based their theoretical framework on the vision of Porter (1980) about Generic Business Strategies.
Michael Porter states that to achieve a sustainable competitive advantage, an organization must chose a certain type of strategy. Porter’s generic strategies distinguishes three types of strategies, namely cost leadership, differentiation, and cost focus (see figure 3). Competitive advantage can only be achieved by choosing one of these strategies. If an organization chooses to pursue more than one generic strategy, it will perform being badly without competitive advantage and Porter refers to that as being ‘stuck in the middle’.
Milosevic and Srivannaboon use cost leadership, differentiation, and best cost as the primary focus of their analysis. They also use Shenhar’s strategic project leadership framework which consist of project elements like project strategy, project organization, project process and tools – metrics and – culture.
Differentiation is about organizations pursuing a differentiation strategy by offering products and services that are unique from competition in order to satisfy the desires of their customers. This differentiation allows the organization to charge a premium price (Porter, 1980).
Cost Leadership is about organizations pursuing a cost leadership strategy to gain competitive advantage and increase market share by operate with lower costs than competition, for example tight cost controls e.g. efficient facilities (Porter, 1980).
Best cost (also called focus niche) is about organizations creating a sustainable competitive advantage through combining cost leadership and differentiation. This can be realized by offering a unique product or service to a special market segment and seek to offer low cost products within a special market segment (fast time-to-market, superior product quality, etc.).
According to Milosevic and Srivannaboon the competitive aspects of the business strategy drive the focus of the project management elements. They see a pattern in project management elements for the differentiation of business strategy. Their research indicates that organizations can align projects with business strategies into three levels, namely the strategic level, the tactical level, and the corrective emergent strategic feedback.
The first level of this framework (typified as mediating process at the strategic level) is the first step of the alignment process. At level 1 organization should use their intended strategy and select projects into their portfolio to determine the right projects that would contribute to the organization’s strategy.
The second level (typified as mediating process at the project level) involves the further planning of project details to ensure that alignment with the project life-cycle phases (Shenhar’s project classification) is realized. Proper alignment of projects with strategy during the project life cycle can be classified as the planning process and the monitoring process. Managers should develop a project management plan that has a certain focus on the business strategy.
The third level (mediating process at the emergent strategic feedback level) is a process which uses stages, or also called stage gates or milestone, for evaluating or reviewing the project status on time, cost, and performance. These project stages are points in the project life cycle where projects transition from one stage to another. These stages provide project teams the opportunity to realign the project to its business strategy.
5. RESEARCH DESIGN
5.1 Research methods
Based on the literature of Baarde and Goede (2001), the research on behalf of this thesis is categorized in a preliminary research study, a literature review, a case study research and a web survey. For the execution of the case study research are various data (re)sources used, namely in-depth interviews and the study of business documentation and reports of Centraal Boekhuis.
The preliminary research study has given multifarious insights in for example the company of the case study, but also insights about project management and the business strategy of the concerning organization. In the preliminary research study is a critically literature review completed and several managers of the human resource division have been interviewed for creating a basis for this research. The products of the preliminary research study are a defined approach of the case study research, a description of the company and a defined approach of the web-survey.
The case study research can be categorized in descriptive- and exploratory research study methods (Sanders et al, 2009). The descriptive study of this case study is defined by the research of qualitative data, for example the study of business documentation and reports that are in stock within the company about project management, its business strategy and sustainability. The exploratory part of the research describes the research methods in depth interviews and a web survey.
In order to test how organizations work with project management related to its (sustainable) business strategy, two steps will be carried out. First, on Tuesday March 6, I will send a web survey to approximately 15 companies with sustainability stated in their business strategy. This short questionnaire will offer me data on the way the concerning companies arranges their project management related to the business strategies, to test on how the companies makes their projects sustainable. In order to increase the number of responses and to raise the chances of the answering the questions themselves, I will keep the survey very short, and stress this in the attached e-mail.
Second, I will arrange in-depth interviews with about ten representatives of project management employees of the project department of Centraal Boekhuis. In these interviews, I will attempt
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