Strategic & Agile: Modern Project Management that Drives Change

March 06, 2023

Get big things done – with Strategic Project Management

To successfully implement digitalization and transformation processes, it takes a clear vision, strong leadership skills, and a motivated team. Another central factor for successful transformation within an organization is still very frequently overlooked: modern project management. Martina Huemann, Academic Director of the MBA in Strategic Project Management, and Katharina Koessler, Head of the Center of Excellence for Process Improvement and Project Management at Fresenius Medical Care, have analyzed why that is the case. They give an overview of how co-creation and the triple bottom line relate to project management, and why so many companies these days are making a point to be agile in their projects.

Modern project management is a strategic necessity in a transforming world. Photo © shutterstock - 3rdtimeluckystudio - Someone is typing on a laptop - different holographic symbols are hovering above his hands.
Modern project management is a strategic necessity in a transforming world. Photo © shutterstock - 3rdtimeluckystudio

Picture this: a project is set up for a number of years; the team reaches milestone after milestone – but in the end, the implementation fails to account for the market’s demands. Why? Because in the meantime, the market has changed, and the same is true for customer wishes. In the end, the project might be finished, but it was a giant waste of time and money. In light of the rapid changes in the work and business world, most companies can no longer afford such an outcome. Change occurs every single day. And that’s why “change projects” mapped out from A to B and with fixed project durations have become obsolete. “In times of uncertainty, rife with complex issues, change is an everyday phenomenon and must be embraced proactively,” Martina Huemann, the Academic Director of the MBA in Strategic Project Management says.

Achieve Major Milestones – with Strategic Project Management

For today’s companies, there is no way around restructuring and transformation if they want to keep up with the pace of digitalization and the world of New Work. The projects that tackle such change (processes) are comprehensive and often transform the entire organization, including workflows, new collaboration formats, and a restructuring of the organizational chart. Their complexity requires modern, strategic project management.

Martina Huemann Portrait

Martina Huemann

  • Academic Director of the MBA Strategic Project Management

In the past, corporate strategies used to be implemented through long-term measures; today, a strategy must be woven into all projects – or vice versa: projects must be aligned with the corporate strategy to avoid unnecessary and useless project costs that pass over the strategy and thus corporate values and goals. And that’s particularly important in corporate change processes.

What this also means: Whether the context is New Work, digital transformation, or efforts to reposition a company in a crisis, it’s never merely about the respective project goals but also about aspiring to something bigger that transcends them: the company’s purpose.

Project Management as a Strategic Change Driver

A success requirement: the right approach. “A career study we carried out showed that senior project managers are particularly successful when they propose and draft projects aligned with the organization’s corporate strategy, pushing change in the direction in which the company as a whole is headed. Projects always bring about change, but we have to make sure it’s the change we want,” Martina Huemann says. “So if a company wants to consolidate its position as particularly conscious in terms of sustainable development, projects can support and further this goal in a targeted way. As a project manager, I will have to think strategically and ask myself: How will the project contribute to this goal in the long run?” This changes the project manager’s role: “Modern project management will be a more creative task in the future, and project managers will become project designers.”

Nowadays, project managers not only implement, but also create and design. Photo © shutterstock - Sergey Nivens - a woman in business clothes works at a holographic work board
Nowadays, project managers not only implement, but also create and design. Photo © shutterstock - Sergey Nivens

Co-Creation and the Triple Bottom Line

At the same time, the context within which a project is implemented is increasingly influencing the outcome: “To ensure maximum value creation, you will have to enter a co-creation process with all stakeholders, in product development as much as in regional development or in building projects. With this approach, not only the economic but also the ecological, social, and societal impact of a project (the triple bottom line) is considered,” Martina Huemann explains. Her career study found that many young people are eager to work on projects: “Projects can keep motivation high in a company; they can help retain young talents. Today’s high potentials are very concerned about the social and ecological impact of their work. A company can, for instance, define its strategic goals around diversity, sustainability, or the United Nation’s SDG goals, imbuing every project realized within the organization with these ambitions: “This could be a construction company looking to reduce its carbon footprint by using concrete that was produced in an emission-conscious way. In this case, the strategy’s key performance indicators would have to be met on the project level as well,” Huemann explains. To emphasize the importance of strategy, “Strategic” was added to the program’s original name, which used to be Professional MBA in Project Management.

Project Management with a Strategy and Purpose

The strategic relevance of project management requires project managers to obtain new skills: “As they are implementing projects, they have to continuously keep asking ‘why’ something is done, which will help them ensure that they have understood the project’s ambitions, strategy, and purpose. When they design a project themselves, they must have a clear understanding of their company’s corporate strategy and also ask for information that is not already available to them. In other words, they must also explore the reasons why they are doing something. Project management carried out this way supports a company’s development in the best possible way,” Martina Huemann states. In this process, all stakeholders, – customers, project partners, – and their goals and expectations must be considered.

“This means that project managers must assume a leadership role, which requires a wide range of capabilities, such as good communication skills.” This is another field in which the MBA in Strategic Project Management supports participants to enable them to grow into a leader fit for our times.

Modern project management also includes leadership tasks: it's a matter of getting all stakeholders on board. - The bow of a yacht on the sea
Modern project management also includes leadership tasks: it's a matter of getting all stakeholders on board.

Flexible Companies Need Agile Projects

Martina Huemann stresses that project management requires agile approaches to drive transformation: “In the past, people carried out experiments to find out things that could not be understood in any other way, for instance in space travel. Over the years, this approach of learning by doing has been forgotten. Agile project management means returning to the roots of project management: new projects always require us to get into untested waters,” Huemann explains. “We have to ask ourselves which purpose agility is to serve. Unfortunately, many people confuse agility with more speed, when it’s really about better and more efficient collaboration and about iterative feedback loops and adaptations that lead to better project results,” Martina Huemann says.

Staying on Top of the Game with the Right Continuous Education

And that’s exactly the kind of knowledge students of the WU Executive Academy’s MBA in Strategic Project Management acquire: how to introduce and implement agile approaches.

Katharina Koessler also learned about agile methods during her studies. The MBA graduate heads the Center of Excellence for Process Improvement and Project Management at Fresenius Medical Care. She is also a Senior Programme Manager Operational Excellence in the Manufacturing Division. She remembers how much she benefitted from her cohorts’ knowledge: “A colleague who worked at Adobe used agile project management tools – I was intrigued. After finishing my MBA, I also introduced agile methods to our Center of Excellence, and now we offer training sessions on these agile skills to our project managers,” she shares.

[Translate to English:] Katharina Kössler Portrait

Katharina Kössler

  • MBA Strategic Project Management alumna

The MBA’s contents were extremely interesting for me because I gained an overview of all business administration subjects while simultaneously getting the chance to deepen my project management skills. For many years, this had been my main job, which is why it was important for me to learn about the topic’s state of the art in both academia and practice.

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