by Caroline Lowings

Mind the gap between projects & strategy

Change Management

Mind the gap between projects & strategy
Mind the gap between projects & strategy

Strategy should not be the blowing of bubbles behind executive boardroom doors at the top of the organisation, but rather a clear and visible platform throughout the business landscape. I read somewhere that the success of strategy is determined only on how well it is executed, and therefore heavily dependent on the vehicle(s) for executing strategy. Projects and programmes are frequently these vehicles chosen for delivering required change and value into the organisation. Hence, minding the gap between the projects and the strategy should be obvious. But are we even looking out for it?

PricewaterhouseCoopers (PwC) in Johannesburg hosts and sponsors a regular interaction forum for members with interest or involvement in project management offices (PMOs), providing the opportunity under the umbrella of Project Management South Africa (PMSA), to discuss and deliberate the most critical issues facing PMOs today. A PMO is a group or department within a business that defines and maintains standards for project management. The PMO strives to introduce economies of repetition in the execution of projects and programmes, and is the source of methods, documentation, guidance and metrics on the practice of project management, and can oversee the selection and management of projects within the organisation.

On 1 March, I attended the first 2013 forum meeting at PwC offices in Sunninghill. It focused around the theme “From tactical to strategic – the journey of a PMO”. Dalene Grobler and Kabelo Reid co-presented a JD Group case study and lessons learnt from their ongoing experience of building an enterprise project office through the critical necessity to align projects throughout the group, with all its divisions and diverse product lines, to business strategy.

My interest in the talk from a change management perspective was threefold:

  • As already mentioned, projects and programmes within PMO structures are often the launch pads and vehicles for introducing organisational change;
  • Change sustainability is highly dependent on its value and fit within the overarching strategy; and
  • The alignment of what’s happening on the ground to an organisation’s deliberate strategy is a critical success factor for true benefits realisation, and one of the significant advantages of effective change management is the timely achievement of the business benefits.


It was therefore uncanny and, at the same time, very inspiring to hear that the story of taking the PMO at the JD Group from tactical to strategic, as highlighted in the forum presentation, turned out to be somewhat of a classic change management tale, with the prevailing themes of their change story being:

Strong change sponsorship and organisational support

With Dalene and Kabelo reporting into a strong and passionate leader (the strategy director) who has the right executive positioning and influence for championing the PMO cause, they are afforded the right kind of sponsorship, visibility and access to the whole organisation. The alignment with and engaging of human resources, IT and finance means they have the right kind of support from shared services, especially around resource allocation. And through the engagement and alignment with middle-management leadership, they are able to tap into and influence the Go/No project and initiative decision making at the divisional level.

Building a strong case for change and then following through on business benefits

Through building an appropriate PMO strategic framework that links into the group strategy, Dalene and Kabelo have consistently prompted and facilitated the direct mapping of project objectives to business strategy. Through solid analysis of business cases for projects, and by having clarifying conversations around alignment and fit, they have been able to query and resolve “how does it fit?”, “how does it align?” before moving a business request through the first Go/No Go stage gate. And then by tenaciously tracking progress toward business benefits realisation throughout the project life cycle, and by the measuring of 'benefits harvesting' for up to a year after a project has ended, they are able to close the loop on the case for change, and prove value-add.

Creating opportunities for alignment conversations and stakeholder engagement

And their approach to the project inventory development, portfolio prioritisation and management reporting is focused on “being prepared and triggering the right conversations”, removing guesswork by creating visibility and then focusing discussions/decisions on strategic issues. And Dalene advocates, “Where no information exists, put actions in place to get information”. So much of what Dalene spoke about and described from their journey centred around getting the basics right: establishing common language, proactive communication, prompting strategic dialogue and conversations, asking the hard questions and having the tough talks.


By relentlessly asking and pushing for answers to the following key portfolio management questions, they are closing the gap between projects and strategy:

  • Are we investing in the right things?
  • Are we optimising our capacity?
  • Can we absorb, sustain and operationally handle all these changes?
  • How well are we executing?
  • Are we realising the promised benefits?


It was inspirational stuff! Dalene and the strategic PMO team at the JD Group gave the real impression of being among the leading and well-positioned PMOs that are making sincere moves to align with and support the execution of business strategy, and to ensure organisational sustainability. And, interestingly, what can be found weaved between the lines? Change facilitation, stakeholder engagement, assurance of alignment and fit, coaching, training, promoting innovative practice, knowledge management, programme analysis and striving for excellence.

Online References

1) Quote in first paragraph adapted from

2) Definition of PMO adapted from

About Change Story

Change Story specialises in organisational, project and business services such as change management and communications, project and programme analysis, and workshop design and facilitation. For more information on our strategic business and change consulting strategies, visit or contact Caroline on +27 83 263 2660.

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