Project Management as a Competitive Strategy

Michelle LaBrosse, PMP

Several years ago I graduated from Harvard Business School’s Owner President Managed Program (OPM 35). For three years, for three weeks at a time, I interacted with 100+ other CEOs and business owners from around the world while we learned how to make our companies more competitive on a global scale. I took away many fascinating new insights on the standard challenges we all face and learned tools to help navigate my company through the trials and tribulations of our times. One of the things I learned that I use daily is Michael Porter’s work on Competitive Strategies.

Looking through the lens of Project Management, is this a tool that can help an individual and a company be more competitive? I’ve written quite a bit over the years about how businesses can use PM for their corporate advantage (you can check those papers out at From the Michael Porter perspective on competitive strategies, can project management help a company or an individual:

1. Decrease the barriers to entry for themselves into a market while increasing it for others?

2. Reduce the power of suppliers?

3. Reduce the threat of substitutes on their products or services?

4. Reduce the bargaining power of customers (this is a measure of the strength of “brand”, the uniqueness of what you offer, and basic supply and demand economics)?

5. Reduce the amount of rivalry in a market for similar goods or services?

Where I see Project Management being used in the mix of competitive strategies is with reducing the time to market for new products or services, decreasing the overhead of running the business by implementing efficiency projects more efficiently, and developing a more aligned workforce that gets their projects done for less money, in less time, with fewer people. Basically it is the Faster, Better, Cheaper mantra – companies and people that can deliver their main value proposition to their customers faster, better and for less cost than their competition are more competitive. Well executed projects enable this.

But the project has to be aligned with the core strategy of the business that will make it more competitive. What amazes me though is how little time companies spend balancing their portfolio of projects to maximize their competitive strategy. It is as if the execs on high go off on their corporate retreats, come up with their game changing plan and toss it over the fence to middle management to implement without thinking through how to balance a portfolio of projects that would best help them meet that competitive strategy. Project Portfolio selection is where the executive team connects with the project management team. But while many execs have their heads in the clouds, many PMs are focused too close to the ground – on the day to day implementation, tools and techniques of PM.

To make a difference, Project Managers need to learn the language of competitive strategy. CEOs and execs think in these terms – when you learn to speak their language it makes it far easier to “sell” the concept of doing better project management. You can download a free paper on how to sell PM to senior executives at

To further help PMs develop the leadership skills necessary to interact with the executive team, over the past five years we have been teaching two classes –

Project Portfolio Management
Enterprise Project Management

Consider developing skills in these two areas if you want to make a difference in how companies you work with use Project Management as a competitive strategy.

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