The Language of Progress (1 of 3)

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Most of my professional career was spent in the technology world. As such, project management principles and language have become second nature to me. Collectively, I think of these principles as “the language of progress.”

Effective leadership, of course, is all about progress and accomplishment, both of which require solid project management. To this end, both progress and accomplishment are facilitated when things are clear.

Clarity, in turn, is further facilitated when all parties in an endeavor have a common understanding of what is expected and how those expectations are communicated and measured.

Over the next few weeks we’ll take a quick look at some fundamental concepts that help individuals, teams and entire enterprises make progress and stay on track.

Today we’ll unpack these four terms: strategy, tactics, goals, milestones.

Strategy – A strategy is a high-level plan designed to achieve a particular long-term goal or set of goals. In project management, the strategy outlines the approach the team will take to achieve the project’s objectives.

Usually, strategies are broad and often span across different projects or programs. They often include considerations such as resource allocation, risk management, communications, and stakeholder management, including customers.

In today’s world, a frequently considered strategic topic is outsourcing or maintaining in-house resources to accomplish organizational goals and objectives.

Strategy is a high-altitude look at what you are about and the general direction(s) you will take to achieve what you are about.

Tactics – Tactics are the specific actions or steps taken to accomplish the strategy. They are more short-term, practical, and focused on the execution side of things.

For example, if the strategy involves improving team communication, a tactic might be to implement new project management software or hold daily stand-up meetings.

A good way to keep these two ideas separate is, once again, the idea of altitude. In this context, think of tactics as your “boots on the ground” for making daily progress.

Goals – Goals are the specific objectives (or outcomes) that a project is designed to achieve. They should be clear, measurable, and time-bound.

Goals should also provide a way to evaluate or measure success. Effective goals are always aligned with the overall strategy of an organization or a program. If your goals don’t support your strategy, you will subvert your long-term effectiveness.

Milestones – Milestones are significant events or stages in a project that mark progress towards the project’s goals. They are used to track progress and ensure that the project is on schedule. Milestones are not tasks themselves but represent the completion of multiple tasks.

Good leaders celebrate milestones with their teams when they reach them.

Strategy and tactics are related in that strategy is the overarching plan, and tactics are the specific actions taken to implement that plan. Both are needed for a project to be successful, but they operate at different levels.

Goals and milestones are also related. Goals are what you are trying to achieve with your project, and milestones help you track your progress towards those goals.

Strategy and goals are also similar as they both pertain to the “what” and “why” of a project – what we’re trying to achieve and why.

Tactics and milestones are also similar as they pertain more to the “how” and “when” – how we’re going to achieve our goals and when significant steps towards these goals are completed.

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