Business Agility Survey / by John Schlichter

Are you involved in the implementation of strategies through projects? The link between an organization’s strategy implementation and project management, called Organizational Project Management (OPM), is well established and well documented, but questions arise regarding how companies are implementing strategies through projects as business environments become more complex, volatile, and uncertain. For that reason, we have questions for you, a survey, and will share our findings in trade for your input.

What is sought is a capability to change across the physical, information, cognitive, and social domains, and to achieve success in the face of deep uncertainty and highly variable conditions. Agility (as it is called) requires learning, and learning requires agility: two sides of the same coin in a world dominated by globalization, almost ubiquitous connectivity, exponential increases in access to data, information and knowledge, speed, and a rich and evolving mix of partners and competitors (Schlichter, McEver, Hayes, 2010). In this landscape, leaders frequently face inherent and massive uncertainty, dynamic and high risk (Brown & Eisenhardt, 1997; Christensen, 1997; D‘Aveni, 1994; Goldman, Nagel, & Preiss, 1995). This combination of factors requires organizations to transform and adjust continually to remain highly effective in extremely fluid environments (Drazin, Glynn, Kazanjian, 1999 and 2004; Sambamurthy, Bharadwaj, & Grover, 2003; Bennet & Bennet, 2004; Bray & Prietula, 2007). Agility is not just another requirement—it is a necessity for survival, and Organizational Project Management (OPM) is a means toward that end (Schlichter, McEver, Hayes, 2010).

While the Project Management Institute’s definition of a project is that a project is “a temporary endeavor with a start and finish that produces something unique,” we believe the more fundamental characteristic of projects is learning. Projects are distinguished from the homogeneous denouements of repetitive and mechanically uncreative operations by the fact that projects are ephemeral endeavors which require learning to produce knowledge that enables teams to solve problems and capitalize on opportunities. Business Units aggregate learning from many projects concurrently as complex adaptive systems (CAS) by combining portfolio, program, and project management, a trifecta of integrated or networked decision-making algorithms recognized by PMI for the first time between 1998 and 2003 as a global standard describing how strategy is implemented through projects in the publication of the Organizational Project Management Maturity Model (OPM3).

Created by a large team led by John Schlichter (co-author of this survey) while he completed graduate level coursework in business strategy taught by Robert Kazanjian (co-author of this survey) at Emory’s Goizueta Business School before John joined the adjunct faculty, the OPM3 standard was originally framed in terms of agility (Schlichter, 2001 and 2002) just as the now-famous Agile Manifesto emerged (Beck, Beedle, Bennekum, Cockburn, Cunningham, Fowler, Martin, Mellor, Thomas, Grenning, Highsmith, Hunt, Jeffries, Kern, Marick, Schwaber, Sutherland, 2001). But advocates of maturity and advocates of agility subsequently evolved independent of and apart from each other.

How are companies implementing their strategies through temporary endeavors at scale in the face of deep uncertainty and highly dynamic conditions? How is an increasing demand for business agility affecting agendas to implement strategies through projects successfully, consistently, and predictably? How do complementary agendas and creative tensions between the pursuits of maturity and agility combine capably for strategy implementation? These and related questions have resulted in a survey we are preparing to deploy. To participate, please contact Survey results and analysis will be shared with the participants.



Bennet, A., & Bennet, D. (2004). Organizational survival in the new world: The intelligent complex adaptive system. Burlington, MA: Butterworth-Heinemann.


Bray, D., & Prietula, M. (2007, December). Extending March's exploration and exploitation: Managing knowledge in turbulent environments. Paper presented at the 28th International Conference on Information Systems, Montreal, Quebec, Canada.


Brown S., & Eisenhardt, K. (1997). The art of continuous change: Linking complexity theory and time-paced evolution in relentlessly shifting organizations. Administrative Science Quarterly, 42(1), 1–34.


Christensen, C. M. (1997). The innovator's dilemma: When new technologies cause great firms to fail. Cambridge, MA: Harvard Business School Press.


D‘Aveni, R. A. (1994). Hypercompetition: Managing the dynamics of strategic maneuvering. New York, NY: The Free Press.


Drazin R., Glynn M., Kazanjian R., Dynamics of Structural Change (2004) in Handbook of Organizational Change and Innovation, Oxfor University Press.


Drazin R., Glynn M., Kazanjian R., Multilevel Theorizing about Creativity in Organizations: A Sensemaking Perspective, The Academy of Management Review, Vol. 24, No. 2 (Apr., 1999), pp. 286-307.


Goldman, S. L., Nagel, R. N., & Preiss, K. (1995). Agile competitors and virtual organizations: Strategies for enriching the customer. New York, NY: Van Nostrand Reinhold.


Sambamurthy, V., Bharadwaj, A., & Grover, V. (2003). Shaping agility through digital options: Reconceptualizing the role of information technology in contemporary firms. MIS Quarterly, 27(2), 237–263.


Schlichter, J., (2001) PMI’s Organizational Project Management Maturity Model: Emerging Standards. Proceedings of the Project Management Institute Annual Seminars & Symposium, Nashville TN USA.


Schlichter, J. (2002, June). Achieving Organisational Strategies through Projects (Turning Agility On): An Introduction to the Emerging PMI Organisational Project Management Maturity Model. Proceedings of the Project Management Institute PMI Europe Conference, Cannes, France, June 19-20, 2002.


Schlichter, J., McEver, J., & Hayes, R. E. (2010). Maturity frameworks for enterprise agility in the 21st century. Paper presented at PMI® Global Congress 2010—North America, Washington, DC. Newtown Square, PA: Project Management Institute.