I’ve danced with this topic before (Struggling with Strategy? Think Project Management), and the more experience that I gain helping clients improve the effectiveness and efficiency of their strategic planning and execution program development activities through project management practices, the more sold I am on the approach.
In my experience, many of the biggest gaffes in strategy and execution planning processes occur because the common-sense steps of the Project Manager are ignored, often because a functional leader or worse yet, an executive is charged with running the project.
Just a few areas where I’ve observed complete strategy project derailment because good project management practices were ignored:
- The meetings grind down in a never-ending sea of fact-finding, debate and then more debate.
- Instead of focusing on strategic issues, the discussions quickly shift to short-term operational issues.
- Tools are misapplied.
- The deliverables are a powerpoint deck and a bunch of disgruntled participants that realize that they will never get the time that they just wasted back again.
- Insular groups that practice strategic planning like it is a combination of Voodoo and a secret language, complete with a secret handshake for entry into meetings.
- Ideas are generated, but there is no mechanism to turn them into actions.
- Actions take place but there are no mechanisms to evaluate relative success and gain lessons learned
- A strategy is created but the organization’s employees are not tuned in to the strategy well-enough to understand how to connect their priorities to the strategic objectives of the firm.
- The Voice of the Customer is never heard.
And so on…
Enter the Project Manager armed with skills required to improve the odds of success. I encourage management teams to treat a strategic planning cycle as a series of projects, and to engage a senior-level project manager to run the process.
Suggestions to Improve Strategy and Execution Program Effectiveness include:
- Creation of a Charter and the assignment of an executive sponsor that is responsible for the success of the initiative.
- Identification of core Strategy Team members, and their responsibilities/accountabilities in the process.
- Development of a clear scope document that defines priorities and deliverables.
- Communication of the Charter and Scope materials by the Executive Sponsor and Project Manager to the broader organization to promote understanding and to gain support for involvement in data gathering and brainstorming as well as future sessions on execution.
- Project Manager working with the core strategy team to define up-front data needs, to help identify the project’s work breakdown structure and to coordinate scheduling and resources for upfront data gathering.
- On-going monitoring of work teams that are handling early phase data gathering, market assessments, customer interviews and competitor analysis.
- Monitoring and control of the project to ensure that it moves relatively smoothly through the phases from definition to data gathering, assessment, options identification, options analysis, options selection and execution program definition.
- Once options are identified and selected, these define logical projects, and the Project Manager and PM team are already in-place to hit the ground running in helping to move ideas into actions.
The Bottom-line for Now
The application of professional project management practices to the strategic planning and execution program development cycles of an organization can eliminate many of the common pitfalls that derail these programs.
While the Project Manager cannot guarantee that the insights and actions developed during strategy are the right ones, he/she can take away the organizational-risk that so often rears its head to doom the best intended initiatives. Instead of shooting yourself in both feet while running a footrace, let the Project Manager shoulder the weapon and leave you free to run fast and hard towards creating value for your customers and stakeholders.