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The 9 Secrets to Strategy Execution

At UMT360 we talk a lot about managing the big picture.  Take a look at our site and you’ll find guides to strategic portfolio management (SPM), to the increasingly important discipline of enterprise architecture (EA), and to many of the strategic disciplines that make up those concepts.  But we don’t stop there.  At UMT360 we’re unique because we also recognize the need to actually deliver.  Our tools don’t simply help you identify what to prioritize and how to plan work around those priorities.  They also help you make the changes to your organization and validate the success of those changes.

That’s where strategy execution management – SEM comes in.  It’s the entire process of developing strategies, determining goals and objectives, decomposing those strategies into investments which are then funded and executed before the performance is validated.  After all, if you can’t execute on your strategic plans then none of the expected value you’re anticipating and that’s driving the investments you’re making, will happen.  And that’s a real problem.

What is Strategy Execution Management?

Strategy execution management is the evolution of traditional project delivery. It’s recognized by Gartner as a key part of Strategic Portfolio Management (SPM) processes and tools, and while ultimately, it’s about delivering the initiatives, it’s not just blindly following a plan in the hope that you’ll end up in the right place. Instead, strategy execution management enables you to drive business agility and optimize your return from strategic initiatives by ensuring alignment from the top down of everything from strategy through delivery and benefits realization.

How Does Strategy Execution Management Differ From Project Execution?

Gartner has made the distinction between Strategic Portfolio Management – SPM, and Adaptive Project Management or APM.  APM is the more traditional, execution focused approach to work delivery, management and status reporting, and it is critically important to success.  SEM is an element of SPM and sits at a more strategic level than the work execution that occurs within APM.

SEM is a more comprehensive, strategic approach that focuses on alignment between strategy and execution and covers the elements we are going to consider in this guide.  It is not an alternative, to traditional project and work management, it is an additional capability that is necessary and that must integrate with the work management and delivery tools that operate at the APM layer.

What Are Common Strategy Execution Management Challenges

SEM can be problematic for organizations.  While there is no shortage of potential challenges that can be experienced, the following are commonly experienced:

  • Aligning all investments and resources with strategy.  Traditional planning approaches see a disconnect between the enterprise wide, top-down planning approach to setting goals and objectives, and the bottom-up, often siloed, approach to defining the projects and initiatives that are supposed to deliver on those goals and objectives.  This results in the wrong work being approved and funded, resources committed to areas that simply cannot deliver, and an underperforming organization.
  • Harmonizing across all project execution styles.  Organizations today have to deal with the tri-modal reality of delivery.  Work is delivered using traditional, waterfall project management, agile and ad-hoc methods.  There is frequently difficulty in monitoring performance and managing resources across those different approaches, resulting in incomplete pictures of what’s happening.  This leads to delayed and flawed decision making and hurts overall performance.
  • Benefits realization and outcome management.  Organizations only succeed when their investments generate a return.  Yet many organizations struggle to not only measure performance, but even define effective and appropriate metrics.  This is especially true for non-financial metrics.  Organizations that can’t measure performance, can’t confirm that benefits have been realized and can’t take actions to correct shortfalls.

The 9 Secrets to Effective Strategy Execution

Effective strategy execution is largely about ensuring all of the strategic work of your organization is aligned, and that everything is being driven from the top of the organization – from the strategies themselves.  If you are able to combine these nine elements, you’ll be well on your way:

  1. Strategy Definition & Communication
  2. Funding & Financial Performance
  3. Resource Management & Capacity Planning
  4. Delivering With Strategic Roadmaps
  5. Outcome / Benefits Realization
  6. What-If Analysis / Portfolio Modeling
  7. Change Request Management
  8. Reporting
  9. Integration

Let’s look at each in turn.

1. Strategy Definition & Communication 

Strategy execution must be a seamless process incorporating:

  • Setting of priorities, goals and objectives
  • Communication across the enterprise
  • Definition of investments and success criteria

Unless strategy is clearly defined, communicated across the enterprise and integrated with the tools used to manage investments and work, it will be impossible to create a fully aligned business.  SEM has to start with a direct connection between work and strategy – strategic goals and objectives are broken out into investments with appropriate metrics to measure performance.  Those investments are then further decomposed into work items (epics, projects, etc.).

Unless executives are able to define their organizational north star, align the entire organization with it, and determine the performance levels that can be achieved, success is impossible.

2. Funding & Financial Performance 

Historically, organizations have funded work how they have planned it.  At the project level, often defined from the bottom-up, with attempts to force alignment with objectives through sales pitch style business cases.  This is inefficient, unnecessarily cumbersome and results in heavy governance and oversight that does nothing to enable success.

Effective funding must be at the program or product level, aligned with the investments that are defined as part of planning.  Investment owners have autonomy over their budgets and can further allocate resources where needed to deliver work.  Governance is where it should be – also at the investment level, where it is effective without being burdensome.  Investment owners are able to manage their investments across each of the tri-modal realities, ensuring work can be done in the most effective way without compromising oversight.

The program and product level is also where finance needs to be managed, with investment level budget, actual and forecast numbers.  That leads to better corrective actions in less time, again helping to optimize returns.  This approach is in stark contrast to traditional project portfolio management platforms and approaches that prioritize management to arbitrary schedules and / or attempts to control resource assignments, deprioritizing financial management in the process.

It is critical for SEM to prioritize financial performance as ultimately optimized spend drives optimized returns.

3. Resource Management & Capacity Planning 

Work today requires organizations to be able to fully leverage all their assets, and the most expensive asset of all is people.  Traditional resource management is ineffective:

  • Over allocation of some resources creates bottlenecks and delays
  • Under allocation of other groups results in lost opportunity and reduced ROI
  • Failure to adapt to changing resource demands and skills needs impacts delivery
  • The tri-modal reality of delivery leads to people being managed across multiple, often disconnected systems.

There must be a single, integrated approach to resource management that captures resource demand, capacity, allocations, and utilization – both by function or role, and by individual.  Only then can resources be optimized.

4. Delivering With Strategic Roadmaps

Roadmaps are effective collaboration and planning tools that allow an organization to quickly and visually determine priorities and then communicate them to all stakeholders in an intuitive way.  Roadmaps must show dependencies, must be able to flow from strategies to investments to work delivery across each of the tri-modal realities, and must be integrated with the rest of the organization’s SPM platform to ensure roadmap changes directly feed investments, funding and work delivery.

Strategic roadmaps must be living, evolving things and must reflect the near-term and longer-term strategic plans of the enterprise.  To maintain that effectively requires two-way, seamless integration with work execution across each of the tri-modal realities.

5. Outcome / Benefits Realization 

Success in strategy execution requires the ability to validate that the expected business outcomes have been achieved.  As noted in the challenges section above, historically this is an area where organizations have struggled, particularly with non-financial metrics.  Organizations must use standardized metrics and targets, to validate value delivery and see where performance adjustments are needed.

Those metrics must be defined at the time that investments are approved.  The process of decomposing strategies into investments, discussed earlier in this section, must incorporate the definition of appropriate metrics and targets that will ultimately be used to ensure outcomes have been achieved.

The shift to top-down decomposition of work also involves a shift to top-down metric definition, and this often highlights weaknesses in organizational approaches to benefits realization.  Unless there are appropriate, clearly defined metrics and measurement approaches, and unless that measurement actually happens for all performance targets, organizations cannot ensure they are optimizing performance.

6. What-if Portfolio Analysis / Modeling

Shifting customer expectations, competitor actions, advancements in technology and a myriad of other factors result in the need to be able to adjust and adapt plans during delivery.  Success comes not only from ensuring the work that is approved and funded aligns with the strategic goals and objectives on day one, but that the alignment is maintained throughout the delivery window.

That means it is essential to be able to adjust strategic roadmaps and analyze the implications through what-if analysis and portfolio modeling.  Such analyses may include portfolio prioritization, resource capacity planning, benefits optimization and roadmap optimization.  There are many, highly differentiated, analyses that combine to provide a complete picture, but all of those must be delivered within a single, integrated solution.

Regardless of which analyses are being carried out, the ability to quickly assess alternatives, understand and plan for dependencies, collaborate to select the right option, and then communicate the changes is essential.  As is the confidence to know that the best decision has been made based on the information available.

7. Change Request Management 

Historically, change requests have been among the most disruptive parts of strategy execution.  But in today’s fast paced world, they’re a necessary tool, work can’t simply deliver against the original plan in an environment that is constantly evolving.  Those change requests must be carefully managed to ensure that the changes being made are the right ones, that they succeed in keeping work aligned with required benefits, that the implications on dependencies are understood, and that they are continuously optimizing returns.

That requires:

  • Understanding the impact of proposed change requests
  • Ensuring that only the right work is approved
  • Implementing changes in the right way and at the right time
  • Analyzing implications on budgets, resources, schedules, dependencies and benefits

8. Reporting & Dashboards 

Strategy execution is complex.  Different stakeholders have different information needs to manage that complexity, and organizations must be able to meet all those needs to have the best chance at success.  From portfolio level performance data to work team variances against constraints, and specialist functions on governance, costs and resources, there must be integrated reporting and intuitive dashboards based on a single data set that provides consistent information to all stakeholders. 

9. Integration

One of the biggest drains on effectiveness and efficiency is the lack of integration.  Information in multiple locations, duplicate data entry across systems, reliance on spreadsheets for data capture and dissemination – the list goes on.  Effective strategy execution management needs seamless integration with all of enterprise solutions – traditional and agile work delivery, HRIS, ERP, configuration management and so on.

Whole Enterprise Management

Beyond the capabilities of SEM, it is essential to recognize that, as an overall discipline, SEM must integrate with the overall strategic approach to running and transforming the enterprise.  That means integration with business and enterprise architecture to ensure that the work being done with SEM is moving the enterprise closer to the desired end state.

As part of an overall SPM approach, it is also essential to ensure that approved enterprise architecture models are driving strategic priorities, which are in turn driving investments, execution and benefits realization.  This requires integrated business processes, and an integrated toolset to ensure optimal performance through an end-to-end approach that incorporates detailed roadmapping tools to help plan and communicate strategy, the development of strategic investments, the breakdown of work into multiple structures and delivery modalities, and ultimately the validation of performance.

The bottom line

Without delivery, the best strategic plans in the world will never be achieved.  Organizations have invested heavily in their tools and approaches for strategic planning in recent years, but they have often done little to address the disconnect that still exists between those planning capabilities and the execution of work.

As a result, through a combination of flawed processes, disconnected tools and a lack of awareness of the impact of those problems, organizations are consistently failing to optimize their return on investments.  And it’s all unnecessary.  With UMT360’s complete solution from 360 Enterprise Connect to help understand your business, through 360 Portfolio Insights to plan, prioritize and deliver, you have the total solution to enable strategic success.

Combine that with our proven VIC Framework to help you develop the business processes that allow you to optimally deliver, and you’ll soon have world-class strategy execution.

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