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Securing ROI in Break-out Strategy – A Review of Execution Methodologies
By Gail Severini

Most organizations have developed internal processes and capabilities for executing strategy. However, most of these are built for the transitional strategies that organizations face in average years (familiar improvements that modify systems and processes).

The break-out from the recession of 2008 – 11 created market disruption and seismic opportunities and threats. Strategies that take advantage of these shifts are typically transformational in nature (i.e., the nature of the change and the inherent risks are radically different).

The first execution choice that organizations face is, “Can we really ‘muscle through’, or do we need to change the way we change?” When the risk of failure, or consequences of short-fall are too high, then organizations suddenly get very serious about governance, processes, and capabilities.

What is transformational change? We screen for several characteristics that include:

  • The future state must be so different as to be almost unrecognizable (think Nokia, Kodak)
  • Modifications in behaviors, beliefs, and assumptions (culture shift) are essential

  • There are multiple interdependent components to integrate

  • There is likely to be a shift in the politics of the organization

  • A significant number of people will be unwilling or unable to complete the journey

Furthermore, such initiatives often take on the “do or die” proportions of business imperatives.

These initiatives warrant additional rigor: an end-to-end (concept to realization) process, more oversight, more accountability, and more follow-through.

This series will provide an overview of the conventional best practices for strategy execution, discuss the gaps in their application to transformational change, and explore advancements that can secure and accelerate ROI.

The Hand-off from Strategy

First of all, let’s understand where strategy comes from and how it is deployed into the organization.

Every few years, or sometimes in the face of a seismic market shift, organizations do a comprehensive strategic review. This scrutinizes the market for opportunity and the organization for efficiency. Often consulting firms like McKinsey & Company, Bain & Company, and Boston Consulting Group are brought in to conduct the review and engage the C-Suite in developing the Strategic Plan for the next 3-5-10 years.

Once the strategy is complete and approved by the Board, the leadership team re-convenes and the initiatives are divided up. Most of the allocations are logical, assigned to the division in which they will be implemented and overseen by the head of that area (e.g., finance initiatives are taken by the CFO). The trickier assignments are those driven by technology (where the benefits accrue in another department / division) and those that cross silos (where benefits accrue in multiple departments/divisions). With that, the individual divisions / departments assemble their delivery teams. Most often a business lead is assigned, a project manager is recruited (internally or externally) and then the rest of the team is identified and assembled.

What Are the Strategy Execution Methodologies?

Almost without exception, a form of project (program or portfolio) management is deployed. Sometimes change management is also required and integrated.

Project Management

Project management is a structured process for organizing change. Generally speaking, it deals with the logistics of implementation ( i.e., what needs to be changed, when does this need to be completed, who do we need working on this, what is our budget, and how are we tracking). It creates a governance structure with roles, decision rights and responsibilities, details specifications around objectives and deliverables, and sets up a tracking process.

The project work runs concurrently alongside “business as usual”, leveraging the many of the same resources and augmenting with some specialists. In addition, it builds the new system / process / capability while the old one is still in operation, manages the transition over to the new system / process capability, and decommissions the old.

Project teams typically include a business owner, often called a sponsor, who is responsible for making decisions, and a project manager who coordinates the work associated with making the change and managing the project. Additional resources often include business analysts and other specialists whose skills are required to build and implement the new “thing”. Subject matter experts (SMEs) from within the organization are often seconded to the project as well, bringing resources such as content specialists (e.g., underwriters if the change is a new insurance product), marketing managers, communications specialists, training coordinators, etc. Further resources often include members of other affected departments, or those who will be instrumental in the success of the initiative, (e.g., a call center lead and sales representative in the case of a new insurance product launch).

The larger the change, the more expansive the project management approach. For example, if a bank decides to break into the insurance market, and the initiative is the launch of a subsidiary, the work is often structured as a portfolio or program where individual projects are grouped into a delivery hierarchy of groups of projects. In this model, one portfolio manager might have three program managers reporting to him/her, and each of the project managers might have a number of project managers as direct reports.

Project management seems to have gotten a lot of traction over the past 20 years—most medium and almost all large organizations are using it. The predominant methodologies are The Project Management Institute (PMI), which is common in North America, and PRINCE2, which has real traction in the UK (for reasons that will become obvious in a subsequent post) and in some of Europe.

Change Management

Change management is a substantively younger discipline than project management (even if we measure from Kurt Lewin’s Change Theory dating from the 1940s). That theory is based on organizational psychology principles regarding how humans transition through change. If it requires changing the work that people do and how they think about that work, then change management needs to be integrated in the implementation approach.

Some of the basic ideas include:

  • It is difficult for employees, who have developed competency in certain areas, to leave that behind, and to learn and execute in new ways.
  • The case for change must be clear to everyone—on a business and personal level.

  • Even so, it is about more than communication and training. It includes developing understanding, surfacing resistance, and encouraging experimentation.

  • The old school reliance on compliance is insufficient and exorbitantly expensive.

  • Engagement builds commitment. Commitment delivers realization of business results.

  • Governance is critical—specifically, there are best practices for leadership (sponsorship) at all levels in the organization.

  • Change is dynamic—the tee-up is not enough. Progress must be monitored, resistance defused and commitment nurtured.

A handful of thought leaders and practitioners have been active in this arena since the 1980s. In terms of process maturity: there is considerable consistency in high level principles, some consistency in general application, and very few public methodologies.


In following articles, I will provide a high-level review of the most common project management methodologies (Project Management Institute and PRINCE2) and change management methodologies, together with a commentary on the strengths and weaknesses of the typical application. In the finale, we will look at how they come together (or not) to optimize a holistic delivery approach right through to results realization.

Gail Severini is a professional management consultant specializing in leading and managing change and strategic marketing. She draws on 20+ years with premier Canadian and off-shore financial services companies such as Royal Bank of Canada, CIBC (bank and insurance), HSBC and Butterfield Bank as well as for health care providers, post secondary education and manufacturing organizations. She is a graduate of Queen’s University, earned the Certified Management Consultant (CMC) designation in 1993, became Certified in Prosci Research’s Change Management Methodology in 2009 and has continued to invest in professional development through the Strategic Leadership Forum and Project Management Institute.

As founder of the Symphini Change Management Inc ( vision, she is a relentless advocate for managed progress, both strategic and tactical, and for mastery of change management. Symphini is a management consulting firm specializing in transforming businesses by leveraging people, process and technology through change.

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