Struggling with Strategy? Think Project Management!
By Art Petty
Most organizations struggle with strategy. It’s hard work, it requires a lot of cooperation across functions and it takes incredible discipline to implement, monitor and adapt. Strategy is particularly difficult for firms that are embarking on a formalized initiative for the first time—often, smaller firms striving to grow or established firms seeking to diversify.
Strategy is a healthy mix of art and science. Unfortunately, too many organizations approach strategy as if were alchemy. Adding formal project management practices to the strategy program increases the “science” component and improves a firm’s chances of success for a successful initiative as well as for sustaining of an on-going, healthy program.
A few suggestions for leveraging the power of professional project management in your strategy program include:
- Get over the idea that strategy must produce “Ah Ha” moments. While it is nice (and rare) when that moment occurs, strategy is by and large a process of informed experimentation involving fits and starts and a lot of incrementing. Adopting an incremental philosophy and applying project management practices to a team’s perceived opportunities or to fix the underlying operational problems is a great way to gain experience and some early victories for a firm new to strategy.
Break down the strategy process steps into a series of projects and assign a formal Project Manager to lead the initiative. Remember to create a Charter for the Project Manager and clarify roles, responsibilities and accountabilities of all parties. I encourage my clients to not assign a functional head to this role, as that introduces too much bias into the initiative.
The market, environment and internal assessments are often unstructured discussions where individuals endlessly debate their opinions. Formal project design will minimize this “noise” by ensuring that the initiatives are structured, that objective data sources are identified, and that the process works towards establishing some shared perspectives on market and internal issues.
Strategy initiative identification, selection and priority selection all benefit from the discipline of being treated like projects with clear steps and identified outcomes. These are areas that often crash on the rocks of endless debate or succumb to political decision-making or selection by seat of the pants. Good project management practices define rules of engagement and impose order where chaos often reigns.
Failure in the execution phase is often cited as the primary place where strategy initiatives go awry. An execution program is a series of distinct projects where a Project Manager (with the right charter and support) can dramatically improve chances of success. For companies working through strategy for the first time, the execution activities seem like “extra” work that can easily be ignored in the face of day-to-day activities. Treating execution like a series of formal projects will impose discipline and provide visibility to these critical activities. Eventually the “extra” work becomes ordinary activity in the course of the business.
The Professional Project Manager is your strategy program’s best chance for success. While the Project Manager cannot ensure that competition beating, market-dominating ideas are generated, he or she can guarantee that a firm’s strategy initiative will not crash and burn on the rocks of chaos and disorganization. The Project Manager armed with the right charter and authority is your best strategy program insurance policy.
Art Petty is a 24 year experienced marketing and sales executive in business intelligence software, retail automation, life-safety and building automation markets.
Over his many years of leading and building businesses into market leaders, Petty is most proud of the many great professionals that have graced his teams and have gone on to tremendous careers and accomplishments of their own.
Petty’s runs Strategy & Management Innovations, LLC, a management consulting firm serving Business to Business and Technology organizations. He also maintains a professional blog: Art Petty on Management.