At a recent networking event the question ‘How did we get here?’ was raised by some folks dealing with organizational change initiatives to improve performance. I chimed in that from a project management perspective most companies place a higher priority on strategy planning than on strategy execution and never realize the benefits that most projects were supposed to deliver. This was evidenced when I asked people to identify who owns planning strategy and who owns executing strategy in their organizations? Most could identify the planners and few could identify the owners of strategy execution.
I mentioned that few organizations have the discipline to provide oversight and hold people accountable for strategy execution resulting in leadership not knowing how many projects are underway, how those projects are draining their resources and how poorly those projects are implemented, if implemented at all.
Most projects underway in organizations can be categorized as ‘keep the lights on’ type projects that are supposed to deliver improved processing to drive operational excellence. However because so many projects are competing for limited resources many of those projects get crammed in to make a date and leave behind manual work arounds for the ‘team’ to go back and fix.
Guess what, the team never has time to go back and do the fix so those processes get institutionalized as the way work gets done. This happens on many projects and creates inefficient, labor intensive manual processing that erodes the infrastructure of the organization as more transaction volume and customers are brought into the organization. What originally took a few hours as a ‘work around’ now takes a couple of people a few days because the team never went back to ‘fix’ the work around that would have delivered operational excellence.
Projects are undertaken because they are supposed to deliver positive change to the organization. When leadership lacks discipline and oversight to hold people accountable to ensure project benefits are actually realized the expected ‘positive change’ turns into negative impact. So instead of having improved processes to support additional volume without additional resources, organizations add more resources to handle additional transaction volume and customers in an inefficient way using the manual workarounds. Poor project delivery plus inefficient processes equals increased cost that helps answer the question ‘How did we get here?’
Company leaders would not accept delays of weeks and months to service customers. However leaders continually accept delays of weeks and months for executing strategic projects. Significant slippage of dates and lack of visibility of status on projects is commonplace.
Would you invest $100,000 in a financial instrument and accept no monthly statement regarding the performance of that investment. Well that’s exactly what leaders in many organizations do. They make business investments (projects) to deliver a positive return and do not receive a monthly report on how well that investment is doing from a performance perspective. Few leaders can truly say they know what people are working on and how well they are performing. This lack of insight into people and project performance is amazing considering that people are the company’s largest cost and have the greatest influence on executing strategy. Without this visibility, you miss a real opportunity to ensure that you’ve got the right people on the right projects. These key variables can’t be maximized until you’ve got that corporate view of everything that’s going on.
Without improved project performance a great strategy is just an idea. It’s focusing people on execution that make strategy real. For this reason strategy execution needs to become critically important and demand the attention of the ‘C’ level to fix the problem of competing project priorities. Strategy doesn’t drive results; execution of strategy drives results that can provide a sustained competitive advantage.
This requires shifting the focus and performance of a company’s greatest asset, its people, to do more of the right things faster and with better quality than the competition. It also requires leadership to stop a lot of projects so people can focus and deliver positive change within established timeframes. The alternative is to continue having too many projects moving at a snails pace because everything is priority one. Simply stated it’s leadership’s lack of discipline and oversight of strategy execution and another reason that answers the question; how did we get here?
When most people think about discipline, oversight and accountability it’s usually about confrontation and that blame is put in the right place when things don’t go right. Discipline, oversight and accountability are about looking for opportunities to make it better for teams to succeed at executing strategy. When you function as a leader and you focus on delivering value to the execution process you take your projects in new directions that are better for the business. When you add value like that you elevate yourself as a leader who truly contributes to the success of the organization.
The lack of Discipline, Oversight and Accountability (DOA) is how companies got to where they are. Without making the appropriate changes to weave Discipline, Oversight and Accountability into the fabric of an organization’s DNA it’s likely a company will become DOA. And that’s not a place you want to get to.