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Bridging the gap between strategy design and implementation

By Mark A. Langley

Ninety percent of executives in a recent research study admitted they failed to implement some part of their strategy successfully. That wastes money, destroys productivity and it is bad for morale.

Put another way, every 20 seconds, one million dollars is wasted due to poor organization performance. That’s two trillion dollars every year – equivalent to the GDP of Brazil – and it’s too much.

Perhaps this is because having the idea, designing a strategy, or dreaming a dream is easy. Delivering the strategy, implementing change, and making the dream come true is much harder and tends to get left behind by senior executives who move on to the next big idea before the last one takes hold.

All strategic change in organizations happens through projects and programmes – it simply cannot happen any other way. Think about this: how could a company become a digital enterprise without a software upgrade project, or a dozen of them? How would an organization enter new markets if it doesn’t have a programme that integrates its newest acquisition? How could a business unit optimize its product portfolio without a series of projects designed to retire its poor performers?

According to research done by the Economist Intelligence Unit in collaboration with the Project Management Institute (PMI), 88 per cent of executives say that successful execution of their strategic initiatives will be “essential” or “very important” to their organizations’ competitiveness in the next few years. About two-thirds say they struggle with day-to-day implementation of strategy and more than half say this weakness in delivering their strategy puts them at a competitive disadvantage.

Leading organizations do three things better than their peers:

  1. insist on visible and consistent executive-level commitment to building implementation muscle;
  2. motivate cross-functional collaboration between strategy designers and deliverers
  3. master a full array of delivery capabilities that are deployed in a flexible framework

For most organizations, the solution already exists in the form of its delivery capability – whatever it is called: transformation office, results delivery authority, or simply project or programme management.

PMI and the professionals we represent care about that delivery capability. We know that when executives care about it too, their organizations are more successful and they waste less money – 28 times less than their counterparts who don’t draw a bright line between strategy design and delivery.

And that’s what is possible when effective, energetic execution complements first-class strategy design.

About the author

Mark A. Langley is the President and Chief Executive Officer of the Project Management Institute.

This is an excerpt from Strategy@Work, a Brightline and Thinkers50 collaboration bringing together the very best thinking and insights in the field of strategy and beyond.

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