Yep, you read that right. Project management tools are not built to help execute strategy. Yes, both strategic plans and projects have tasks that need to be completed by certain deadlines, tracking metrics, and task owners. PM and strategic plan leaders need software and a process that help put rigor around accountability and providing updates – but the two types of plan execution are not created equal.
I was reading an article posted by the Brightline Initiative titled, “Strategic Initiative Management: The PMO Imperative” which touches upon the importance of having a project management office within your organization.
Based on my experience in the plan execution space, I would wholeheartedly agree with their assessment. If you don’t have folks dedicated to the execution of your strategic initiatives, they won’t get done. Project Management leaders can help make sure those strategic initiatives get done.
The article contends that a PMO does four critical things:
1) Focus on Critical Initiatives
2) Institute Smart and Simple Processes
3) Foster Talent and Capabilities
4) Encourage a Culture of Change
Points 1 and 2 really have me thinking about how project management tools interact with strategy execution, and where they differ.
In this piece, the authors quote another article originally published by the Boston Consulting Group in 2013 which shows a direct connection between organizational financial performance and the percentage of strategic initiatives executed. The authors contend that if you execute 70% of your plan, your financial performance would be considered well above average against your peers.
Think about that for a moment. Even if you leave 30% of your plan “on the table,” you’d still experience amazing results. This is realistic; even the best plans aren’t executed in full; successful leaders adapt to moving targets and changing markets along the way.
Conversely, if you only execute 30% of your initiatives, your financial performance would be well below average compared to your peers. Unfortunately, this is the norm. Strategies are considered “nice-to-haves,” only executed after all your ongoing projects and operations. They’re made up of the initiatives that help propel your organization into the future, so it’s hard to focus on the tangible results.
Pro Tip: Make sure you use this statistic the next time someone tries to tell you that they don’t have time to focus on strategy! Innovation is the best way to lead your market.
A PMO in your organization can help establish some focus on critical initiatives, since employees are already in the process of executing. But using PM tools to do it can be very difficult.
So, PMOs and better processes can help execute strategic plans. However, what about PM software?
As you would imagine, project management or project portfolio management tools are the logical choices for PMO professionals.
For some of you, the mere mention of project management tools conjures visions of Gantt Charts and discussions around Critical Path. If you were to ask a project manager how the construction of your new free-standing ER is going, they can update you on the most intricate details using the aforementioned tools.
Now, here’s the catch.
What would happen if your executive needed a dashboard of all your most important strategic initiatives? They don’t need the detailed metrics or status updates; they need an overall view of how all resources and departments are working together to produce results. Your CEO just needs to know how far off track you are to know where to allocate more resources. Executives need to be able to tell at-a-glance where they’re succeeded so they can analyze what’s working, rinse, and repeat.
Would your PM tools be able to provide that? Or would the only thing your COO be able to see be a detailed timeline of who has completed what task in how much time?
Strategic Initiatives by their very nature are a collection of KPIs and projects. If you can’t make sense of all those moving parts, you can’t determine your performance.
Our customers use AchieveIt to ensure you don’t need an act of congress to get an answer to the question, “How are we doing?” Our software platform helps leaders holistically look at plan execution across the enterprise without the low-level detail of PM tools.
Ask yourself the question, “How are we doing with our strategic plan?”
What’s your answer?
If the answer is “I don’t know,” you need to reexamine the tools you’re using to execute on your plan. You need to use the right tool for the right job, and project management tools are not cut out for strategy execution.