Episode 356: Strategy Execution through Project Leadership (Premium)
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This episode is sponsored by The Agile PrepCast. PDU for PMP®:
In many organizations, there is a familiar gap between what should get done and what does get done. This gap is commonly referred to as the “execution gap” and it represents an organizational leadership issue that is difficult to overcome.
In his article Mind The Strategic Execution Gap [Update: Link is no longer available so we removed the link.] Paul Williams (http://www.thinkforachange.com/aboutpaul [Update: Link is no longer available so we removed the link.]) argues that we also have an “innovation gap” as well as a gap in strategy execution.
The strategic execution gap is most often a result from a lack of focus and action between the strategic direction of the organization and its frenetic attempt to balance keeping the lights on and the customer happy.
In our interview Paul defines the problem and we learn a lot about these various gaps -- how they come to be and how they represent a problem to our organizations. But of course we also discuss how project management and project leadership fits into all of this and how we project managers and project leaders can help overcome the issues.
PDU TipThis interview is 28 minutes long. This means that you can "legally" only claim 0.25 PDUs for listening to it. However... if you first listen to the interview and then also read the article on which it is based, then you can go ahead and claim 0.50 PDUs!
Cornelius Fichtner: Hello and welcome to this Premium Episode #356. I am Cornelius Fichtner.
Premium means that this interview is reserved for you, our Premium subscribers. Thank you very much for being here and for supporting the Podcast.
In many organizations, there is a familiar gap between what should get done and what does get done. This gap is commonly referred to as the execution gap and it represents an organizational leadership issue that is difficult to overcome.
In his article, "Mind the Strategic Execution Gap" Paul Williams argues that we also have an innovation gap, as well as gap in strategy execution. The strategic execution gap is most often a result from a lack of focus and action between the strategic direction of the organization and the frenetic attempt to balance keeping the lights on and keeping the customers happy.
In our interview, Paul defines the problem and we learn a lot about these various gaps, how they come to be and how they represent a problem to our organizations. But of course, we also discussed how project management fits into all of these and how we project managers can help overcome the issues.
So mind the gap please! Enjoy the interview.
Female Voice: The Project Management Podcast's feature interview: Today with Paul R. Williams, PMP, Executive Managing Partner of Think For A Change LLC.
Cornelius Fichtner: Hello, Paul! Welcome back to The Project Management Podcast™!
Paul Williams: Oh, thanks for having me back. It's a great opportunity. So I appreciate it.
Cornelius Fichtner: Yeah! So first off, let me ask you this: Up to now, I always said that we project managers and project leaders, we make things happen. Our company has a strategy for example, increase market share, something like that. And then we are the ones that lead the projects to turn this vision into reality. Does this still hold true today?
Paul Williams: Well let me first tell you that I 100% agree with your line of thinking and in fact whenever I have the opportunity to speak at conferences or interviews, I always try to remind project management professionals that without them or without our methodology or processes and tools, the world will descend into chaos.
We're frequently the butt of a lot of jokes about being hyper-organized and control freaks. The truth of the matter is that project managers and leaders actually make things happen. We're the drivers behind the plan.
While business journalists love to go on and on about the entrepreneurial CEOs and their breakthrough ideas, the fact is that a very smart project team led by a project manager was the true impetus behind the actual delivery or execution of those clever ideas and that is a key distinction that gets overlooked a lot of times. People just see the cool, shiny ideas but they miss the whole hardworking, sweaty backend of innovation kind of thing, the hard work that actually makes the actual product at the end of the day. So I'm right with you on that one.
Cornelius Fichtner: Alright! The reason why I asked you this is because our first interview that we did was based on an article that you wrote and we are going to be talking about another article that you wrote right now. And that article is: "Mind the Strategic Execution Gap." And I just wanted to make sure that we're still talking about the same kind of general principles here.
But before we can really delve into this strategic execution gap, we have to define two other terms and that is the execution gap and the innovation gap. So what are they? What is the execution gap?
Paul Williams: Yeah, so the execution gap, my definition is that it is the difference between what the organization should get done based on its strategy and what actually does get done based on what projects are actually funded and executed.
And then the innovation gap, that's a little more specific regarding strategic intent or the desire for more breakthrough thinking and innovative new product espoused by senior leadership compared to the safe incremental, product-extension type stuff that actually gets built and delivered by middle engagement-type folks in the front line or what I call the dumbing down smart strategies approach.
Cornelius Fichtner: Alright! So much for the execution gap and innovation gap. Generally, a strategy is devised at the top and then handed down to the divisions to implement. Where then does the strategic execution gap happen?
Paul Williams: Yeah, so unfortunately once a strategic mandate starts to cascade down the management chain, it gets deluded essentially to minimize what I call organizational change panic or it is forced to fit into something that enter an existing operational behavior rather than creating a new org structure or operational process around these adjustments.
Innocent as they may seem, they're almost unconsciously initiated via what I call an organizational change antibody reflex. Nobody in an organization likes change and when something new and shiny comes rolling down, there's an almost major unconscious reaction to it and it's hardly ever positive.
And what happens with this change panic is there's this desire to do something new and something great and what results is something more incremental rather than breakthrough. Ideas and solutions come nowhere close to matching the original mandate as directed by the executive leadership team. This is where the gap exists and this is partially the reason why it happens.
Cornelius Fichtner: I have a quote for you from the Harvard Business Review. It says: "Companies typically realize only about 60% of their strategy's potential value because of breakdowns, planning and execution." Is that what we're talking about?
Paul Williams: Yeah, yeah! That quote tells me that organizations need to do a lot better job focusing on and investing in strategic execution and project management discipline. Both of those were created to solve the exact problems stated in that quote. But yet shortsightedness, scope prioritization and ineffective management approaches cause us to fall short. Planning and execution are two key components of the project management life cycle. It takes true leadership and dedication from the top to make sure that an organization's focus is in the right place and the skill set exist to move the needle on that statistic.
Cornelius Fichtner: You said it takes leadership and dedication. So is the problem simply that we have busy executives and senior leaders focused on their own priorities and they don’t take the time to verify that their strategic direction is in fact being followed until it's far too late in the process?
Paul Williams: Yeah, that's certainly part of the problem. Too many executives and senior leaderships, they look ahead to the next thing rather than taking the time to verify that their strategic directions being followed until it's really far too late in the process. By the time senior leadership figures out there's a gap, their typical reaction is: "Oh well, at least something happened; at least some action better than no action. It maybe didn’t get my original bullet strategic vision but at least I got something" and that something is almost always something safe and something completely ineffectual.
Cornelius Fichtner: So if strategic innovation and the execution of that strategy is so important, why then does innovation fail to take hold in organizations?