Author and educator Antonio Nieto-Rodriguez is a passionate advocate for measuring strategy execution to strike a fine balance between managing the business and driving business change. He recently created a survey to inspire insights on the topic and revealed how his ‘Focused’ approach leads to differentiating yourself from the competition. I tapped into his more than 12 years of research and knowledge in the area of strategy execution and project and portfolio management.
Goal of Strategy Execution Research
Yolanda: Hello Antonio. It’s great to see you’re doing research around strategy and execution in an area that will l benefit many people. Our customers are looking for ways to ‘keep the lights on’ but also execute on future strategies that can be game-changers.
Antonio: Yes. Your customers would experience that constant struggle to spend company resources on “running the business,” often at the cost of executing strategies for “changing the business”. It’s a real business challenge that I also see in my day-to-day work so I decided to do my PhD research on strategy execution for three main reasons:
- First, strategy execution is one of the areas in business management which I found has the least amount of research available.
- Second, I’ve taken a look at strategies of the top 100 companies according to money.com and it’s no surprise to see that companies that are in similar markets and offer similar products and services will also have similar strategic objectives. The differentiation for these companies is their process of executing on strategy. Ultimately, success comes largely down to execution.
- Third, I believe that strategy execution has a very strong link with project management and project portfolio management. It is important to show that correlation and explain how that a focused organization leverages good project and portfolio management practices to execute on strategy without wasting valuable time and resources.
Strategy Execution and Project and Portfolio Management
Yolanda: In your research study, you ask your responders if they have a project, program and portfolio management process and about their PPM maturity. As a PMO leader for one of the largest financial institutions in Europe, what connections do you see between PPM and strategy execution?
Antonio: I believe every CEO is confronted with this complex equation of balancing resources and attention between what ‘is’ important today, as you call it “keeping the lights on” and what ‘could be’ important in the future (new products, new markets, etc.). Notice that I say “could be”, because when you are investing in projects, you are never 100% sure about the outcome or if the benefits will be achieved. Indeed, there is a clear connection between PPM and strategy execution. I would even say that connection is critical for a successful execution. It is vital that projects are linked to business objectives. I am also convinced that senior executives should invest in implementing a strong PPM framework, to bring transparency and to connect the strategic part with the execution part of the equation.
A “FOCUSED” Approach to Strategy Execution
Yolanda: Would you call yourself an “expert” in strategy execution?
Antonio: Well, I don’t like to call myself an “expert”, but yes, I am very passionate about this topic. I have spent more than 12 years researching in the area of strategy execution and project portfolio management. I have been teaching MBA students over the past 7 years in Solvay Business School, and my day-to-day work has also been in this area for the past 10 years (first as a Project and Change Management Lead Practitioner at PricewaterhouseCoopers, and then as Head of Portfolio Management at BNP Paribas Fortis) where I have been confronted with thousands of issues, and where I realized that theory is very different than the practice.
Yolanda: What do you think is the best way to execute strategic planning taking into account strategy and tactical implementation?
Antonio: It’s important to set up a plan to clearly define long-term goals with investment guidelines that can be measured. Communication to all employees and buy-in at all levels of the business is critical. I believe that it is important to assess and validate the strategic plan before it is implemented. I use the concept “focused” as a way of helping companies to successfully execute their strategy. FOCUSED stands for:
Fewer projects, products and services rather than many. Companies that prioritize projects and invest in quality initiatives clearly outperform organizations that take on too many projects.
Organized staff. Have the most talented professionals work for the achievement of the most important initiatives and strategic goals.
Competitive mind-set. Use innovation and excellence as added values to beat your external competition. Greater agility and responsiveness to market changes are key.
Urgency. Living in a globalized world, times counts more than ever so the factor of speed needs to be taken into account if companies want to remain competitive. Create a culture of getting things done by prioritizing on the best added value initiatives for the company.
Strategic alignment. All employees need to be well informed on the strategic objectives of the company and how they will achieve each of the initiatives, working in an integrated way across departments to reach those objectives. Otherwise projects die in the process. It is critical to strike a balance between the ‘run the business’ and the ‘change the business’ activities to gain superior benefits.
Excellence: Employees need to understand the importance of quality and continuous improvement when delivering new ideas and executing projects.
Discipline. A right balance between discipline, flexibility and creativity inside the company is recommended to execute a clear strategy and achieve key projects.
How does your organization execute against strategy? We invite you to take part in Antonio’s most recent research on the topic by participating in this survey. The survey is confidential—while names of participants and results for companies will not be disclosed, general findings around strategy and execution will be shared with survey respondents.
Article source: CA PPM Blog