Strategy is not a linear, two-step process, It is interconnected, iterative, and intertwined says Ricardo Viana Vargas
Ricardo Viana Vargas is the Executive Director of the Brightline Initiative ™. Over the past 20 years, he has been responsible for more than 80 major transformation projects in several countries, covering an investment portfolio of over 20 billion USD.Ricardo has written fifteen books on the subject of project management, and also host one of the most relevant podcasts in the field, the 5 Minutes PM Podcast, with more than 4 million views.
Ricardo is speaking on the Business Agility Day at #AgileIndia2018. His session is titled “Connecting Strategy Design and Delivery: Closing the Expensive Implementation Gap”
To hear Ricardo live, register for the conference here.
In this interview, Ricardo shares his views on Strategy implementation and the role of Business Agility in it.
What, in your experience, is the state of strategy implementation in organizations worldwide?
Research indicates that a lot of work has been done towards identifying and defining the best strategy possible for a particular organization. In my experience working and talking with senior leaders, there is a common understanding that having a perfectly designed strategy won’t be enough to deliver great results. Organizations need to invest in the development of their strategy delivery capabilities.
Developing the right delivery capabilities is among the top priorities for senior leaders across the globe. Why? Simply, an enormous amount of value is wasted because of the poor implementation of projects. And there is no sign of improvement. A 2013 Economist Intelligence Unit (EIU) study revealed that 61 percent of senior leaders admitted their organizations were struggling to bridge the strategy-implementation gap. A recent Brightline Initiative survey, conducted by the EIU (2017), found that 59 percent of participants said their organizations were struggling to close the strategy-implementation gap. In this same survey, 53 percent of the participants agreed that their weakness in delivering strategy puts them at a competitive disadvantage.
To add some perspective, the Pulse of the Profession report published by the Project Management Institute this year indicates that for every dollar invested in strategic projects, an average of nearly 10 percent is wasted due to poor performance. If you extrapolate this percentage and apply it to global capital investments, roughly $1 million every 20 seconds is wasted. It is a scary number that requires us to take immediate action.
What are some of the reasons for the gap that exists between strategy design and strategy delivery?
Business leaders are often more concerned with finding the right strategy and then developing beautiful and polished business plans. Adapting the famous saying by Peter Drucker, we would say that, when the rubber meets the road, implementation challenges eat your strategy for breakfast. Organizational culture is part of the implementation challenge.
There are many implementation challenges that keep senior leaders awake at night. The Brightline survey (EIU, 2017) identified some of the leading challenges:
- Cultural attitudes
- Insufficient or poorly managed resources
- Insufficient agility
- External developments
- Strategy not understood or poorly communicated
- Poor coordination across the organization.
No matter how brilliant your strategy is, as a leader, you need to pay attention to these challenges if you want to successfully implement the strategies.
These facts clearly reflect what we have seen in organizations recently and how the discipline of strategy has evolved. While a great deal of valuable content is published on strategy development and strategy implementation, there is a disparity in terms of focus and priority in organizations today and an imbalance in the attention from academics and practitioners on strategy implementation.
What can business leaders do to successfully deliver their strategic objectives?
At Brightline we crafted a set of guiding principles to help senior leaders successfully close the gap between strategy design and strategy delivery. Why are these principles important? In our book “Strategy@Work – From Design to Delivery”, in partnership with Thinkers50, we wrote a special chapter titled “Great Strategies Need Great Delivery – The 10 Principles of Implementation Excellence” (Ricardo Viana Vargas & Edivandro Conforto) in which we explain how these principles were crafted and their importance for any type of organization. We consider these principles as both a moral rule and a basic truth. They are industry-agnostic and offer the key components to successfully close the strategy design and delivery gap.
The ten Brightline principles are:
- Acknowledge that strategy delivery is just as important as strategy design.
- Accept that you are accountable for delivering the strategy you designed.
- Dedicate and mobilize the right resources.
- Leverage insight on customers and competitors.
- Be bold, stay focused and keep it as simple as possible.
- Promote team engagement and effective cross-business cooperation.
- Demonstrate bias toward decision-making and own the decisions you make.
- Check ongoing initiatives before committing to new ones.
- Develop robust plans but allow for missteps – fail fast to learn fast.
- Celebrate success and recognize those who have done good work.
At Brightline Initiative’s website you will find detailed descriptions for each principle. These principles can be used as a compass to guide you towards the successful implementation of your strategic projects.
In your opinion, how does Business Agility contribute to strategy design and delivery?
As I mentioned earlier, the third most critical barrier to successful strategy implementation according to Brightline’s survey (EIU 2017) is “insufficient agility”. There is not a single recipe for business agility. Our research found that the top improvement actions to bridge the strategy-implementation gap were “better developer-implementer co-operation”; “better communication among stakeholders” and “better coordination of efforts”. All of these elements contribute to business agility.
The same study (EIU 2017) shows that among leaders from organizations able to close the gap, the critical capabilities are:
- Rapid development and implementation of new strategic initiatives to ensure delivery of strategic goals.
- Prompt and efficient reallocation of personnel among strategy implementation initiatives.
- Prompt and efficient reallocation of funding among strategy implementation initiatives.
Organizations with these three capabilities performed better. There is a clear correlation between the successful implementation of strategies and these business agility capabilities. The same organizations also missed fewer strategic objectives and outperformed their peers financially.
What are the key takeaways from your talk for the attendees?
My mission here is to contribute to the discussion about the importance of closing the strategy-implementation gap. We need to dramatically increase awareness about this gap and how unproductive and expensive it is for organizations, governments and not-for-profit organizations across the globe. I hope my talk can help leaders improve the delivery capabilities of their organizations and transform strategies into great results. So, I’d like to offer three key takeaways. First, start with the core principles. The Brightline principles offer clear guidance and actionable elements to help leaders to develop and sustain strategy delivery capabilities. Second, shape the organizational culture by rethinking and prioritizing strategy delivery. Third, strategy is not a linear, two-step process. It is interconnected, iterative, and intertwined. It requires interaction between designers and implementers. A beautiful, well-thought strategic plan will not get you across the river if you are not capable of actually building the bridge.