Strategy Execution

Why Most Organizational Metrics Don't Change Behavior

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In my last blog post, I shared insights from Brightline research on how agility and collaboration drive strategy execution, particularly breaking through organizational silos and decentralizing decision-making. But we mustn't forget that in order for this to happen, it is vital to main customer-focused. That's the glue that holds everything together.

Noted author and former CEO/Founder of the VISA credit card association, Dee Hock often wrote about how you want to operate on the edge of chaos but with a binding element to add just enough order. To this end, he coined the term, "chaordic."

In a true agile and chaordic environment, the tie that binds everyone together is the customer.

But how do we ensure the organization is working toward the good of the customer as opposed to the good of their political status in the organization or their department, or, just as bad, their department's isolated goals? a fundamental set of guiding principles can definitely help. But when it comes to assessing progress and alignment and driving behavior, most companies institute metrics.

Therein lies the problem in most organizations: the metrics are all wrong.

There's a great article in Forbes by Steve Denning, author of "The Age of Agile" titled "Why Agile Often Fails: Metrics." He notes an epiphany that happened during a meeting among leaders of major organizations on the topic of metrics: None of the organizations represented had ever changed their behavior significantly as a result of their metrics!

That is an astounding revelation, but not surprising, and is consistent with what I've seen as well. Indeed, most metrics are put in place to confirm existing beliefs or validate an internal process, not drive behavior. As Denning puts it, they're an elaborate form of numeric public relations.

He cites Amazon as an example of an organization that has overcome this disorder by instituting "real" metrics that are relentlessly and unapologetically customer-focused, and that cross-functional teams can get behind.

At Amazon, he says, "metrics are established in advance of every activity and specify what actions are expected to happen in ways that can be measured in real-time.... Every activity is in effect a genuine scientific experiment focused on whether it is delivering the value to customers. No activity begins until those metrics are in place."

According to Denning, metrics in organizations generally operate at mutiple levels. The strongest, and the ones Amazon uses, are "impact metrics" which assess changes in customer behavior that the product or service is intended to elicit. He cites several examples, such as:

  • Timely availability

  • Delivery speed

  • Percentage of delivery issues

  • Absence of returns/complaints

  • Re-purchases or related purchases

  • Survey responses

  • Recommendations

  • etc.

Note that these are specific, measurable, and directly relate to customer behavior. General "outcome" metrics such as customer satisfaction, or even Net Promoter Score, according to Denning, are "outcome metrics" that are a bit too fuzzy and hard to measure, though they do indicate a positive correlation with actual impact.

In the article, Denning also cites ten steps Amazon takes to measure impact. I've summarized and paraphrased:

  1. They focus on customer value, not shareholder value. Shareholder value is the result, not the goal.

  2. There is a shared responsibility for customer focus. Everyone is expected to be obsessed with knowing about and enhancing the impact of what they do for the customer.

  3. Metrics are customer-focused. Real-time customer metrics are built into every aspect of the work, as opposed to metrics in firms with a financially oriented mindset.

  4. All metrics are built on a written narrative laying out the benefits the customers are getting. This must be reviewed and approved before the activity can begin.

  5. Activities report to the organization, NOT the unit. Unlike most big organizations, executives at Amazon aren’t accorded prestige or salary according to the size of their staffs or their budget.

  6. The organization, not the business units, budgets activities. Cross-functional teams are instituted, with end-to-end responsibilities to deliver value to customers.

  7. Work is done in small, integrated, autonomous, multidisciplinary teams working in short cycles.

  8. Budgeting is a subset of planning, not vice versa. Every activity is reviewed in terms of its value to customers. At Amazon, the reviews revolve around real-time customer-related metrics of individual activities, not about which unit gets how much money.

  9. Controlling spending vs. managing impacts. Real-time, transparent customer-related metrics drive action, not solely metrics tied to the control of spending.

  10. Human Resources helps set the culture. At Amazon, the compensation structure is tied to long-term value creation through large and small achievements, not budgeted level of outputs for their unit.

I highly recommend reading the full article for even more details.

In any case, by now, the message should be clear: Customer-focused metrics assessing the ongoing progress of self-led cross-functional teams that are empowered to produce value, will always triumph over the internal-facing, silo-driven, budget and unit-focused folly that exists in most organizations today.


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Jerry Manas is the bestselling author of The Resource Management and Capacity Planning Handbook, Napoleon on Project Management, and more. At PDWare, Jerry helps clients improve strategy execution through tools and processes that align people and work with organizational priorities. Connect with Jerry on Twitter and LinkedIn.


PDWare is a pioneer in resource planning software, offering intuitive resource planning tools to drive your work portfolio based on your people's capacity. PDWare believes that good strategy execution, portfolio management, and project delivery begins with a solid foundation of resource planning. PDWare is a proud sponsor of the Resource Planning Summit, the premier resource planning conference.

Study Reveals Agility and Collaboration Drive Strategy Execution

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Ongoing planning, active engagement, empowered teams, and heavy collaboration are not only key components of an agile mindset; they're paramount to achieving good strategy execution.

This an indelible truth that I was glad to see validated in a recent global executive study conducted by Harvard Business Review Analytic Services in association with the Brightline Initiative, as detailed in the resulting report, "Testing Organizational Boundaries to Improve Strategy Execution."

According to the study, only one-fifth of the 1,636 organizations in the study were able to achieve 80% or more of their strategic targets, and they were able to do it by breaking through organizational silos and encouraging more agile ways of working. Moreover, they were better able to adapt to market changes and new demands.

According to Brightline, the common habits among the top performers were as follows:

  • Decision-making is decentralized and occurs via cross-functional teams

  • Collaboration is encouraged and rewarded, with teams empowered to put strategic initiatives into action.

  • Executives are engaged and act as coaches, not just leaders

  • Development and delivery of strategic initiatives is a dynamic and continuous process, not something just visited annually or less often

One thing I've noticed over the years, and it seems evident in these findings as well: The best organizations operationalize these traits. It's ingrained in their culture, their training, and in their reward systems.

You can read and download the full report in the article hyperlink above.


JB Manas - website photo.jpg

Jerry Manas is the bestselling author of The Resource Management and Capacity Planning Handbook, Napoleon on Project Management, and more. At PDWare, Jerry helps clients improve strategy execution through tools and processes that align people and work with organizational priorities. Connect with Jerry on Twitter and LinkedIn.


PDWare is a pioneer in resource planning software, offering intuitive resource planning tools to drive your work portfolio based on your people's capacity. PDWare believes that good strategy execution, portfolio management, and project delivery begins with a solid foundation of resource planning. PDWare is a proud sponsor of the Resource Planning Summit, the premier resource planning conference.

Can You Really Deliver That Strategy? What You Need to Ask

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Strategy execution is more than just agreeing on your strategies and doing them. There are multiple facets that enable successful organizations to deliver on their strategy, not the least of which is resource planning.

A recent Brightline article, "Uncertainties and Risks of Strategy Implementation" by DTU (Technical University of Denmark), originally published at The London School of Economics and Political Science on October 11, 2018, proposes four aspects of successful strategy implementation that must be considered:

  • Technical Feasibility - Can it be done?

  • External Factors - How is the world affecting our strategy?

  • Execution - Can we do it?

  • Objectives/Market Needs - Do we have the right objectives?

This is an excellent model that puts all the right elements in perspective. Often forgotten under Execution (Can we do it?) is the act of resource planning. After all, if you don't align the right people with your priority initiatives, you're throwing marbles in your own path.

Meanwhile, on LinkedIN Pulse, Vishal Lall, Chief Strategy Officer for Hewlett Packard Enterprise, authored another insightful article titled "Three Reasons Your Strategies Don't Execute -- and How to Fix Them" that echoes this approach, specifically emphasizing the resource alignment issue. In particular, Lall proposes three key questions that organizations must ask:

  1. Was the strategy designed correctly?

  2. Were the teams aligned around the objectives?

  3. Were the right enablers in place?

Supporting this model, Lall cites six areas that can help improve the link between strategy to execution, again citing "Be brutal with resource allocation" as one of them.

I'm glad to see this finally being recognized as a key component of strategy execution. I highly recommend both articles (links above).

PS: Not long ago, I posted another article highlighting Brightline’s 10 guiding principles for strategy execution, where resource planning and prioritization were key elements. Check it out HERE.


Related to the topic of resource planning and strategy execution, PDWare was recently recognized in Gartner’s 2018 Market Guide for Strategy Execution Management Software. See the PRESS RELEASE for details on how an increased need for speed and agility is driving growing interest in strategy execution software.


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Jerry Manas is the bestselling author of The Resource Management and Capacity Planning Handbook, Napoleon on Project Management, and more. At PDWare, Jerry helps clients improve strategy execution through tools and processes that align people and work with organizational priorities. Connect with Jerry on Twitter and LinkedIn.

When It Comes to Resource Planning, Timing is Everything

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Brightline (a PMI-led coalition of leading global organizations dedicated to helping executives bridge the gaps between strategy and execution) released an excellent infographic, developed by the Technical Institute of Denmark, called "Timing is Money." 

The infographic looks at four dilemmas that represent the four dynamic tensions that relate to timing when implementing strategy, particularly:

  • The Horizon Dilemma (near horizon vs. distant future)

  • The Urgency Dilemma (implementing quickly vs. moving too fast for your organization)

  • The Process Dilemma (tightly defined strategy vs. business agility)

  • The Rhythm Dilemma (natural work rhythms vs. getting everyone in sync when needed) 

Having written a book on common leadership dilemmas (Managing the Gray Areas), this approach is near and dear to my heart. Not surprisingly, for each dilemma, the infographic offers practical solutions that balance both sides of the equation.

I was particularly pleased that, for the Rhythm Dilemma, the recommended solution was to "dedicate and mobilize the right resources" and embrace new leadership rhythms that allow for syncing the disparate rhythms across the organization. 

This, of course, requires effective resource planning, which itself ties back to the other three dilemmas. For instance, the Horizon Dilemma applies, because you need to strike a balance between short term named resource planning and longer term skills planning. 

Regarding the Urgency Dilemma, having a clear picture of demand vs. capacity will let you know if you're taxing the organization beyond its ability to immediately take on something new. It also gives you the data to make informed tradeoff decisions.

Lastly, the Process Dilemma, which aims to balance strategy and agility, requires that resource forecasts show all types of work (Agile and otherwise) and depict how effort is being consumed across the overall prioritized backlog of the organization. This, in effect, helps tie effort utilization back to strategy, while also allowing for the change that business agility necessitates. 

Check out the infographic. Not only does it serve as a compass for bridging strategy and execution, it also serves as an excellent foundation for resource planning.


JB Manas - website photo.jpg

Jerry Manas is the bestselling author of The Resource Management and Capacity Planning Handbook, Napoleon on Project Management, and more. At PDWare, Jerry helps clients improve strategy execution through tools and processes that align people and work with organizational priorities. Connect with Jerry on Twitter and LinkedIn.

Strategic Planning in an Agile World

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I've often written about the importance of continuous planning at multiple levels, while also emphasizing the urgency of fostering business agility to meet dynamically changing needs.

I came across an HBR article by Alessandro Di Fiore, founder and CEO of the European Centre for Strategic Innovation (ECSI), titled "Planning Doesn't Have to Be the Enemy of Agile" that, to me, captures the essence of the tension between strategic planning and team-based agility. More importantly, it offers examples of how to make the two seemingly opposite concepts work well together.

As Di Fiore says, "The logic of centralized long-term strategic planning (done once a year at a fixed time) is the antithesis of an organization redesigned around teams who define their own priorities and resources allocation on a weekly basis."

To resolve this tension, he proposes that a new form of "Agile Planning" is needed that aligns top down strategic planning, bottom-up team-based decision-making, prioritization, and execution, and a mid-level process that helps bridge the two.

In effect, this blends the best of both worlds -- where agile teams leverage qualitative data and judgement to aid in prioritization and resource allocation, while big data continues to flow in through the strategic planning process and Information Technology. The sweet spot is the right combination of human judgement and hard data.

Put another way, I think it's safe to say that team judgment without data is blind, and relying on data alone is deaf. The corporate graveyards are full of companies that have done either or both.

When Corporate Strategy Meets Team Execution

The idea of blending top-down and bottom-up planning is consistent with other successful examples I've seen. The great author and cultural expert, Fons Trompenaars (Did the Pedestrian Die, 21 Leaders for the 21st Century, and others), once shared how Heineken learned this lesson the hard way.

As Trompenaars explains, Heineken released a TV ad where a woman was frantically rooting through her closet trying to find something to wear for a date. Then the doorbell rings. It's her date, who throws her a leather jacket. The next scene shows them in a bar drinking Heineken with the slogan: "Beer as beer is meant to be."

Well, in some countries, sales went down, not up. Upon research, Heineken learned why. Apparently, in those particular cultures, the message received was: "Only slobs drink Heineken."

Oops!

After than, Heineken changed their approach. The provided a top-down theme and general priorities (e.g., In the European region, portray Heineken as a casual, relaxing beer) and left it up to the local advertising departments within that region to come up with an ad that would work in their country. It worked like a charm.

They chose another theme for the Caribbean region (Portray Heineken as a metropolitan beer), with each island creating their own ads. Again, it work so well, that Heineken began winning all sorts of advertising awards. To this day, they continue to win advertising awards, with what I might call a hub-and-spoke planning model. 

It's a similar concept to Agile Planning: Remain agile in terms of priorities, methods, and execution while providing corporate themes and strategies from the top. What Di Fiore details is the bridge between corporate planning and individual teams. I highly recommend reading his article.

Bottom line: When it comes to strategy execution, resource planning, and business agility, you CAN have your cake and eat it too.


JB Manas - website photo.jpg

Jerry Manas is the bestselling author of The Resource Management and Capacity Planning Handbook, Napoleon on Project Management, and more. At PDWare, Jerry helps clients improve strategy execution through tools and processes that align people and work with organizational priorities. Connect with Jerry on Twitter and LinkedIn.

Is Your Organization Value-Focused?

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Professor and author Morten Hansen wrote an excellent article on the American Management Association Playbook site titled "One Big Mistake Managers Must Avoid (It's About Your Time)". 

In the article, he shares a key finding from his study of more than 5,000 managers and employees: namely that they tend to focus more on internal goals and metrics than on the value being delivered.

To remedy this, he suggests first identifying what's valuable, then assessing your calendar and reducing non-value items, and finally, reallocating your time, shifting from goals to value activities.

While the article is directed at helping managers and their employees shift to higher value activities, I'd add that the same principles should be applied at a macro level organizationally. 

To start with, it's important to define a strategic hierarchy of organizational missions, objectives, strategies, and programs/projects that support those strategies. This can help ensure that program and project work is tied to value from the beginning. 

What about non-project activities? Some organizations consider all work to be "project" work. After all, even operational and sustaining work can be tied to an annual or quarterly bucket project, which itself is tied to the objective of "keeping the lights on". Percentage-based or effort-based resource allocations can be applied to that work.

In essence, the goal is to see the big picture of demand for people's time for the entire spectrum of activities. From there you can get a better sense about whether you're distributing that time wisely at an organizational level.

This is where resource planning and continuous reallocation based on priorities come in, always striving for greatest value (which we know can change over time). The result is greater business agility, less waste, and happier customers.

So, at a macro level, the same three principles outlined in the article apply:

  • Identify what's valuable (by setting a strategic hierarchy and tying programs and projects to it)
  • Aim to reduce non-value work (by assessing your funding and resource allocations by strategy)
  • Shift to high value work -- (by continuously reallocating based on priorities and value)

If this is combined with Hansen's article's recommendations for managers and employees to focus on value, then you can truly say you have a value-focused organization from the top-down and bottom-up.


JB Manas - website photo.jpg

Jerry Manas is the bestselling author of The Resource Management and Capacity Planning Handbook, Napoleon on Project Management, and more. At PDWare, Jerry helps clients improve strategy execution through tools and processes that align people and work with organizational priorities. Connect with Jerry on Twitter and LinkedIn.

Resource Planning Recognized Among Key Strategy Execution Principles

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Brightline has published an excellent set of 10 guiding principles to bridge the ubiquitous gap between strategy design and delivery, and I think it should be required reading for all leaders. 

The Brightline Initiative™ is a coalition of leading global organizations assembled by the Project Management Institute (PMI), dedicated to, in their words, "helping executives bridge the expensive and unproductive gap between strategy design and delivery." 

I'm particularly pleased that that they recognized the importance of resource planning in their list of 10 key guiding principles, particularly on points 3 and 8.

In point 3 (Dedicate and mobilize the right resources), they say:

Actively balance “running the business” and “changing the business” by selecting and securing the right resources for each — they often have different needs. Recognize that team leadership skills are at a premium, and assign the best leaders with sufficient capacity to tackle head-on the most challenging programs and those essential for successful strategy implementation.

To build on this, part of resource planning is determining and prioritizing the various aspects of the business and aligning the right resources accordingly. A general rule of thumb is to give "running the business" the minimum effective amount of resources it needs (not shortchanging it, however, lest it become a critical issue) and giving the "change the business" initiatives the maximum effective resources, even applying a concentration of force where appropriate to strategic programs (to use an age-old military principle). Again, these are general guidelines, not unilateral rules. 

In point 8 (Check ongoing initiatives before committing to new ones), they state:

Add new initiatives in response to new opportunities, but first be sure you understand both the existing portfolio and your organization’s capacity to deliver change. Actively address any issues you discover.

This gets to the heart of resource planning: assessing capacity and keeping the existing portfolio in mind whenever considering new initiatives. It's possible that shifting resources, shifting projects, or seeking alternate sourcing may be required. In any case, potential capacity issues shouldn't be ignored, as many companies are prone to do.

It's great to see these oft-forgotten principles recognized as key elements of the strategy execution process. They also promote other principles I've always touted, including simplicity, engagement, and cross-business cooperation, I highly encourage reading the full list and sharing it with others in your organization.


JB Manas - website photo.jpg

Jerry Manas is the bestselling author of The Resource Management and Capacity Planning Handbook, Napoleon on Project Management, and more. At PDWare, Jerry helps clients improve strategy execution through tools and processes that align people and work with organizational priorities. Connect with Jerry on Twitter and LinkedIn

3 Drivers of Successful Strategy Execution

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In this informative 7-minute video from Harvard Business Review titled "Why Strategy Execution Unravels--And What To Do About It," three cornerstones of successful execution are discussed, as well as five common myths. 

Specifically, the cornerstones are:

1) Coordination - Coordinating across business units, keeping key information clear and simple (and make sure your systems support cross-business unit management as well). The video offers a smart reminder that execution should not be top down, but should be driven from middle managers closest to the action, with general guidance from the top. This is where the crisp, simple messaging is vital.

2) Agility - Rapidly adapting to change in line with strategy, even if it means shifting people across business units (but beware of chasing every opportunity; strategic focus is key)

3) Reallocation - Constantly reallocating resources and funds based on current strategy and priorities (allocation isn't a one-time decision)

I couldn't agree more regarding all of this. Having a clearly communicated set of strategies and business priorities that are coordinated across the business; being adaptive to change through regular portfolio reviews and adaptive delivery methods; and regularly reallocating resources and funds based on priorities are all crucial to successful strategy execution.

These principles are what we've been preaching at PDWare for some time now and what I've been writing about for ages, so it's great to see it so well articulated in this insightful video. As HBR reports, 75% of organizations struggle to implement strategy. I'd venture to say it's because they're not paying attention to cross-business coordination, execution agility, and regular reallocation. 

One telling statistic highlighted is that only 16% of team leaders and frontline supervisors feel they have a good grasp of how priorities fit together. This is because communication is often focused on quantity over quality and dilutes the message with too many elements.

An example in the video depicted a company trying to communicate a message with dozens of objectives, values, priorities, competencies, and new terms. Who's going to remember all that let alone care about it? Another mistake is an over-focus on hitting the numbers vs. compelling messages and rewards that actually drive behavior.  Sadly, I've seen all of this in far too many organizations.

For those seeking to better execute on strategy, viewing the video will be 7 minutes well spent.


JB Manas - website photo.jpg

Jerry Manas is the bestselling author of The Resource Management and Capacity Planning Handbook, Napoleon on Project Management, and more. At PDWare, Jerry helps clients improve strategy execution through tools and processes that align people and work with organizational priorities. Connect with Jerry on Twitter and LinkedIn 

Agile and Waterfall: Dispelling the Myths about Bimodal IT

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In today's world of digital transformation and the Internet of Things, among other advances in technology and logistics, business agility is not just an advantage, it's a necessity.

Several years ago, Garter introduced the Bimodal IT framework to address this. The idea was to allow for two modes of operations: one for areas that are more understood, and another for areas that require rapid iterations of discovery. 

Misinterpretations also ran rampant, leading to debates, especially among the Agile community, who felt Agile was being misunderstood to be about sacrificing quality and stability for speed.

This 2016 article from Gartner, Busting Bimodal Myths, served to clarify many of the key misconceptions, though to this day, people are misinterpreting the intent. 

From the article, it's clear that Bimodal is:

NOT the slow lane vs. fast lane. 

NOT the quality lane vs. speed lane.  

NOT the planning lane vs. wing-it lane. 

NOT the stability lane vs. innovation lane. 

NOT the sustaining lane vs. the development lane. 

NOT the old lane vs. the new lane.

Nor is it necessarily about Agile vs. Waterfall. 

Both modes can have quality and speed. Both involve planning and accuracy. Both can be stable and innovative. Both can be used for development or change. And both are very much relevant today.

In a nutshell, Bimodal IT is about increasing enterprise agility, enabling a variety of tools in meeting two kinds of needs: initiatives that benefit from heavier up-front planning and phased approval gates, and those that benefit from rapid iterations of product. Agile approaches can be applied to either, but a Waterfall approach is not conducive to the latter.

The principles of Agile lend themselves to rapid iterations with the customer, where change is expected. The principles of Waterfall lend themselves to longer efforts that must be well defined, and where change is to be avoided unless carefully vetted. Waterfall does tend to move slower by design.

So yes, this is where the general interpretation comes in that Mode 1 is for Waterfall and Mode 2 is for Agile, and it isn't entirely wrong. Like any framework, there needs to be flexibility and common sense in using the right tool for the right job.

Stay tuned for an upcoming article on resource planning in a bimodal world.


JB Manas - website photo.jpg

Jerry Manas is the bestselling author of The Resource Management and Capacity Planning Handbook, Napoleon on Project Management, and more. At PDWare, Jerry helps clients improve strategy execution through tools and processes that align people and work with organizational priorities. Connect with Jerry on Twitter and LinkedIn 

Team Culture Boosts Resource Productivity

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More and more, organizations are planning and working in teams. That's an important fact to remember when talking about resource productivity and planning. Yes, heroes can and do save the day (and that's just fine. As Michael Jordan said, "There's no 'I' in team but there is in win."). And yes, the "I"s in the team are just as important to nurture as the "We." But there's no doubt that having a great team culture can boost individual productivity and happiness, and improve the overall culture of the organization. 

This article in Forbes by Molly Nuhring on Five Questions to Help You Guide Your Team's Culture is a great place to start. Specifically, Nuhring points out five areas to consider. I've paraphrased below:

  1. Team escalations - The more the team escalates issues, the less effectively they're operating as an empowered, decision-making team.
     
  2. Finding the influencers - The influencers in an organization aren't necessarily in management positions. Identify them and make sure there's vision alignment. Get their input in shaping the culture.
     
  3. Rewarding the right behaviors - Be careful what attributes you may be subconsciously (or consciously) rewarding. Note: I'd add that it's a good idea to use team rewards to build a shared sense of commitment, while rewarding and encouraging individual behaviors as well.  Just be careful to craft individual incentives that are counterproductive to team performance. It's often more an art than a science, so it's important to look at things in the context of both the team and the individuals.
     
  4. Watch Your language - Using the right vocabulary can make all the difference in a team's culture. Using words like "compliance," "mandatory," "headcount," etc., can set a certain tone, and it's not a good one. So can phrases like, "No, that'll never work" or "We've always done it this way." Likewise, Nuhring points out that it's not just language, but interaction and demeanor that you need to observe. Is there a sense of empathy on your team? Are people having fun? Do they feel comfortable sharing ideas? I'd add that language can often influence this.
     
  5. Fix One Thing at a Time - Find out what the one thing is that's holding your team back culture-wise and focus on that. Then you can move on to the next thing.

This is just a summary, so I encourage you to check out the full article. Your teams will thank you, and so will your bottom line. For now, remember this:

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Jerry Manas is the bestselling author of The Resource Management and Capacity Planning Handbook, Napoleon on Project Management, and more. At PDWare, Jerry helps clients improve strategy execution through tools and processes that align people and work with organizational priorities. Connect with Jerry on Twitter and LinkedIn 

Focus is the Key to Strategy Execution

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When companies point to their struggle with executing on their strategies, the first thing I often look for is where their focus lies. Often, the culprit is lack of a demand prioritization process, a disconnect from strategy, or both.

It's with that in mind that this article from Oliver Emberton caught my eye: If You Want to Follow Your Dreams, You Have to Say No to All the Alternatives. I think this works on both an individual level and an organizational level.

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In my book Napoleon on Project Management, I highlighted a few examples of this from 200 years ago (Nothing is new under the sun).

First, aside from his many military campaigns (mostly defensive in nature), Napoleon accomplished an incredible amount of administrative reforms in the areas of finance; education; healthcare; civil rights; and more. But he didn't do it all at once. Generally, these reforms were introduced piecemeal, focusing on one area at a time.

Likewise, when his 250,000-strong army was poised to cross the English Channel to preempt a pending British attack, he received news that the Austrians were coming from the east to invade France. Did he split his forces and send half to England and half to face the Austrians? No.

Instead, he turned his entire army around and marched across France at unprecedented speed. That was the more immediate threat. His well-coordinated army marched in seven columns across a hundred-mile front and looped around the Austrians, attacking them from behind. The battle was over before it had begun. 

Whether on the battlefield or in the boardroom, to try to take on too many battles is to dilute your efforts on all fronts. Yet organizations do this all the time, trying to take on every new idea that comes their way. I'll share a relevant quote from Emberton's article:

"Monomaniacal focus on a single goal is perhaps the ultimate success stratagem."

(Or as John Lennon sang, "How can I go forward when I don't know which way I'm facing?")

Emberton's statement of course is in the context of individual endeavors, but in an organization there's no doubt that a heavy focus on demand prioritization and alignment with strategy (in combination with reducing or eliminating lower value work) can exponentially increase the value you get from your most precious asset---your people. Allowing them to focus individually is equally important, which means avoiding multitasking like the plague, and encouraging them to have "downtime hours" where they can focus uninterrupted on what matters.

If there's one takeaway, pay heed to Star Wars creator George Lucas's advice: "Always remember, your focus determines your reality." 


JB Manas - website photo.jpg

Jerry Manas is the bestselling author of The Resource Management and Capacity Planning Handbook, Napoleon on Project Management, and more. At PDWare, Jerry helps clients improve strategy execution through tools and processes that align people and work with organizational priorities. Connect with Jerry on Twitter and LinkedIn 

15 Reasons Your Resources Are Working on the Wrong Stuff

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Isn't it funny how there always seems to be resource shortages for your most critical projects? Okay, well maybe not that funny. It's actually a fairly frequent sad story.

Everyone's busy trying to do their planned tasks, and then a million interruptions come their way. A phone call here. An urgent project there. Sometimes they get distracted by their own pet projects. The planned work they do have ends up taking longer than expected, and before you know it, they're trying to juggle more balls than your average clown.

In an organization where strategies and priorities aren't well connected to execution, it's even worse.

Well, it’s full speed, baby... in the wrong direction.
— Alanis Morissette

Here are 15 reasons why your resources may be working on the wrong stuff:

  1. Project Priorities aren't defined - If your projects aren't regularly prioritized within the portfolio, it's hard to know their relative value to the organization. It all must begin here.

  2. Effort Forecasts don't consider project priority - Effort forecasts are a way of assigning weekly skill or named resource needs at a project level over the upcoming three to six months. These should be assigned in project priority order, so that higher priority projects get first dibs.

  3. Organizational Strategies aren't defined - Much like priorities, if organizational strategies aren't defined, it's hard to make the connection between project priorities and organizational goals. It's the next link in the chain to organizational strategy.

  4. Strategies and priorities haven't been communicated - Having a clear set of organizational strategies and underlying project priorities aren't as effective if project and resource managers and their respective staff aren't keenly aware of them. Keep the information flowing for better alignment.

  5. Projects and programs aren't mapped to strategies - Mapping programs and projects to strategies gives visibility into how they're performing against strategy. It's the central foundation of good strategy execution and connects the top-down and bottom-up views.

  6. Resource assignments are disconnected from effort forecasts - As projects begin execution, project managers assign resources to tasks. If these task assignments aren't reconciled with the high level effort forecast (see point #2), it opens up a plethora of blind spots in the forecast, leaving resource managers and senior management scratching their heads as to what went wrong.

    Note: A resource histogram should show any discrepancies between the top-down forecasts and bottom-up assignments, and exceptions can be discussed between the project and resource manager.

  7. Priorities are ignored when change happens - Let's face it. Change is a constant. While emergencies do come up and managers constantly generate new ideas and needs (some market-driven), there still needs to be a way to assess each new request within the overall portfolio, evaluating its impact to the effort forecast. If other projects need to shift to make room, so be it, but at least it should be a conscious decision, even if it's a fast-tracked thinking exercise.

  8. Projects run late, robbing downstream projects of valuable resources - Late projects tie up valuable resources. Better estimates can help, but projects are late for a variety of other reasons as well, not the least of which is resource availability (which, itself, is often impacted by---you guessed it---other late projects). 

  9. Capacity isn't considered during portfolio intake and planning - If new projects are approved and scheduled without evaluating available capacity, those projects run a risk of overbooking already maxed-out resources, causing a domino effect of late projects.

  10. Multitasking is Excessive - Lack of capacity planning leads to overloaded resources, and multitasking adds insult to injury. There's been much written about the negative effects of multi-tasking, yet many organizations still view it as a badge of honor ("Johnny can manage twenty large projects with his eyes closed!").

    The truth is, each project you add to a project manager's workload reduces his/her productivity by 25%. It's not hard to do the math. If people are multitasking, they're not focused on high value work, period.

  11. There's a lack of visibility into all types of demand - Projects are only one type of demand. When all is said and done, after people spend time on emails, firefighting, staff meetings, support calls, "keep the lights on" work, and short breaks, there's very little time left for project work. Planning for all types of demand allows more control and predictability over priorities and project portfolio forecasts.

  12. There's no process for resolving competing priorities - Constrained resources often get pulled between competing projects by different business units. It helps to have a cross-business forum for addressing constraints and clarifying priorities, as well as an escalation process if needed. Otherwise, the higher value project may inadvertently suffer.

  13. People aren't aligned with their strengths - If a resource isn't working to their best strengths, then he or she is working inefficiently, which is as bad as working on the wrong stuff. As Robert Heinlein said, "Never try to teach a pig to sing. It wastes your time and annoys the pig." By tracking resource proficiencies and skills, you can not only make sure people are working to their strengths, you may even find untapped available skills in unexpected parts of your organization. 

  14. Resource managers are out of the loop - Resource managers are in the best position to know what their people should be working on, and should own the effort forecast. Some companies try to keep resource managers out of the loop, citing that they're "too busy" to check effort forecasts or approve assignment requests. This is a fundamental mistake, as tight management of effort forecasts are the best way to avoid chaos and overload. 

  15. Project and resource managers don't communicate - Project managers tend to schedule their project phases, tasks, and milestones and think in terms of duration and its impact on the schedule. Resource managers and their staff tend to think in terms of overall effort distribution.  It's important for all parties to communicate regularly so as to balance project priorities with resource workloads. Every organization is an ecosystem. To treat each area in a disjointed fashion creates gaps in strategy execution.

In summary, to help increase the odds that your resources are working on the right stuff, be sure to connect strategy, project priorities, top-down effort forecasts, and bottom up project task assignments on an ongoing basis.

Be aware of non-project work that can consume your people's time, try to minimize multi-tasking, and align people with their strengths.

Last, but not least, always consider capacity when taking on new work, even for fast-tracked emergency projects.

Collectively, the results will be fewer firefights, faster time-to-market, more engaged people, greater focus, and higher productivity. And who can argue with that?


JB Manas - website photo.jpg

Jerry Manas is the bestselling author of The Resource Management and Capacity Planning Handbook, Napoleon on Project Management, and more. At PDWare, Jerry helps clients improve strategy execution through tools and processes that align people and work with organizational priorities. Connect with Jerry on Twitter and LinkedIn