Friday, 18 December 2020

A Guide to strategy, projects and change

Every organisation is different and there are lots of models, guides and articles about strategies. For example Porter suggested 4 strategies "Cost Leadership" (no frills), "Differentiation" (creating uniquely desirable products and services) and "Focus" (offering a specialized service in a niche market). He then subdivided the Focus strategy into two parts: "Cost Focus" and "Differentiation Focus."

There are also lots of models, guides and articles about projects and project management. The two main methodologies are agile (for example Scrum) and waterfall (for example PRINCE2). The main difference between agile and waterfall is that waterfall projects are completed sequentially whereas agile projects are completed iteratively in a cycle.

And finally there are (you've guessed it) lots of models, guides and articles about change, the most famous being the 'change curve' derived from the work of Kubler-Ross, which describes the journey that individuals typically experience when dealing with change and transition. This journey consists of a number of stages that people go through: shock and denial, anger, bargaining, depression and acceptance.

This paper is about how these elements may be joined up into a programme. It is not therefore a deep exploration of each element (strategy, projects and change), but a rough guide of things to consider when bringing these elements together. This is not an exact plan or a precise order, which will inevitably be different according to circumstances. It is however based on real-life experience and successes in operatonalising strategy and delivering progress in public sector, technology, retail and medical businesses.

If you are interested in strategy, projects and change please contact me or phone +44(0)7797762051

Step 1 - Translating the Strategy into Plans

Because this is an exploration of how the pieces fit together I will not talk about the process of strategy formulation but instead start from the point that a strategy exists and it is your job to see that it gets delivered. As a Consultant/Project manager this is often the case.

At this point it is important to understand [1] where are we now [2] where do we want to be [3] how to get there. The strategy will address these points in summary, but this now needs to be broken into sub-elements so that we can understand what needs to shift, change, progress, develop. For simplicity I will use the McKinsey 7S Model, but there are many other ways to do this.

It is important to create a "to do list" for each element

  • Strategy: this is your organization's plan for building and maintaining a competitive advantage over its competitors.
  • Structure: this how your company is organized (that is, how departments and teams are structured, including who reports to whom).
  • Systems: the daily activities and procedures that staff use to get the job done.
  • Shared values: these are the core values of the organization, as shown in its corporate culture and general work ethic. They were called "superordinate goals" when the model was first developed.
  • Style: the style of leadership adopted.
  • Staff: the employees and their general capabilities.
  • Skills: the actual skills and competencies of the organization's employees.

From this you will have lengthy lists of major tasks, some of which are dependant upon each-other and need to performed in the correct order, whilst other elements can be done independently. Rather life following a recipe.

Step 2 - Translating Plans into a Programme of Projects

As stated above, this is not about projects and project management or how to do Agile or Waterfall. I will create a separate guide for each. This is about how strategy is linked to a programme of delivery and how that programme provides oversight and drive for the successful delivery of projects and in-so-doing the delivery of change and the goals of the strategy.

Too often I see organisations where it is really hard to link what is said (strategy - thinking) with what is done (projects - actions). Moreover it is often the case that organisations are unclear on focus and priority and over ambitious on delivery. This is typically the case where are more than 20 major projects and no consensus on their priority for scheduling, funding and resources.

I have often said you can do 100 things at 1% (and dissipate your efforts) or 1 thing ar 100% (and put all your eggs in one basket). In truth there is probably a sweet spot of 5 - 10 projects that can be properly delivered in one year depending on duration, funding and resources. Beyond that you increase complexity, confusion, challenges of communication, co-ordination and collaboration and overall increase risk.

Getting the Board, Executive or Senior Management Team to agree the definitions, deliverables and priorities of each project can be a major task. I have been in boardrooms where executives have completely differing views on the purpose, scope and outcome of a project and are unable to prioritise as a result. Left unaddressed this creates uncertainty with inevitable impact on the project delivery and the allocation of resources (time, money, effort).

From this you will have lengthy lists of projects, and some form of ranking and sequence. You'll also have an idea on Priority1 "must do projects" and Priority2 "would like to do projects" and Priority3 "coming soon projects".

What is critical at this stage is to ensure that recognition and reward systems, performance appraisals, departmental goals and personal development plans reconcile to these. I have seen projects (and organisations) fail because the people and processes are incentivised to incongruent goals. You cannot expect people to commit to Project X if their boss has made Task Y their key priority or indeed recognition and reward is aligned to Measure Z.

Step 3 - Assemble the Programme Office

In simple terms the Projects or Programme Management Office [PMO] will be the central hub for tools, templates, training, co-ordination and communication for all projects. There is no single correct truth of what is included in the scope of a PMO and the extent to which elements are centralised or decentralised. Some PMOs are very hands-on involved in strategy, resources, funding, budgets and discussions with managers, staff and delivery teams. Other PMOs are simply a central point to consolidate and distribute project progress reports.

One analogy I have used is Air Traffic Control ATC. ATC does not fly planes, but does ensure that they

  1. Have a clear understanding of destination and route. - A project "idea" has a clear purpose, scope and benefits
  2. Have a agreement on destination and desire. - A project has a business case, plan, budget etc.
  3. Have a flight-plan and inventory of passengers, crew etc. - A project has an idea of roles, goals, controls, etc.
  4. Have pre-flight checks and permission to take-off, avoiding other planes or obstacles. - A project which is ready (people, funding, schedule) is authorised to proceed avoiding crash into another or other critical activities like quarter-end reporting or major campaigns etc.
  5. Have a safe flight with necessary updates on progress, weather or obstacles - A project submits progress reports on their journey and receives updates on possible issues, diversions etc.
  6. Have a safe landing (at the right place, time, and avoiding issues) - A project reaches conclusion its arrival is scheduled and the resources to accept the outputs and outcomes are prepared.
  7. Have process for disembarking and handling arrivals at the new destination - A project has a closure and hand-over to business as usual

This analogy has been useful in differentiating between what happens with in the project (the plane with its captain, crew, passengers, resources and destination) and the oversight and overall co-ordination that happens in the Air Traffic Control ATC tower. ATC does not tell the captain how to fly, nor does the captain take responsibility for what happens outside their aircraft. It is the same between PMO and Project Manager

To stretch this analogy a little further (and beyond the realities of what Air Traffic Control do at most airports), we might also imagine that ATC also runs a "flight school" to train pilots and understand their roles and responsibilities, with appropriate tools, templates, techniques etc.

At this point I will resist the temptation to go into the processes and artefacts of project managerment (perhaps another guide) and conclude by making the point that it is important to have the necessary eco-sphere of roles, goals, controls, checks and balances to ensure smooth operation of international air space, and delivery of projects alike.

Step 4 - Assemble the Talent Academy

This may or may not be an element in your approach, but I have long thought that the role of Project Leadership goes beyond delivering on-time, on-budget, to-specification with low-risk and high-communication and should additionally improve the competence, capacity, drive and desire of every participant.

Creating tools, templates and training via a Projects or Programme Management Office is useful, but at times it is akin to buying someone tools and then assuming that they are a plumber or electrician. As well as the process and artefacts there is a need to work with, support, engage and empower the people.

Without this essential step the strategy is a menu for people that do not want to eat. And a project plan is a recipe for people who do not want to cook.

The common refrain is "we need hearts and minds" with the emphasis on recruitment rather like that Lord Kitchener poster "Your Country Needs You" used to recruit people, ostensibly to the trenches for a heroic, tragic and fifthly death. This leads to the subjugation and demoralisation of people who are overworked and conflicted beween their day-job, the additional and ever changing demands of their bosses and the requests of the projects.

There are a divergence of views here which I should acknowledge, but mine is that it is often useful to differentiate between those that "run the business" and those that "change the business". I do believe that there are different skills and often different personalities in war or in peace, in projects or in business-as-usual, in change or in steady-as-we-go.

A Talent Academy goes beyond training and development of employees and seeks to find, support and develop people into their ideal roles. In this case, somewhat simplistically "run the business" (managers and supervisors) or "change the business" (innovators and change agents).

It is critical that these people co-operate, collaboration and communicate for projects outcomes and outputs to become part of every-day operation. In some organisations they rotate people so that they have experience of developing processes, products and services as well as real-life experience of using these. We must avoid installation without implementation: You have the "thing" but none of the benefits are realised. You may win the war (deliver the project), but you have no plan for peace (operationalise and capitalise).

There has been so much written about education, engagement and empowerment from training, through facilitation, mentoring, coaching that I will suggest that the reader spend some time looking at this vital aspect and what is necessary and useful for their people, projects, progress and performance.

Step 5 - Create The Change Team

The Change Team may be the cadre of "change the business" folks who under the stewardship of Project Managers and/or Scum Masters are the workforce for delivery. They may be the SAS who go in first, to be followed by the infantry and eventually the politicians.

In some business there may be a discrete mergers and acquisitions team, or a project delivery team. Whereas other organisations rely upon volunteers or the goodwill over overstretched employees to find some extra time on top of their daily cores.

The concepts of Programme Management Office (a person, team or function providing oversight and co-ordination) and Talent Academy (a person, team or function providing training, coaching, support) and a Change Team (a person, team or function supporting the delivery) may overlap somewhat, but I do believe consideration needs to be put to these elements. We say "people are our most important asset" yet this is often the least well maintained and cared-for asset, leading to overwork, breakdown and failure.

If you are going to rely upon business-as-usual team to deliver projects as an additional added element to their day-job then there will be a need to protect the people and their time. This can be achieved by dedicating a day or time for project work or a location at which they can be undisturbed by business-as-usual tasks.

The co-ordination and management of tasks and the development and support of people is the most critical element of strategy, projects and change. Creating the environment where success is inevitable (purpose, premises, processes, priority and participation) is key role of management and leadership.

Step 6 - Deliver the Programme, Operationalise the Strategy

With all these elements complete and properly integrated it should be possible to "switch-on" the machine and Deliver the Programme, Operationalise the Strategy. I use the machine metaphor not to undermine the importance of people it is, after all, the people who design, build and operate this machine. However I do feel that it is the processes that should work 24/7 and not the people.

The role of people is not to be a cog in the machine, constantly under pressure to perform, but to be the architect and operator to innovate and build new faster, cheaper, better processes leading to improvements for people, products, profits and the planet.


This has been a look at strategy, projects and change. It is not a definitive guide, nor a sequential check-list, but hopefully useful to indicate themes and share experience.

If you are interested in strategy, projects and change or would like checklists, templates, tools or training in any of the above elements or perhaps just a coaching conversation about how to customise and apply these ideas in your organisation please contact me or phone +44(0)7797762051

Tim HJ Rogers MBA
Mob 447797762051

ABOUT TIM: Tim's background includes BUSINESSS responsible for the incorporation of the Post Office and Ports of Jersey and Operations Change and Sales Support Manager for NatWest and RBS International his COMMUNITY INTERESTS include Jersey Policy Forum, hosting TEDx events and he is a Former Chair of Pharmaceutical Benefits Committee and member Public Accounts Committee, and SPORT INTERESTS Triathlon (Commonwealth Games 2006) & Ironman (2006-2016) and Rowing (World Champs 2009, 2010, 2016)

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