Diving deeper into the Business Operations Framework with a look at Initiative Execution
In our last blog, we covered The Spur Group’s point of view on Operations Design, describing the key considerations an organization should make to succeed at both the day-to-day and broader strategic initiatives.
In this blog, #4 in our 5-blog series, we will deep-dive into initiative execution, detailing how your organization can execute strategic initiatives (or projects) to achieve goals faster and more efficiently while ensuring alignment to the overall strategy.
Initiative execution is more than just project management.
In our previous , we highlighted how vital it is to design and set up effective operations that enable your organization’s overall strategy. Once your organization has the right operations in place, it’s time to put them into practice.
Our experts at the Spur Group, including Margaret Snape, have identified the tenets of successful initiative execution. At the highest level, strong initiatives are executed with discipline, transparency, and efficiency. In this blog, we will explore how these attributes make an initiative successful.
Discipline is the art of creating a consistent code of behavior within and across your initiative team.
In our experience, disciplined initiatives share the following common attributes.
Projects can be long or overwhelming, sometimes both, and even riddled with challenges. But from beginning to end, it is important that you and the team understand and maintain focus on the outcome you are driving toward. Successful initiatives use that outcome as a “North Star” to guide the team. These initiatives are led by teams that repeatedly check to ensure actions are leading to the desired outcome of the initiative, even when leaders aren’t around.
Not focusing on the outcome puts your team at risk of spending time, energy, and budget achieving the wrong goal. We have seen projects fail to keep the outcome in focus throughout the work of the initiative, and then fail to meet the strategic goals. In both cases, projects may be cancelled after months of work when it becomes clear it will not accomplish what is needed.
Implementing outcome-focused discipline ensures that even if nothing else works, your team is still marching towards a common goal.
On-time and on-budget
Keeping control of your timeline and budget is key to driving discipline with your team. The smoothest, most successful initiatives have line-of-sight into upcoming meetings, team member vacations, key deliverables, and milestones. They review the plan with the team regularly, to reinforce its importance. Just like timelines, you should be reviewing budget regularly to ensure you are accounting for previous and upcoming expenses.
Timeline and budget management are hallmarks of project management – without which your project can quickly get away from you. In a recent project, we witnessed a disconnect in our client’s pace and their expected delivery of the project. They did not create, nor review, a timeline and budget regularly. As a result, time snuck up on them – leaving them to scramble and deliver less than expected and planned.
Placing importance on staying on time and on budget will keep your team focused and disciplined.
High-quality work products
Disciplined initiatives produce high-quality work products which are key to a successful initiative. You cannot just dial it in. Successful initiatives have a system and standards in place to ensure every piece of work is well informed, aligned to other projects or initiatives, reviewed with stakeholders, and approved by leadership. It may take grit and rigor to ensure that the system and standards are adhered to, but it’s well worth the effort.
When a team does not have a system or standards in place to produce high-quality work, it runs the risk of not meeting initiative, or even organizational, objectives.
While a team may be able to drive success through luck, or a big push, it is much easier to achieve through strong work products.
It reduces churn, confusion, and misalignment.
Transparency is creating an environment where information is open, available, and shared appropriately with key initiative participants.
We have found that transparency is most important for three key groups to drive business and initiative outcomes.
For your project team, transparency means easy and regular access to the project plan, working materials, and a list of decisions and open action items. Project teams need specific and granular information as they approach their own work, along with a way to collaborate within the team.
Transparency with the project team helps them approach their work in the most informed way possible, avoiding redundant or incorrect work.
When initiatives are not transparent with their teams, it can create confusion, rework, and disorganization. A common example of this is not sharing an important decision with the team in a timely manner. This leads to work that is inaccurate and must be redone.
Managing the day-to-day business proactively, keeping your team organized, and prioritizing effectively will decrease confusion, reduce duplicative efforts, and ultimately drive progress toward your goals.
Leadership, sponsorship, and support are imperative to the success of any initiative. If a leader is sponsoring an initiative, they need to be informed of its progress in regular intervals and feel they can get an accurate understanding of status at any time. This way they can help remove roadblocks on behalf of the initiative.
Failing to provide adequate information for leadership to support the project can leave an initiative hamstrung. One of our recent clients (VP) had a team that didn’t report out on risks or issues throughout a project. Every time she asked for the status they told her everything was going great, despite significant delays. If they had asked for her help, she could have coordinated with the necessary stakeholders, fixed the blocking issues, and the team could have hit the deadline they missed by over a year.
Being transparent with your leadership builds trust and gives you an avenue for support or guidance when needed.
Stakeholder awareness and alignment to your initiative can drive much needed participation and support. Stakeholders are often SME’s (subject matter experts), or are involved in tangentially-related initiatives. By offering transparency into your initiative, you become a working partner, positioning them to support your project with their expertise, time, or even advocacy.
On the other hand, withholding information from stakeholders can challenge the success of your initiative AND your future working relationship. They may view you as secretive, or plotting against their work efforts. Ultimately, your initiative will lack the important expertise or alignment it needs to be successful.
Being open with stakeholders is helpful today and tomorrow.
An efficient initiative or project is methodical, ordered and helps to reduce redundant work.
To ensure your initiative is executed successfully, it must be efficient. While often the most difficult to control, we have found the following to be hallmarks of an efficient initiative.
Positioned for success
Leaders of successful initiatives position team members to be as successful as possible. They do this by understanding the bandwidth, relevant skillsets, and talent needed to get the job done. The best leaders use these opportunities to grow the breadth and depth of skills on their team. This creates efficiencies across the initiative because everyone is working at their best.
However, when a team is not well aligned to the initiative or project, it can become unattainable no matter how well the plan is designed. We have seen project teams struggle to create quality deliverables or manage to deadlines when the team is not positioned correctly. It is not uncommon to see a bottleneck when a team member doesn’t have the bandwidth to properly engage with the project – slowing down the initiative, or even putting it at risk.
The best laid plans may not be enough if an initiative team is not positioned to effectively, and efficiently, execute the work.
Creativity to drive efficiency
It’s no secret that business can be unpredictable. Sudden and chaotic situations often present themselves – business landscapes can and will change abruptly, and leadership change their mind frequently. Meeting these challenges requires creativity to scale, adapt, and start over.
Every initiative and its needs will be different and it is on you, as a leader, to creatively address these unique challenges.
We’ve found successful initiatives don’t just try the traditional solutions (daily team meetings, a structured project plan, war room, etc.). They also think outside the box (bringing snacks in for the team, approaching decision makers informally, or even modifying the project objectives to better meet changing business needs). There is a creativity to project management and it is critical to create the space for success to be achieved.
You can never guarantee an initiative will be successful, but you can ensure it is well executed.
Executing the tenants of initiative execution, as laid out in this blog, will ensure that you and your team shine.
Stay tuned for the next blog in our series that will dive deeper into the business intelligence element of The Spur Group’s business operations framework. If you’d like to know more about how you can bridge gaps in your initiative execution with business operations experts, drop us a line at thespurgroup.com/contact-us.