Strategic Initiatives | Are You Ready to Implement?

I define readiness as a quality possessed by a group of people showing that they are physically able and mentally willing to take action. Implied in this definition is a sense of enthusiasm,

We have what we need and we are eager to get on with it!

On more than one occasion, I have seen teams impulsively plunge into implementation.

My basic message is one of commonsense: prepare and plan.

Readiness Assessment

It is common for airline pilots and surgeons to use checklists before starting their procedures. Financial transactions require stacks of audited documents.

Each of these endeavors is strategic in the sense of making large, irreversible resource commitments and putting other’s well-being at risk.

Two Approaches for Assessing Readiness

One approach is to ask an independent person to conduct a “strategy implementation readiness” assessment (or audit, if you prefer that term) to assure that the key success factors are present. The scope of work normally includes a review strategy documents and interviews with stakeholders. The deliverable is an opinion about the program’s readiness (some call it a probability of success) and recommendations for the launch the strategic initiative.

The second approach is to ask the strategy team, to pause and reflect on its readiness. This is often done as part of the kickoff meeting. Of course, the two approaches can be combined and with the independent expert serving as the team facilitator for the activity.

Complexity and Starting Conditions

We see the results of failure at the end. However, the seeds of failure are sown at the beginning. I have often said,

Projects don’t fail at the end, they fail at the beginning.

Thus, it is only commonsense to emphasize the “starting conditions” when a project is being conceived, resourced, and planned.

Strategic initiatives are not the same as strategic projects, as strategic initiatives often involve high levels of complexity. Read my article on Five Rules for Complex Strategic Initiatives and my article on Path Finding and Way Finding to get a better understanding of the different requirements for leadership. Both of those articles identify the role for establishing the starting conditions for a strategic initiative. My experience says that these four items are critical factors:

  • Understanding the rational for the initiative. What is the performance gap? What is the problem or opportunity? This is huge, and I explain more in the next section.
  • Having the right people in place. Assure that they have the time available. Be open minded to forming partnerships and alliances with other organizations.
  • Recognize the conceptual gap between the need (issues, problems and opportunities) and the solution design. Too commonly, people jump into designing solutions based on their individual perceptions and experiences. The consequence is that they don’t address the true causes, and they cause conflict or hesitation by other stakeholders who do not share their perceptions and experience. The obvious first step is to diagnose the situation and understand the performance gap.
  • Identifying linkages and interfaces with other strategic initiatives.

List: Do’s and Don’ts for Strategic Initiative Readiness

Although this is not a complete list, the following will improve your strategic initiative readiness:

  • Do conduct – early – a strategic initiative readiness assessment that involves a structured review and evaluation of key milestones, intended actions, relationships and dependencies. This is similar to the common project management practice of a project walkthrough.
  • Do be prepared to invest more time than you might initially guess
  • Do review strategy planning documents
  • Do leverage outside expertise (don’t be afraid to ask for help or think that you can do it all yourself)
  • Do understand the definition of strategic initiative and the distinctions of program management from project management
  • Do discuss program governance, including decision-making expectations and defining a working definition of consensus
  • Do expect that there will be mixed support for the initiative from the executive suite. Strategic initiatives – by definition – are boundary spanning.They fall into every executive’s silo, and yet seldom exclusively in their silo.Don’t make a big announcement of the strategic initiative to the press or to employees. Wait until the team is in place and functioning.
  • Do pay attention to requirements.
  • Don’t rely sole on standard project checklists. Strategic initiatives are not simply strategic projects, and standard project checklists are insufficient.One reason is that strategy is often complex, whereas projects are merely complicated.
  • Don’t avoid ambiguity and don’t oversimplify

Do you formally charter and kick off your strategic initiative teams?

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About Greg Githens

Vice President of Strategic Initiatives. a.k.a., The Strategic Thinking Coach. I'm a hands-on strategy & execution consultant with experience in driving change in Fortune 500 and mid-size companies through strategic initiatives and business transformation. I'm available for extended or short-term engagements. For an introduction to pragmatic tools that turns vision into results, attend my popular seminar, "Leading Strategic Initiatives (Program Management)."
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7 Responses to Strategic Initiatives | Are You Ready to Implement?

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