My last blog discussed how strategic business roadmapping could improve strategy execution. Organizations can more effectively compare possible investments across different strategic roadmaps by crafting a shared vision of the future and focusing the portfolio on value. Unlocking this entirely new project portfolio insight not only brings inter-project dependencies to the surface but also aids in sequencing all work across the portfolio to enable value-based decision making.
Generating a shared vision for how strategy will be executed
Most organizations use the hub and spoke model to communicate information about strategy. The most senior executive in a business unit shares the strategic objects she feels are most important to her team and leaves it at that. According to the HRB article Why Strategy Execution Unravels—and What to Do About It, only 9% of managers believe they can consistently rely on coworkers from other divisions to aid in getting their strategic work executed.
Figure 1 makes this easy to see. In the example below, the company has five strategic goals. Each of the 4 strategic business units (SBU) looks at the five strategic goals and then decides to work on the ones they think most closely match their own vision of reality.
Figure 1 Hub and Spoke Communication
Let’s say SBU 01 picks Strategies 1, 2 and 3 while SBU 02 adopts Strategies 1, 3, and 5. Even in a collaborative culture, if SBU 01 needs more than a question answered with regard to Strategy #5, they might find it difficult to get SBU 02 to free up resources to help. Why? Because it’s not a “strategic priority” to SBU 02.
Traditionally, the solution to the hub and spoke communication problem is to adopt a star model, as seen in Figure 2.
Figure 2 Start Pattern of Communication
The secret to the star model is to use it not only as a template for encouraging communication, but also as a model for forming fusion teams. If Strategy #4 (see Figure 1) requires help from three out of four of the SBUs shown in Figure 1, then at least one cross-business unit team needs to be formed with representatives from each required business unit. These people, by definition, need to be well-connected in their organization and well-respected outside of their organization. They will also need to be working with a consistent set of information.
This is where the concept of a strategic roadmap becomes so important. Each fusion team needs to be working against exactly the same roadmap for the strategies they touch. Essentially, I’m recommending a stealth program management approach to strategy execution by using the roadmap instead of a Gantt chart.
Some organizations might appoint a business leader as a strategy champion. Still, most organizations assume their list of projects that align with the strategy will be sufficient to ensure success.
Strategic roadmaps support value-based decision making at a deeper level of detail
We’ve all seen organizational politics drag out a strategic planning process, and it’s frustrating, inefficient, and often produces poor results. So, it’s no wonder the PMOs I’ve spoken to want nothing more than to avoid these multiple back-and-forth discussions — they want to find a process for providing perfect information that allows the executives to make the right decisions on the first try.
In reality, this is not only impossible, but also counterproductive. You can’t create “perfect information” in a vacuum. True alignment happens when you can look at each division’s roadmap and see how they work together to support strategy across the enterprise. The key is to bring the roadmap process and the portfolio investment process together in the form of a strategy execution roadmap, as shown in Figure 3.
Figure 3 Investment proposal by strategy
Where a project roadmap represents one division’s vision along a timeline, a strategic roadmap is a cross-sectional view of proposed investments across the enterprise organized by project start date. By laying out the information this way, we can gain better insight into two very important questions.
First, what percent of the strategy will be completed if the organization chooses to invest in some or all of the investments? Second, how many and of which type of skilled resources will the organization need to complete the proposed work? The latter question is one we’ll dive into further in Part 3 of this series.
At the end of the day, executing strategy is the goal. Plain and simple. Therefore, every investment proposal should be evaluated based on its contribution to this goal.
When you evaluate project proposals through this lens, it becomes clear which ones don’t move the progress needle in a significant way. In the best-case scenario, they could provide small, incremental changes; worst case, they are a comparative waste of money. This is one place where using portfolio Kanban might help make the decisions about the value of a proposal easier to understand.
No strategy is monolithic, and there will probably be 3 to 4 projects that touch on solving the same problem in any proposed plan. Some organizations, where people still talk to each other, can identify this issue as it occurs and try and avoid duplications; others walk right off the cliff.
Based on decades of portfolio experience, I expect to see something different every time I view a proposed list of projects through a new lens. While portfolio Kanban is seen as a tool to help prioritize when and in what order work gets done, it can also reveal deeper insights into the actual work the team is planning to do. The secret is to use a reduced list of projects that support the same immediate goal and reduce the timeframe to a quarter or six-month stretch. I also want to be very clear that the analysis will not give you a complete answer; it will point you in the direction of the people you need to speak with in order to get to the real answer.
Use strategic roadmaps to uncover where critical dependencies are still missing
Until tight communication is the standard of an organization’s culture, critical dependencies will continue to slip through the cracks. After the portfolio has been finalized, I generally recommend a divisional review step. During this review, the only goal is for divisions to identify missed interdependencies or unforeseen circumstances, usually around resource availability. Only these situations should be escalated back up the chain. Everything else is just noise.
When people get caught up in possibility instead of looking only at the facts, critical dependencies tend to be missed. Strategic roadmaps are not a fool-proof solution, but they can significantly decrease the chances that this happens.
When it comes to executing strategy, there will always be surprises along the way. By building business roadmaps and focusing on value-based decision making, organizations can stay responsive to change and put themselves in the position to achieve the best long-term outcome.