Four building blocks essential for successful strategy execution

25 September 2017

When it comes to transformation program, aligning an organisation to its strategic priorities forms the foundation for success, says David Hilliard, CEO of management consultancy Mentor Europe. This requires serious upfront investment in terms of time, as without time, it’s a case of ‘fail to prepare – prepare to fail’. Hilliard provides four building blocks which are essential for strategy execution.

Implementing strategy successfully enables economies to grow, businesses to succeed, and people to progress in their careers. Yet, more than 70% of significant change initiatives fail.

To avoid failure, there’s one overarching action organisations must take before starting any implementation. They must take the time to ensure they are strategically aligned. There must be a shared focus and agreement on the priorities. Failure can be costly.

Alignment is often challenging, particularly at scale. After all, the bigger the program, the more variables come into play. High-profile programs regularly navigate across multiple functions, borders, cultures and ways of working. A report produced by Raconteur found that just 0.5% of financial services programs stayed within their original spending plans, with telecoms coming in at 7%, while IT and government reached 20%.

Percentage of IT projects with given IT issues

To prevent a program becoming part of these statistics, here’s a guide – built on experience of successful program execution – to getting your strategy on the right track.

Executive alignment

This is the first building block. It’s critical – business-critical – to get the executive team working together towards the same strategic goals. Greater understanding, buy-in and commitment to the ‘bigger picture’ means a greater the chance of success. If there’s little understanding among those at the top, what chance does the rest of the organisation have to execute the strategy?

Once this is achieved, there needs to be clear communication of this new agreement. Apart from the obvious benefits relating to demonstrating strong leadership, this sets expectations across the organisation. A clear system of accountability should be set out, detailing who is responsible for what. This helps build a sense of purpose, and offers reassurance to the core program team and the wider workforce.

Separate a program from ‘Business As Usual’

Gaining strategic executive alignment is the first step on the path to successful strategy execution. The next step is to organise the program for success. Business-critical programs work best with a dedicated specialist core team whose sole focus is this program and then tapping into additional resources across the organisation as required. This structure ensures clear accountability and focus.

There also must be a decision regarding where a program fits in among a company’s day-to-day operations. A business-critical program will need to be treated differently from ‘business-as-usual’ activities as it is not ‘run of the mill’ for the organisation. That means investing time to assign the correctly skilled and experienced people to the right roles, rather than asking them to ‘fit it around’ day-to-day activities. What’s more, seconded staff must be empowered and granted the necessary authority to make decisions.

Most troublesome project management processes to embed


To supplement the program team, the existing organisational structure has to be reviewed. Sometimes, a contributing factor to a program’s failure is its existing hierarchy, rather than with individuals working on the program. Indeed, a rigid ‘top-down’ culture can stifle highly capable program executioners, to the point that success becomes impossible. Not only that, particularly in larger organisations, there may be siloes that need to be tackled to ensure information can flow freely between departments.

Leaders should then be permitted to use this information as they see fit. Of course, with great power comes great responsibility – that’s fair enough – big projects call for big decisions. Program leaders must be fully empowered so that they can be fully responsible. Eliminate any ambiguities around roles, accountability, and governance and you dramatically increase the chances of program success.

Bridging the gap between theory and practice

Now, we’re at the stage of executing the strategy, and at this juncture, there’s often a disconnect. Typically, this happens when a team – sometimes internal managers, sometimes external consultants – map out a program strategy. Once they create a report detailing the necessary approach, it is handed over. In effect, those responsible for creating the strategy abdicate responsibility for its subsequent success (or failure). Instead, it’s left to others within the organisation who are tasked with working out how to start execution.

This action is a common example of a weak link between planning a strategy and executing it. Countering this threat requires vision, whether from an existing employee, or from an external consultant. The type of vision that recognises an organisation’s capability, and readiness for successful program execution. It may be that the original plan is simply too ambitious. In this case, it can be best to take some time to streamline goals, and concentrate energies on what can and should be achieved within the timescale.

Related: 10 pitfalls for strategy development and execution (an article from OC&C’s co-founder).


Managing the demand for change in project management

16 April 2019

The forward-looking nature of project management means that regardless of the type of project, thorough planning and risk assessment are essential to ensure it is delivered on time, on budget, and in line with the client’s requirements – while delivering the expected results. Consultants Eman Al-Hillawi and Peter Marsden elaborate in the article below. 

However, it is important to recognise that in this fast-moving working environment, and with projects increasing in scale and complexity, a degree of change is inevitable. Putting the right mitigation strategies in place early on can provide project managers with much-needed agility, allowing them to respond quickly to any new issues that arise.

When the goalposts move or project managers are issued with an unexpected client request, adopting a holistic approach is essential to ensure that changes are implemented successfully the first time around, reducing the risk of any problems arising in the future. Rather than considering the demand for change in one area of a project in isolation, it is important to conduct a full impact assessment, taking into account any knock-on effects on people, processes, systems and infrastructure. For example, a sudden need to digitalise a key HR process may have implications for recruitment, or the need to upskill existing staff through new training programmes, or both. 

Implementing a Portfolio Management Office (PMO) can also enhance project managers’ ability to spot interdependencies and better manage unforeseen changes. Where a number of projects or programmes are being undertaken simultaneously, this function is particularly useful, providing stakeholders with increased visibility and driving intelligent decision-making. For example, spotting an unexpected delay to a particular project could enable resources to be reallocated across the portfolio at an early stage, helping to drive efficiencies within the business and keeping budgets on track. 

Managing the demand for change in project management

As part of their efforts to make the most of available resources while keeping costs under control, project managers should consider using blended teams wherever possible. By combining the organisation’s existing employees with different skills and experienced project managers, it is easier to ensure that the correct levels of skills and resources are utilised at each stage of a project. Furthermore, this method can provide the additional flexibility needed to respond quickly to new developments without unnecessarily prolonging project timelines or increasing costs. 

It is worth bearing in mind that introducing some mitigation strategies may require an initial cost outlay and, as such, effective communication with stakeholders from the very beginning of a project is key. One example is to allocate a contingency budget to the project. This helps to facilitate the project manager’s ability to address key issues that require unplanned spend, without the need to undergo a time-consuming budget approval process. By educating all involved parties about the inevitability of change during projects, it is possible to put buffers in place, both financially and in terms of the project timeline. Over the course of a project, this should enable project managers to react quickly to change and take effective action without compromising on the timescales and delivery of client objectives. 

Likewise, where project delivery is reliant upon large and diverse teams, clearly communicating the impact of unexpected changes, and the required response, is also vital to ensure everyone is on the same page and disruption to day-to-day processes is kept to a minimum. When curveballs to project delivery occur, a failure to brief the team on how these should be addressed could also have a significant impact on levels of motivation and morale, which in turn has the potential to have a negative impact on productivity across a project. 

While meticulous forward planning will always be an essential element of project management, it’s equally important to recognise that to a certain extent, change is unavoidable. The ability to respond effectively to new developments as they occur is therefore vital. By making change a central part of discussions with stakeholders and clearly communicating with all parties on a programme, project managers can take new issues in their stride while continuing to deliver exceptional results for clients. 

Eman Al-Hillawi and Peter Marsden are principal consultants at business change consultancy Entec Si.