Organisations are changing more rapidly than ever before to keep up with evolving political, economic, and technological factors. In this fast-paced environment, effectively aligning an organisation’s vision with its plan for project execution has become a critical factor in securing enduring outcomes and robust investment returns. Consistently tasked with the challenge, businesses must navigate the complex process of transforming their strategic visions into tangible achievements. Yet, a major obstacle remains: the gap between devising a strategy and implementing it. This issue is frequently compounded by leaders failing to see the connection between their strategic plans, the selection of projects, and the standard of their execution. This article examines the linkage between strategic planning and project delivery, emphasising the role of effective project management in bridging this gap.
Understanding the Strategy-Execution Gap
The strategy-execution gap refers to the disconnect between an organisation’s strategic objectives and the practical implementation of projects aimed at achieving these objectives. The Project Management Institute (PMI) highlights that for every £1 billion spent on projects, nearly £100 million is wasted due to poor project performance (PMI, 2020). This statistic underscores the cost of misalignment and the imperative need for integrating strategy and project execution effectively. Addressing this gap requires not only selecting the right projects that clearly align with strategic objectives, but also executing these projects efficiently and effectively.
The Role of Vision in Strategy Formulation
A well-articulated vision sets the long-term direction and foundation for strategic planning. It serves as a guiding light for decision-making and prioritising organisational resources. However, a vision without a pragmatic execution plan risks remaining an unfulfilled aspiration. Vision should be more than a statement; it should be a clear articulation of the organisation’s aspirations and ultimate goals, providing clarity for guiding decision-making processes and resource allocation.
Translating Vision into Actionable Projects
Transitioning from strategic vision to actionable projects requires a robust and repeatable process. This involves breaking down the vision into specific, measurable, achievable, relevant, and time-bound (SMART) objectives. Ensuring each project aligns with these strategic objectives guarantees that efforts contribute to broader organisational goals. Before accepting a project, leaders should ask if it advances the overall vision and strategic goals of the business. Projects should primarily be undertaken to contribute towards the delivery of strategy, aside from those necessary for regulatory, legal compliance, or addressing technical or asset obsolescence.
Bridging the Gap with Effective Project Management
Effective project management is fundamental in closing the strategy-execution gap. Project managers play a crucial role in this process, ensuring that projects not only meet their deadlines and stay within budget but also contribute substantial value that aligns with the organisation’s strategic vision. This involves a multifaceted approach where project managers need to have a clear understanding of the strategic goals and how each project fits into the larger picture. They must adeptly balance resources, manage risks, and navigate challenges to keep projects on track. Additionally, their ability to communicate effectively with stakeholders at all levels ensures that there is a consistent understanding of the project’s progress and its alignment with strategic objectives.
By fostering a collaborative environment, they can drive team engagement and productivity, which are key to successful project execution. In essence, effective project management is not just about adhering to timelines and budgets; it’s about strategically steering projects in a way that they materially contribute to the organisation’s long-term goals. Essential practices for aligning vision with project execution include:
Ongoing Strategic Alignment of Projects: Select and prioritise projects based on strategic relevance, evaluating them against strategic objectives and allocating resources to projects offering the highest strategic value.
Adopting an Agile Mindset: Agility in project management is crucial for adapting to changes and ensuring projects remain aligned with evolving strategic goals.
Effective Communication & Stakeholder Management: Clear communication across the organisation ensures everyone understands the strategic vision and their role in achieving it.
Performance Measurement: Establishing KPIs aligned with strategic objectives enables monitoring and evaluating project performance, aiding in course correction and enhancing accountability and transparency.
Continuous Learning and Improvement: A culture of continuous learning and improvement refines project management practices over time, enhancing the ability to execute strategically aligned projects.
Case Studies: Successful Alignment of Strategy and Project Execution
The implementation of these practices can be observed in many successful organisations. For instance, Google’s relentless focus on innovation aligns with their strategic objective of “organising the world’s information” (Google, 2021). This is evident in their project management approach and utilisation of agile practices, where they prioritise projects that drive innovation and data management. The focus is very much on strategy and execution.
Another example is the British retailer Tesco, which successfully aligned its strategic vision of customer centricity with its project execution. Their focus on customer experience projects, leveraging data analytics, performance metrics and technology, significantly improved their market position (Tesco, 2021).
Here in Australia, one of our longstanding customers Transport for NSW, has successfully aligned its strategic objectives with innovative project execution, particularly in the realm of ticketing solutions. Embracing the vision of making public transport more accessible and user-friendly, they introduced the Opal card system, a contactless fare collection platform. This system simplifies the payment process, offers flexible pricing, and enhances travel efficiency for commuters. Furthermore, the integration of contactless payment options, including the use of credit and debit cards, smartphones, and smart devices, directly aligns with their strategy of leveraging technology to improve customer experience. These advancements in ticketing not only streamline operations but also reflect Transport for NSW’s commitment to innovation and customer-centric service delivery, marking a significant stride in modernising public transportation in NSW.
Overcoming Common Challenges
Despite the clear benefits, aligning strategy and execution is not without challenges. One common obstacle is resistance to change, both at the leadership and delivery team levels. Overcoming this requires a change management strategy that emphasises the benefits of alignment and actively involves stakeholders in the transition process. Another challenge can be a scarcity of skilled project managers who can navigate the complexities of aligning projects with strategic objectives. Investing in professional development and training is crucial to building a pool of competent project managers. Conversely, having strategy managers and leaders that understand projects is a similar issue in many organisations. One way round this potential lack of skills is to implement a Strategic or Enterprise Project Management Office (S/EPMO).
The Project Management Office (PMO) can play a pivotal role in ensuring strategic alignment. A PMO provides governance, standardises project management practices, and ensures that project outcomes are in sync with the strategic vision. By overseeing project selection and prioritisation, the PMO can direct efforts towards projects that are most beneficial from a strategic standpoint. Experienced PMO people inherently understand this link between strategy and execution ensuring a smoother pathway to good project outcomes and the ability to realise and measure project benefits.
Aligning vision with execution is essential for long-term success. Organisations can transform strategic aspirations into tangible outcomes through robust project management practices. The ability to translate vision into execution remains a key differentiator for sustained success and innovation. To further advance, organisations are encouraged to consider the following:
For Strategy Teams and Leaders:
Conduct Regular Strategic Reviews: Regularly assess and adjust strategies in response to market conditions, ensuring the vision remains relevant.
Uplift or Establish an EPMO: Implement an EPMO for transparency in delivery status and benefits realisation, and to support project management capability uplift.
Invest in Leader Training: Develop leaders’ skills in strategic thinking and execution, and ensure they understand project management fundamentals, particularly for project sponsors and those accountable for outcomes and benefits.
For Delivery Teams:
Embrace Change Management: Cultivate a culture open to change and innovation, necessary for adapting strategies and ensuring their successful execution.
Leverage Technology: Integrate technologies to streamline project management processes, create transparency, and provide real-time insights into project alignment with strategic goals.
Portfolio Assurance: Portfolios should be reviewed regularly to ensure that projects and programs are still contributing the benefits that were planned at the time the initiative was approved.
Project Controls: The regular and ongoing monitoring of project time, cost, scope and benefits is an important lead indicator for the delivery of strategic outcomes. Without a system of monitoring and controlling projects and programs leadership teams are flying blind when it comes to estimating the change of successful strategy execution.
Enhance Stakeholder Engagement: Continuously engage key stakeholders, ensuring they understand and support the strategic vision and how individual projects contribute to the larger picture.
Implement Feedback Mechanisms: Establish feedback loops to learn from both successful and unsuccessful project executions, applying these learnings to future strategic planning and project management.
By taking these steps, organisations can solidify the alignment between vision and execution, driving forward towards growth and success. The journey requires commitment, adaptability, and a forward-thinking mindset. It’s essential for leaders to remain open to new ideas and approaches, constantly evaluating and refining their strategies in response to both internal and external changes. This ongoing process of alignment ensures that organisations not only stay relevant in their respective industries but also thrive, turning their strategic visions into measurable and impactful outcomes.
If we can help you with the delivery of your strategy please don’t hesitate to get in touch for a confidential conversation with one of our experts.