Are You Really On-Track? Mistakes Made in Execution
Executive Vice President & COO, CSSP, Inc.
Is your team honest with itself when discussing progress of your action plans? Or is your team convincing itself that things are really on-track when they aren't even close? Recently I have come across a number of cases where teams have given themselves high marks on achievement, but the real strategic objective has not been reached. Here are four examples of how you might be negatively impacting your strategic results by accepting less than optimal progress.
1.Redefining the objective
Recently I observed a team celebrating the success of achieving one of their key strategic objectives. The progress that had been made was significant: a new product launch. But did it really accomplish what we had set out in the original strategic objective? The original project was to scope out the requirements of a particular market segment. Significant regulatory changes had occurred during the year and these changes will impact this segment's needs/preferences for the foreseeable future. The product launch was a good thing for the business, but not the completion of the strategic objective - it totally missed doing primary research to understand the full impact of the regulatory changes. In the short-term, the product launch would shore up revenues, but the team missed the long-term opportunity to help its customers navigate through the regulatory changes by providing unique solutions to the opportunities/issues that resulted from the change in regulations. Don't redefine your objectives so that you easily meet your targets using projects that are already in flight. Be sure that your objectives are well defined going into the process and make sure that you continually check that the action plans are accomplishing what you actually set out to achieve with the strategic objective.
2. Only look at exceptions during the monitoring process
In order to speed up monitoring meetings, some teams choose to just look at the action plans that are not on schedule. This allows the team to focus on the key projects that are not moving forward as planned and allows the team to have discussions concerning the impediments to progress and ways of overcoming these impediments. However, this approach misses an important aspect of the monitoring process: communication. Communicating progress on action plans that are on-track keeps the whole team informed and updates the team regarding changes to the plan. Sometimes project leaders keep the plan on-track even though there have been significant changes to the scope of the plan so that the plan does not fall under the scrutiny of the strategic management team. This allows key strategic objectives to go off-track because the rest of the team is not alerted to the changes. In addition, the communication of progress allows senior management team members to suggest enhancements that were not included in the original action plan. So, don't assume the purpose of the monitoring meeting is simply to keep the action plans on track, the communication of where we are on key strategic objectives is also important. This allows the whole senior management team to stay engaged on projects where they do not have an active role.
3. Defining "on-track" as being "on-track" with the things that you control
Yes, this really happens…a team has a project that is significantly "off-track" due to events beyond its control and instead of simply identifying this, the team says it is "on-track" because the problems were not of the project team's doing. Beneficial? No! When something is off-track, it is off-track - this is not an assessment of blame, but an acknowledgement of actual progress. This accurate assessment is important for three reasons:
- To communicate to those on the team that a key strategic objective is not going to be completed in a timely fashion. This is important to know, as this is key to achieving our strategy.
- To allow the group to brainstorm on ways to overcome the impediments and perhaps come up with creative solutions to the problem(s).
- To allow the group to re-deploy resources, if, in fact, this strategic objective is really dead in the water.
4. Declaring victory before the actual objective is reached
Remember the infamous "Mission Accomplished" banner on the aircraft carrier? Do your objectives really state the desired objectives? Do you declare victory when your product and/or service is launched? Or when the acquisition is complete? Or do you declare victory when you have reached the stated revenue/profit numbers that give you the ROI that justified the project in the first place? If you declare victory before you have actually achieved the metrics defined as success, you are cheating yourself out of the full potential for the project, as resources can be redeployed to other projects before this strategic objective is really complete. This causes a great deal of frustration within organizations, as a project's potential is not achieved due to the loss of focus.
Is it time to tune-up your monitoring process? Is your team being honest about its progress? The next time your team reviews its strategic objectives or key projects ask the following questions:
- Are we really achieving what we set out to achieve? Are we being honest with ourselves concerning the progress that is being made?
- If not, how can we fix it?
- Do we need to take some projects off the table to ensure we are making progress on the critical few?
- Do your objectives really focus on the desired result?
- Have we added projects without taking anything off the list?
Take a look at your past progress and see if you are really being honest with yourself. If not you can make significant progress by plugging the leaks in your monitoring process. If you are not making the progress you want, or if you have fallen into the traps above, the Center for Simplified Strategic Planning can help you get back on track. Contact us to help you regain your focus.
For additional information on how to enhance your execution success please read:
Everyone Knows Execution is Important - So Why Do We Fail to Execute?
Denise Harrison is Executive Vice President & COO at the Center for Simplified Strategic Planning, Inc. She can be reached at