Tips for Rolling Out Strategic Initiatives
Organizations overspend millions of dollars and realize significant delays each year rolling out strategic initiatives. Overspending dollars does not just negatively impact the expense side of the organization’s ledger. Overspending also diminishes the business case of the strategic initiative.
Rollout delays negatively impact both revenue and expense. Delays can result in a loss of planned incremental revenue or market share gains. Delays can also postpone planned cost reductions. The larger the organization, the larger the impact.
Below are some tips for rolling out strategic initiatives the business leader and/or owner can implement at virtually no cost:
Tip #1 – Ensure the Team Has a Clear Vision of the Desired End Result
One of my favorite questions to ask the program sponsor is, How do we know when we are done? Many strategic initiatives have problems because the team does not have a clear vision of the desired end result. With an incomplete picture, teams have a tendency to stall. Why? Because key tasks are unplanned and key resources to perform those tasks are not committed to do the work. The impact on the organization is more funds are required and schedule delays.
As a business leader, you can help your teams have a clear vision on the desired outcome. A great place to have these discussions is during your periodic program review meetings. Depending on the size of your organization, these discussions can help you avoid overspending and delays on your strategic initiatives.
Tip #2 – Foster an Environment for Straight Talk
When I am brought to help an organization take corrective action on a troubled initiative, one of the common themes I see is the business leader did not learn about the bad news until it was too late to fix. As a business leader, or owner, you need to foster an environment where your program and project team leads are comfortable sharing bad news. “having the straight talk.” No matter how painful it is for you to hear.
No one likes bad news but, one thing I have learned over the years is bad news is like accounts receivable, it gets worst with age. Make sure your team has access to you and is comfortable giving you the straight talk. The absence of having this environment may be the difference between you solving the issue with a short five-minute phone call and significantly overspending on the strategic initiative. Remember the old adage, time is money.
Tip #3 – Test the Resource Plan for Reasonableness
One reason rolling out strategic initiatives are delayed is because key resources are not available when needed. Key resources are not available for many reasons. However, one common theme on troubled initiatives is the owning manager of the key resources had not committed the resource(s) ahead of time. These key resources may be facilities, people, technology, funding, etc. Key resource availability should be committed in advance. This can be challenging if the resources are owned by different managers in different organizations.
As a business leader ask your program and/or project leads if they can walk you through the resource plan for the strategic initiative. The two-component plans you should find of most interest are the staffing plan (when people are needed) and the cash flow plan (when funding is needed). Testing these plans for reasonableness should help you feel comfortable (or not) that resources and funding will be available when needed for rolling out your strategic initiative.
Tip #4 – Understand the Implications to Schedule Delays
One common technique organizations use to report program status is “Red, Yellow, Green” status on key milestones. Green means the key milestone will be completed within the cost/schedule targets. Red means the key milestone will miss the cost/schedule targets (usually by a material percentage).
Many times business leaders are surprised because they find out 30 – 90 days before the strategic initiative is to be available for their customers, suppliers, and/or employees, the initiative will have major delays, or require significant additional funding.
Why does this occur? One reason is when key milestones are missed, a new completion date is assigned, and the milestone status is often reset to green. All of the dependent downstream key milestones on the late milestone(s) still show a green status. This usually means the dependent downstream milestones (especially those on the critical path) will start later than planned. Even if the downstream workstreams are completed within the planned time and dollars, they will be late because the upstream milestone(s) are late. Understanding this phenomenon will help you ask better questions and start thinking early about actions that can be taken to minimize disruption to other dependent initiatives.
Tip #5 – Ask Probing Questions
Too often I see business leaders asked to make decisions before they really understand the implications of those decisions. This is especially true on technology-based strategic initiatives. As a business leader, before you make key decisions you need to make sure you are getting the information you need and understand the implications of each decision option.
As someone who is asked by business leaders to help represent their interests on strategic initiatives, I often see business leaders being a little gun-shy in asking probing questions because they are afraid of asking dumb questions. Remember, there is no such thing as a dumb question. What is dumb is not asking a question, if you do not understand something. Your decision ultimately impacts your organization in terms of either funds or schedule delays.
One technique you can use to make sure you understand the implications is to meet with your program and/or project lead ahead of the meeting. Have them brief you on the decisions you will be asked to make; and the implications of each decision option. If you need additional information to make the best decision for your organization, tell your program lead ahead of time so he/she can help make sure the information is covered in the formal meeting.
I hope you find these tips helpful.