It’s interesting to see projects that, although are intended to be initiated out of some kind of strategic planning exercise, are often almost pop-up items. Someone raises an opportunity that’s just too juicy to pass by; or, a senior person in the organization simply mandates it as a priority.
This isn’t necessarily a bad thing as long as the project is demonstrably a key fit within a plan, which itself ties back to the strategy in the first place. Unfortunately, though, what often results is a loose collection of well-meaning projects that don’t scream out that a master game plan is being executed. Further, the projects can start out well but end up on the rocks when the initial fervour dissipates and ongoing support for the project itself, let alone subsequent phases, dries up.
Recently, an executive was describing how pleased he was with the results of a certain project that had been implemented but was still unsure about where it was leading. Were there plans to extend it, or was it a one-off?
It really helps to think of projects as being parts of a program, and programs themselves as part of a portfolio. Back to Kaplan and Norton’s Balanced Scorecard strategy management methodology, one expects to see clear objectives along with associated metrics for measuring success, each with a target, and supporting initiatives to get there (clicking your heels three times rarely works). The portfolio should likely be made up of both short-term and longer-term initiatives depending on factors such as competitive urgency, critical customer satisfaction and loyalty, or internal productivity.
A colleague recently undertook a study and highlighted one framework for a portfolio mix, including a matrix with low-to-high appraisals of “clarity of acceptance” on the X-axis, “difficulty of investment” on the Y-axis.
What’s nice is that it allows for a range of riskiness – which contributes to a healthy debate – that all ties back to the bigger picture. A single objective may need to be achieved through more than one initiative. People don’t have to feel that it’s an all-or-nothing gamble. On the other hand, it helps to ensure that individual “pop-up” projects don’t exist in a vacuum. Everyone has to agree that, shucks, we should have thought of that already, but, yup, let’s add it to the mix because it’s really going to complement the others.
So, not to flog a dead horse, but it all comes back to a few basics: single strategy, tight execution, a portfolio of projects all in support of clear targets, but which allow for incremental or radical change, as appropriate.