Are You Tracking Projects or Tracking Results? Tell the Truth.

I love process. I love project management. I love organization. I love communication. But, I’m a little down on some of the more sophisticated planning processes that I keep bumping into when we are asked to assess strategic planning that is already underway.

I sincerely don’t mean to sound flippant, because I am all for aligning the front line and have all due respect for Hoshin Planning and the Balanced Scorecard (both of which have greatly influenced my thinking and methodologies), but I have to ask where the strategy is in the following objectives...

  1. Meet our financial targets
  2. Take care of our customers
  3. Launch great products
  4. Improve our processes
  5. Take care of our workforce

When we knock down 18 various projects with 50 tasks in each and feel awesome about our progress, can we always point to the actual business results and/or significant shifts in the business strategy that have resulted in an increased company value?

I want to be very clear. If you have a planning process that makes employees feel productive and helps them to see the connection between their everyday work and the bigger picture, by all means, consider that a win, because it’s VERY HARD to do that. But, as a CEO or an executive leader, the question to ask is whether or not the development of true strategic goals and the accountability to real measures (not just tasks and dates) is happening?

If you are questioning this, then I encourage you to rethink your planning approach and leadership governance. It may call for simplification and/or a separate treatment of strategy from operations, which is our strong point of view.  

Here are a few tried and true tips to follow:

1. Don’t create your strategic goals with the question, "How am I going to communicate this to the organization?" floating around in your head. If the strategic goal is to shut down a business unit or anything else that is uncomfortable, so be it.

2. Separate your strategic goal discussions from your operational objectives discussions. One way to view strategic goals is that they are "non-business-as-usual," in other words, things that require collaborative or out-of-the-box thinking because they haven’t been tackled before. If you do this, your conversation will switch from, "Did we get it done? Okay, check the box," to, "How can we make this happen?" That's an entirely different tone and way of collaborating.

3. Focus on result measures first and tasks second. Here's a simple example: Don't measure the successful launch of a product by the accomplishment of building, testing, and taking the product to market. Instead, measure the number of successful rankings from beta testers, the number of initial customers who agree to purchase at launch, and of course, revenue. I'm not saying to neglect the important tasks listed above, but rather am suggesting that you avoid being mired in them and keep your eyes on the real prize. 

Getting things done, aligning the organization, and year-over-year functional improvements are clearly necessary for running a good business. The challenge is figuring out how to keep this engine going and also allow time to focus on new strategic business drivers that can change the game for your company and keep you ahead of the pack.