I’m sure you’re aware of ‘strategic alignment’ as one of the top management topics at the moment. We are hearing about it everywhere. All it means is making sure you are doing the right work – business as usual and projects – to help you deliver your strategy. In other words, focus your efforts on the right activities.
It’s not very complicated on paper, but in practice it’s a lot harder to get right. In this article I’ll give you a 7-step approach, inspired by the work of Steve Butler, to help you and your team go from a strategy on paper to a work environment that actually delivers what you want.
Let’s dive in…
1. Sort Out Your Strategic Plan
You do have a strategic plan, don’t you? If not, this is the first step. You’d probably be surprised at how many companies don’t have a big picture vision for where they want to be in 5 years, and that goes for bigger, established firms as well as smaller sole trader businesses.
Build out your strategic plan. Involve the leadership team. Write it down and make sure everyone (not just your directors and senior managers) knows what it is. You’ll have to do some internal communication to get the message across, and that takes planning too.
2. Establish How To Select Projects
You need a mechanism in place for selecting projects. That involves having a funnel where people can put forward their ideas, then a way of assessing those projects, narrowing down the contenders and a way of approving the work that should get done.
You can have standard criteria for project assessment, a company business case template, and more. Use as much process as necessary for your business and no more: it shouldn’t be a system that’s bureaucratic or difficult to use or you’ll stop the pipeline of good ideas.
All of this comes under the umbrella of portfolio management, so if you already have a portfolio management approach in place, that’s wonderful news. If not, that’s the area you’ll want to research to get this set up.
3. Get Great At Managing Projects
You might already be great at managing projects but it never hurts to review best practice and check in with your team. You can only deliver on your strategic plan if you have a project and program management approach that lets you hit your delivery targets on time, on budget, to the required scope and in a quality manner.
Once you can do that, you can achieve anything!
4. Create an Organizational Structure that Works
Your organizational structure should be set up to enable all this project and program work to happen. You might find that teams are better aligned in a matrix structure, or that you feel things would work more smoothly if you created program teams where everyone reports directly into the program manager. What about agile teams, where cross-functional experts come together for project work?
You’ll know already that there are lots of different ways to organize your staff. What’s important is that the way you choose to do it supports the goals that you want to achieve. Break down silos. Bring teams together or support virtual working. In other words, make it easy for people to collaborate on their tasks because that leads to better outputs.
5. Work on Culture
The structure is only part of it: you also need an organizational culture that is conducive to delivering strategy. The focus needs to be on awareness of change, great communication, positive attitudes, leadership and a whole host of other things that would take a series of blog articles to cover.
Suffice to say, being aware of the culture you have and the culture you want are important if you intend to make strategic alignment and strategic delivery a reality in your business.
6. Invest in People
All this change and set up means nothing if you aren’t investing in the people working in the system.
That might mean getting them some great tools like iMindQ for planning and project, program and portfolio management systems. It might mean investing in training for them, or recruiting more people, or a different kind of skill set. You might need more staff with Agile skills, or a different type of line manager. Or you might want to put everyone through a cultural training program that helps them see what these strategic business changes are going to be like and what role they have to play.
Work with your Human Resources team to identify talent gaps and how you are going to plug them.
7. Manage Performance
Finally, think about how you can set up a system of performance management so that you can check on progress at any point. This should give you a coherent way to ensure the right projects are being done in a timely fashion and using the best possible project management practices.
Ongoing performance management will help you identify work that is going well and spot work that is going less well so that you can quickly do something about it.
These 7 steps are relatively easy to write down but might represent many months of planning, strategizing and work in your own business. I don’t want to underestimate the work involved in getting these changes in place. Equally, I don’t want to underestimate the benefits. A good portfolio management process at all levels will underpin the strategic alignment of your work program and set you up for organizational success. It’s worth doing the work to get it right.
About the author
Elizabeth Harrin is the author and award-winning blogger behind A Girl’s Guide To Project Management. Get her suggestions for being more productive at work on her blog.