10 years, 11 months ago

Top Strategy and Planning Lessons Learned

I’ve spent a few years designing and facilitating strategy and planning processes (aka business performance management or BPM) and have gained some insight that I thought might be interesting to folks. This article is a work-in-progress set of best practices I feel are worth sharing.

Top Business Performance Management Lessons Learned

1. Be clear on what business strategy is. Often people roll their eyes when they hear “alignment to strategy” because the use of strategy in their experience is vague and mysterious. Make strategy specific, meaningful and measurable. As a reminder, business strategy is a clear set of business objectives and a plan to achieve them. Of course, a good strategy involves market analysis and internal trend analysis where the use of popular strategy formulation methods like Michael Porter’s 5-Forces, SWOT, Kaplan and Norton’s Balanced Scorecard, and
PESTEL are used. At the end of the day, however you get there, the resulting business strategy includes a set of business objectives and an action plan to achieve them.

Business strategy is company-wide and not just limited to “the business” and includes all expressions of business value for investments. Don’t fall into the trap assuming that only the business can have a strategy – all groups within a company can directly contribute to business strategy and, therefore, assert their own business strategy, ideally, explicitly connected to the company’s product/service organization’s strategy.

By the way, because support organization leaders sometimes struggle to understand how they directly support business strategy, I’ve formed The Big 8 Business Objectives to help them recognize the many dimensions of business strategy so they can directly relate and prioritize their organization’s contribution. 

Business strategy is used to calculate business value realized from all types of work efforts. Because business strategy is founded on defining business objectives and scoping investments (aka teams, groups, programs, projects, initiatives, work efforts) to achieve them, the amount of business objective achievement for an investment equates to business value realized from the investment. By the way, avoid falling into the trap of forcing concepts like ROI, NPV, hard and soft benefits, etc. These are dated, legacy terms that are not wrong, but limited in scope that often force programs to perform faulty mathematics to arrive at a monetary expression of business value leading to a loss of direct accountability of strategy contribution. Properly written business objectives (see The Big 8 for examples) cover all expressions of business value for investments. 

2. Business performance management is a tool for empowering a planning culture. BPM is intended to empower groups up and down, left and right to regularly make decisions that are intrinsically prioritized on contributing to the business’ performance. If organizational cultures avoid declaring their business objectives through fear of accountability, or feel it is unnatural to share their business objectives, then the BPM effort is likely to fail. The popular BPM methods out there are founded on federating program portfolio decisions that ripple across organizations to communicate business changes or execution changes so all affected organizations can adjust accordingly. So, in cultures that aren’t comfortable regularly sharing business objectives or program execution health, BPM methods aren’t going to help. 

3. Focus on the intersection. BPM is simply the intersection of four dimensions; Business Strategy, Budget, People and Program Portfolio. It’s important not to extend too deep in any of these dimensions and losing your primary purpose; align the organization to business strategy. The trick is balancing these four perspectives on a simple model scoped by the intersection of the four dimensions and provide valuable views to each of the key BPM stakeholders representing the four dimensions. Remember, keep the model and implementation tight and focused on supporting key BPM stakeholders. The BPM model should provide views such as;

  • Business leaders who need to manage business strategic objectives
  • Portfolio managers who need to monitor program portfolio health to execute business strategy
  • Team members involved in executing programs in the portfolio
  • Finance folks who need to monitor the business value realized from the program expenditures.

When you notice the data model is morphing to include specific data points that only folks in a specific domain are interested and don’t fit within the stakeholder concerns noted above, stop and rethink to make sure you are not over-engineering your BPM implementation. The model intersecting the above dimensions is complicated enough. 

4. Make it fun! Business performance management must breach the veneer of a boring, corporate overhead activity. Folks need to make an effort to input data and use the data per the BPM process so ideas to incent them is important and concepts from gamification are your friend. For example, I’ve used simple team competitions as form of gamification to incent folks to enter their data and ensure their data is high-quality, then to incent folks to use the data to win prizes and gain recognition for deciding to fund programs that bring the greatest business value, the fastest, and at the lowest cost. I know this may sound like a silly approach, but it’s actually quite powerful. 

5. Attach to budgeting process. Although “budget” is only one dimension within my BPM model (see above), folks will go the extra mile to identify business objectives to fund their efforts making BPM a powerful lever to gain adoption.

6. Align to the value chain. Most organizations assume a top-down approach to cascade strategy where child organizations inherit their parent organization’s strategy. This approach can lead to The Planning Paradox situation and incent organizations to be self-sustaining silos. Remember to put each group into the context of the Value Streams it supports and look left and right to ensure that the group is tailoring its strategy and planning process to support downstream organizations and providing upstream groups information to help them align.

7. Gain Leader sponsorship and get as close to the products/services teams as possible. BPM methods are difficult to land. BPM efforts led by support organizations tend to ebb and flow their adoption over the years, where situations are far more stable when product/services lead and downstream support organizations adopt accordingly. I know, this is an obvious point but because it is also the most common pitfall, I have to include it. Simply put, get leadership buy-in, preferably leaders in product/services organizations, before asking teams to do work regardless if the value proposition is clear to the actual doers in the organization. Most folks simply won’t do the work even if they think it is the right thing to do. With business group leadership support, they’re more likely to do the work and with the rigor of consistency where it matters most.