Even if you have the best strategic planning process in the world, plus well-defined, cascaded, aligned scorecards, and are holding regular performance reviews of those scorecards, the fact is you won't see the improvements you want unless you also have the right improvement initiatives being executed in a timely fashion.
I probably can't find a single person who disagrees with this statement, so why is it so hard to find organizations that handle initiatives effectively?
Maybe it's because no organizations are perfect and therefore, they always have more areas to improve than they have resources to do it. Or maybe it's because employees really care and want to improve their organizations, but just truly don't have enough time to do so. Or, maybe management is just overambitious.
Whatever the cause, it seems almost universally true that organizations attempt more initiatives than they have resources to work on and the results are nearly always underwhelming.
What's different within the few companies that are exceptions to this rule -- those that successfully manage their improvement initiatives and turn in results year after year? Here's a four-step approach that works wonders:
- Prioritize by sequencing
- Ensure the right scope, schedule, expectations, and restrictions by using a charter
- Manage the initiatives carefully across a number of factors
- Ensure accountability with ongoing reviews
Prioritizing initiatives can be a difficult process because potential initiatives are owned by people or departments, which means that politics and turf battles often come into play. The key is to come up with a way to take as much emotion out of the decision process as possible. I find that ranking all possible initiatives according to a common set of criteria, such as alignment to strategy, current performance, return on investment, etc. is critical This lets you make decisions based on data instead of opinions. When ranking, you might want to boost the score of any initiatives that cut across the organization since they will likely have a greater overall impact.
Once initiatives are ranked using the criteria, the next step is to ask, "based on the data, which initiatives should we work on first?" In other words, sequence them. This means that you'll work on some now and save others until the first ones are complete and resources are available. Delaying initiatives is much more tolerable than simply eliminating the ones you can't get to right away (especially since the one you decide to eliminate might be someone's pet project).
Next, create a charter. This is a tool that helps ensure that the team working on an initiative understands exactly what is expected. It's usually a one page document that looks so simple that it almost seems unnecessary when I describe it to a client...that is until I work with their executives to fill one out. The discussion that occurs and the decisions that are made prove how valuable the charter is.If you'd like to see an example charter template, just let me know (you can just post a comment below or contact me via email).
Now, on to the third part of this approach, which involves managing the initiatives effectively. Good project management seems rarer than hen's teeth (except in specific areas like IT, product management, or engineering), so odds are good that your approach here could be improved. Of course there are hundreds of books and courses devoted to this topic, but from a very high level, you need to put a process in place to ensure that:
- projects stay within scope
- milestones are identified and tracked to stay on schedule
- budget is not exceeded
- the methodology for process improvement is sound (if appropriate)
- the project outcomes are achieved
- risks are identified and mitigated along the way
Last on my four-step list is a way to build in accountability for achieving steps one through three. The best way to do this is through frequent, meaningful reviews. These reviews can be in conjunction with monthly scorecard reviews or they can be part of a review that ensures that a portfolio of related initiatives is on track, as long as they keep the focus on the deliverables.