Why Good Strategies Fail When Your CxO Goes M.I.A.

One the best parts of my job is traveling around the country and spending time with our large customers. I get to chat with them about the technology initiatives they are working on, the challenges they face, and how we can help. Being an engineer, I am a problem solver at heart and love jumping in to try and understand where projects have stalled and what we can do to jump start them.

One of the perks of this level of travel is that I get to read a lot while on flights. Recently, I read a report from the Economist Intelligence Unit, sponsored by the Project Management Institute (PMI) titled, “Why good strategies fail, lessons for the C-suite,” which really resonated with me. It outlined the key challenges that I have seen time and again when working on or leading large strategic technology projects. At the core of these challenges, I see a fundamental misalignment between strategy and implementation.

Although the report was aimed at people a few levels above me in the organization, I think there are areas within every program or project that can be improved independent of your role or title.

In this series of blogs, I am going to try and address a number of these areas separately and describe how working with a strong technology partner can put the right people and processes in place to overcome them.

Challenge 1: Sponsorship

Whether from senior management or the C-suite, I see executive sponsorship and engagement as the key to successful completion of any strategic initiative. This shutterstock_125662535will not be news to most managers but the trick is how to get that engagement, maintain it, and ensure it is balanced with the needs of your project.


The first step is getting the correct oversight in place. Professor Lawrence Hrebiniak is quoted in the report as saying, “Top managers must define strategy, key projects related to it, and then the structure and process of critical implementation decisions and actions. They must deal with the demands of strategy and their impact on organizational structure, co-ordination requirements, talent and the capabilities required for successful strategy execution.” This oversight is the cornerstone of any large project, and the structure and process to support it must be put in place before the project can start.

The Project Charter

This is where the project charter plays an imperative role. Whether working on a four-week proof-of-concept or a two-year multi-plant implementation, I will always complete a project charter before formally involving a project team. This should be reviewed with all project sponsors, and most importantly, signed off by them.

Although a physical signature may seem outdated, it will give any executive sponsor cause to pause and means they are more likely to actually read the charter. I would also normally go so far as to ask each sponsor to hand write their top goal for the project along with the signature. This externalizes the project for them and makes it more than just another Word® document they need to sign.

It is also worth pointing out that any business driver within a charter should have a monetary payback associated with it where possible. Any project or program, although possibly worthwhile, will not hold the attention of the C-suite unless it has solid ROI.

The top 5 things to remember for your charter

  • Clearly state the project goals and a high-level schedule to achieve them
  • Understand and document the key stakeholders
  • Have defined ROI against your goals
  • Make it a milestone before officially engaging a project team
  • Get a physical signature from your sponsors

Stay tuned… In my next blog I will discuss how to put your charter into action by building a governance model.

Luke Smaul

Luke works with GE customers to streamline technical programs and turn “complex” into “can do.” His experience and technical insight has helped countless customers implement today’s connected technology in their organizations. Connect with Luke on LinkedIn.

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