Why Good Strategies Fail. Time To Staff Up!

shutterstock_148575200In my two blog posts in the series, I tackled some of the key topics in a recent report from The Economist Intelligence Unit, sponsored by the Project Management Institute (PMI; Why good strategies fail, lessons for the C-suite (1), which really resonated with me.

Now that we have discussed how to get sponsorship early on in the project and turn that sponsorship into an executable strategy via a governance model, I want to tackle the last topic of the report; resourcing.

Although not directly related to executive sponsorship and engagement, how a project is resourced says a lot about how serious the business is taking it and can set the tone from day one.

The report points out that prioritization and resource allocation are inextricably linked and quotes Jeff Austin, Vice-president Strategy Planning, DuPont Pioneer as saying, “Where you have resources allocated really says what you have prioritized. Ensuring that the allocation process is aligned with strategic intent is critical. To be effective, we need to ask what our critical few initiatives are (1), so that resources are correctly focused on them.

The importance of resourcing was further highlighted in a recent HBR article, Six Ways to Sink a Growth Initiative (2), that lists “assembling the wrong team and staffing prematurely” as one of the top six reasons growth initiatives fail. It recommends some common sense approaches that I often see overlooked during the stressful period of project kick off; much to the later detriment of the project or initiative.

The first obvious but sometimes missed recommendation is to focus on capability and not availability. This is often easier said than done but use of a capability matrix that also includes some of the softer skills needed for success is a great way to summarize to your management the team you have in mind and why certain people are not a good fit.

As part of this, I also suggest keeping in the mind the changing skill sets and capabilities needed for each of the project phases, or even project types within a broader program. For example, you may need a rock star project manager to keep the initial discovery phases on track and to drive consensus. Once the design is then locked in, the PM is more focused on budget and schedule and the skill set changes somewhat. It is not always practical or recommended to change a PM depending on project phases but keep in mind what their capabilities are and if they need support from a business analyst or consultant during some of the key start-up phases.

The second recommendation I found a lot more valuable and is often the key to assembling the right team; “staff up only when the strategy, business model, and value proposition are clear”(2). This feeds back to the project charter and basically says don’t go looking for rock stars until the business has signed up for the strategy and ROI in the charter.

The last area I want to highlight was underestimating the help needed from support functions to make your initiative a success. Often overlooked is the amount of time needed, outside of the project team, from each functional area impacted by the project. Having your project manager map this out upfront and making it clear to your executive sponsor can remove one of the most typical roadblocks to engagement; people’s time.

So, remember, when staffing up;

  • Have your charter in place
  • Use a capability matrix
  • Don’t miss the soft skills
  • Appreciate the different capabilities for each project phase
  • Don’t underestimate the support needed outside the project team

What are your thoughts on resourcing?


[1] The Economist Intelligence Unit, Why Good Strategies Fail:  Lessons for the C-suite, Sponsored by Project Management Institute, 2013.

[2] Harvard Business Review, Six Ways to Sink a Growth Initiative, 2013.