Project Practitioners > Strategic Execution: The New Language of the C Suite

Strategic Execution: The New Language of the C Suite

By J LeRoy Ward

If you work for a project-based business whose executives understand what project management is and the value it has for an organization, and who use the words and terms “project,” “project management,” and “program management” in their everyday conversations, you don’t need to read this post. 

But if you work for a company whose business (meaning revenue) is based on operations, manufacturing, or other process-related functions, but who also does projects (that’s every business by the way), and you think they could do a better job at it but resist changing, then read on as I may have an idea you could use. 

Here’s a fact I learned a long time ago. Companies who make their money on non-project related activities (such as manufacturing toys) also do projects and they need to be every bit as good at project management as a project-based business. Why? Because even in a manufacturing environment there are projects which could include designing and developing the prototypes that will eventually be manufactured. Additionally, and even more importantly, when the executives develop the company’s strategy and turn it over for the operating units to implement, chances are many of the initiatives turn out to be projects. 

However, many organizations don’t recognize that those work streams are actually projects so they don’t use the term projects, or project manager or any of the terms we use in our profession. They see it as “work” that needs to be done; work that needs to be “executed,” and flawlessly, if possible. 

The word “execution,” and term “strategic execution,” are getting a lot of play lately. I think the reason is simple: it’s the new language of the C suite. In non-project based businesses executives don’t talk about projects in the same way they would in, let’s say, a construction company. They talk about work, or initiatives that need to be executed. And the ability to do this right can mean the difference between profit and loss. 

I Untitledn 2002, Larry Bossidy and Ram Charan wrote Execution: The Discipline of Getting Things Done. It speaks to the tough job of creating a strategy in sync with the realities of the marketplace and then implementing specific programs and actions to realize that strategy. I read it twice; it’s a great book written by two pros.

Five years later Mark Morgan, Raymond E. Levitt and William Malek authored Executing Your Strategy: How To Break It Down and Get It Done. Succinctly put, it talks about their INVEST model as a way that will enable any organization to do the right strategic projects, and to do those projects right.They draw a clear and compelling link between execution and project management.

In each of these books projects are mentioned frequently because they are the building blocks of strategic execution. But the thrust of each of these works begins with a company’s strategy and how that strategy is linked through the operational processes of the organization to bring it to fruition. The conversation around the "table" in a non-project-based business isn’t “project management” per se; it’s all about execution. 

My good friend, colleague, and project management expert Cinda Voegtli, who is the CEO of  ProjectConnections, one of the best newsletters and PM resource sites available, has often told me that many of the companies with whom she consults in Silicon Valley and beyond don’t think in terms of getting better at “project management.” You’ll find no PMBOK Guide on anyone’s bookshelves in these organizations, nor talk of earning the PMP or any other certification. These folks are squarely focused on executing their strategy. Sure, they employ elements of the type of project management process one would find in the PMBOK Guide but their concern is not on process; it's getting the work done. 

If you’re struggling to get the execs in your company to buy into a better way to do project management, try reframing your argument in terms of strategy and execution. Use the new language of the C suite. Pepper your presentations and conversations with such words and terms as “execution,” “strategic execution,” "strategy," "initiatives" and the like. I guarantee you’ll get them to listen more than if you use “project,” or other snoozers such as “implementing organizational project management.”

That’s a non-starter in some organizations because they’ll picture you coming down the hall with an arm full of 3-ring binders of methodology and process. And my guess is, they’ll just show you the door.


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