Your project traffic light just turned red. The specialists for the next work package are still involved in another project, and you already suspect: The critical path of your project will change from a four-lane highway to an alpine pass with many serpentines.

Well, you clearly had imagined your progress quite differently. Now the project will be accomplished late. Probably it will also be more expensive than planned. Taking a break again and again, planning and starting over and over – that costs. Hopefully the management won’t cut your budget or even cancel the project. That would be so bad.

But you can’t help it. You just have to take the blame – just like some of your colleagues. Because their projects are now also running anything but according to plan. „If things continue like this, then goodbye to our strategic goals. How can we possibly handle this?“

Let's dig for causes

What sounds exaggerated in this abbreviated form is unfortunately reality in many companies: the wishes from the strategy do not match the implementation power of the organization. When accompanying strategy processes, I notice that companies lack three things above all: focus, flow and feedback.

Focus

The strategic priorities sound reasonable. The whole organization is busy. And yet the important tasks take too long to get done.

Again and again I notice that people are working on too many topics at the same time. Everything seems important. And that is exactly what overburdens the organization. The focus on the strategically critical topics gets lost.

Strategy is a bet on the future. It is about tough decisions and compromises – also about NOT doing things, even though they might be tempting. In the context of uncertainty, your organization needs to learn quickly whether it is on the right track. Focus on the critical issues! Because focus brings speed.

Flow

If project managers are still controlled according to the magic triangle of performance, time and costs, problems in the project portfolio are pre-programmed. Experience is the evidence. So many companies struggle with similar issues.

If each project pursues its goals in isolation, the view for the whole is lost. A lack of transparency and coordination between projects results in low forecasting ability, long lead times, and excessive budgets. And when the management sets new priorities, the portfolio really starts to rumble. Strategy implementation becomes a hurdle race.

Lean portfolio management takes a different approach: it integrates aspects of agile working, such as creating transparency, value-based prioritization and delivering in short time interwalls. The goal is to test as quickly as possible whether the solution has a chance of success with the user. The heart of the Lean Portfolio: The teams decide when and how to handle the priorities. The project steering committee is no longer needed. Instead, those people affected by decisions directly discuss at portfolio level and agree on how to proceed. Their focus is the swift flow from projects to results. After all, it’s about adding value to the organization quickly and continuously – not about securing resources for a project. In my article here you find some further suggestions for Lean Portfolio Management.

Feedback

Managers accuse employees of not delivering results fast enough. Employees accuse management of not having a clue and of making the wrong decisions – all this behind the scenes. Perhaps that is a too harsh description. But the problem remains: mutual accusations are of no help at all.

All employees – from the shop floor to top management – should take the view that a strategy is never fully implemented. There is always a gap between the status quo and the degree to which goals are achieved. Assumptions and objectives must always be adapted to reality, so that the organization’s services generate value for the user. Strategy is not a fixed plan. Strategy must be adaptable.

Accusations about the past do not help to get ahead. Honest, constructive feedback does. And this is exactly what top managers often lack. In a single room on the executive floor one can feel quite lonely.

Dialogue and Collaboration

With Denkplan® we focus on collaboration. From management to specialists. With a visual, simple system for corporate planning with minimal bureaucracy: transparent, agile, consensus and feedback-oriented. Our experience shows: Dialog is a very powerful mediator. It enables a common, realistic picture of the goals, faster decisions and flexible actions.

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