Managing Your First Strategic Initiative

Ashley Marron CEO, MindGenius 21/03/2018

Strategic initiatives aren’t the same as typical projects—they tend to be considerably more complex and at times have hands on involvement from the top level of management in the business. Dependent on the type of project being tackled the involvement and engagement of executive stakeholders varies. For a project like rolling out a new windows operating system lots of the stakeholders would be relatively neutral.

They understand the business need, they would like to be kept aware of status and progress but have little involvement in the outcome. For other projects like the rolling out of new employment contracts some of the stakeholders at a management level will be sensitive and be more engaged. However a strategic initiative, like a new product launch, can be driven by the reaction of the business to dramatic changes in market conditions or regulatory pressure and is likely to be stakeholder led and have considerably more visability within the business. Equally an internal review of current business performance can also be the trigger for strategic initiatives that require process improvement to improve costs.

It will be interesting to see how many strategic initiatives British Airways will instigate in light of the recent issue of global computer failure causing chaos at Heathrow and Gatwick in May 2017 to rebuild consumer confidence in their battered brand. 

Let’s look at some other complex dimensions that must be considered when leading a strategic initiative and the differences to a typical project. 

1. Stakeholder Management

On a strategic initiative the diversity of stakeholders is much broader than on a more typical project. In strategic initiatives, stakeholders typically span multiple departments within a company, creating multiple primary stakeholder groups. And these stakeholder groups will often have nearly equal shares in the success of the initiative, thus creating potential authority conflicts.

In addition, there are also governance functions—risk management, legal, etc.—that will have either a primary or secondary stakeholder role. Managing this many and at times diverse collection of views adds to the complication of delivering a successful outcome

2. Communications

More than ever the need to have a defined and clear communication plan is paramount with a strategic initiative. The nature of so many stakeholders necessitates communication processes that serve vastly different audiences. There is a need for matrix management of the stakeholders clearly defining the needs of each stakeholder, the frequency of the information to be communicated and the level of detail or oversight needed to ensure communication adds value to their engagement on the outcome. Communications will need to be carefully tailored to different functions and levels of stakeholders. For example, more detail for operational functions, and simple, high-level summaries for top management updates.  

3. Progress Tracking

Strategic initiatives bring with them inherent complexities that can quickly overpower the progress report tracking processes that are commonly used to manage projects.

Project managers will need to review, refine and agree on common progress tracking processes, reporting and metrics that are universally accepted by all suppliers. By creating this single harmonised view of progress tracking, you are more readily able to identify and address delivery volatility.

When first presented with the prospect of leading a strategic initiative, project managers need to balance the excitement of leading a high-visibility engagement with the practical realities of effectively and efficiently managing delivery. By putting essentials in place, project managers can successfully move on to the next step in the career journey: leading their second strategic initiative!

We would be interested in your comments on essential best practices to share with project managers who are new to strategic initiatives, to help put them on the path to success.

With MindGenius you can capture plans, explore ideas with ease and monitor your projects progress.

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