6 minute read
In this article, we discuss what a single view of strategy is, why it is critical to help organisations become well-managed and how can be used to create a significant strategic edge.
We also examine the key organisation roles that have a vested interest in the creation of a single view of strategy (spoiler alert it's almost everybody involved in the success of an organisation) and finally, we look at some approaches to building a single view of strategy in your organisation and some emerging technology that will help you to accelerate your journey.
In every organisation I've ever worked in, from global multinationals to smaller organisations, one of the things I, and the leadership teams I worked for, all struggled with, was to create a single, live, integrated view of the execution of strategy across the organisation.
We lacked clear visibility of status of goals, objectives and measures of performance, linked to our strategy and then the underlying detail of day-to-day execution that delivered against the strategy. Very frequently, detailed delivery information was distributed across many different project and agile systems used by different teams depending on their preference and ways of working.
This information had to be aggregated together to obtain a meaningful view of the real status of execution and somehow linked to the outcomes we were trying to achieve. Many of these systems had either implicit or explicit dependencies which few people, if any, understood in detail.
As a result, it was very difficult, if not impossible to understand the latest status of all strategy execution and what that meant for the progression of our organisation’s performance. It was also difficult to see at any time, what was working, what wasn't and therefore what we should prioritise, accelerate or stop.
In my role, typically leading strategy and architecture functions, we frequently developed systems and processes to aggregate data and generate static data views, but we always lacked an insightful strategy framework and effective technology stack to allow us to link the key aspects of strategy.
The result was significant teams of people tasked with collating information, making sense of it, and then trying to determine the impact of progress on our strategy. The reality was most teams involved in this process struggle to just report the progress effectively, let alone understand the impact on strategy.
This process also took so long and was so error prone that either nobody believed the figures or the information was out of date by the time it had been produced rendering the entire process useless.
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What is a single view of strategy?
When we talk about a single view of strategy, we are referring to the structured framework that defines how to link your objectives and organisation performance measures to the strategic initiatives that are supporting their delivery and then into the execution of programmes, projects and/or sprints.
It is a way of combining information together in a structured and interrelated model which enables the both the people leading the organisation and those people involved in delivery, into a single view so that everybody can understand the work that is being delivered and how it contributes to the strategy.
Through the linked structure, it enables you to navigate from any point in the model to any other point.
For example, I can link from objectives and goals to the work delivering those goals. I can map from the people doing the work to their contribution to outcomes or I can link benefits to performance, and so on.
Clarification of terms
Why is single view of strategy important?
Why is it important for everybody involved in planning and executing strategy to have a common view of the strategy?
A study by PMI in 2013, showed that one of the biggest hallmarks of strategic failure, is that people involved in executing the strategy, frequently don't understand what the strategy is or their role in executing it.
As a result, when things get busy people largely go back to the familiar day job. A further common feature of failing strategies is lack of engagement from the leadership team in strategy who in many cases have set the strategy.
By creating a single view of strategy, it means that everybody is working from a common view and consistent understanding of the strategy, and how to execute the strategy are meaningful to them, but importantly are common and consistent across all stakeholders.
Furthermore, it means the leadership team who set the objectives and define the strategic choices during the strategy planning stage, have direct access to see how the strategy is executing.
It means that teams that were not involved in planning the strategy but who are responsible for executing the strategy, have a good understanding of desired outcomes, what their contribution is expected to be, and most importantly, can track the work that they do and the impact they have on the organisation’s performance.
Perhaps one of the most important aspects of creating a single view of strategy is that you can focus all the work across the organisation on the outcomes and objectives that you're seeking to achieve. This means reducing spend on non-strategic projects and programmes and importantly focusing your resources and team on the activities and work that will drive the strategy at the greatest speed.
It also means that you can really understand the impact and interdependencies of work across the organisation so that you can take pre-emptive action and optimise the strategic outcomes.
The implications of failing to create a single view of strategy
Without a single, common, integrated view of strategy, the chances of succeeding and successfully executing strategy fail, for several reasons:
- Different groups of stakeholders have a different understanding of what the strategy means, the create their own perspective (not built on data) and make decisions on what they should do to achieve successful execution of the strategy. However, these views are inconsistent, intuition led and consequently run a high risk of being wrong, leading to inefficiency, rework and disagreement.
- When challenges arise (as they frequently will), it makes it difficult to understand the root cause and to drill into the detail.
- Monitoring and governing the strategy becomes challenging, slow and time-consuming as data needs to be manually integrated, collated and the implications of data on overall progress and performance assessed.
- The overhead required to integrate the data and show aspects of the strategy tends to fall to a single team (often PMO or Strategy Team). This team is often overworked, dealing at a low level with significant amounts of data to integrate often manually.
- Frequently this team lack a full view of the strategy so linking data to outcomes and leadership team objectives is challenging. The leadership team can’t get to the detail to bridge the gap.
The overall impact is the leadership team don't get the information they need to make data-driven, effective decisions in a timely fashion. This results in highly suboptimal decisions, based on poor data which cannot easily be validated and ultimately ends up harming the effectiveness of the strategy and delivering underperformance.
Who cares about a having a single view of strategy?
Executive Leadership Team
Ultimately, it is the executive leadership team and primarily the Chief Executive Officer (CEO) or the Chief Operations Officer (COO) who are responsible for the successful execution of strategy. Their ability to see the progress of work against strategic objectives and to understand what is or isn't working quickly and drill into the detail where necessary, is fundamental to their success.
The Chief Financial Officer (CFO) is important for ensuring the success of the financial aspects of the strategy and ultimately financial wellbeing of the organisation and the outcome of strategy are successful.
Non-exec directors & advisors
Using a single view of strategy to create an edge
Creating a single view of your strategy fundamentally gives you the following major benefits which, when combined, give you a strategic edge over most other organisations which do not have a single view of their strategy.
The ability to focus your effort, resources, time, staff and energy on the activities that drive the biggest outcome.
Ability to not only feel like you're going in the right direction but the assurance through data to support, guide, and direct the work you’re doing.
How can I achieve a single view of my organisation’s strategy?
Over the years, I have considered how we could use our learning to help organisations large and small take advantage of a single view of strategy. For smaller organisations building a complex, integrated data capability/system is rarely worth the cost, effort and time. Most strategic models can be built in spreadsheets or online tools like Smartsheet once it’s clear what data should be captured and integrated.
However, for mid and certainly large organisations, once the strategy reaches beyond the limits of a single spreadsheet and needs to be shared with multiple people, kept up to date, integrated with external systems and made available to people on different platform, an alternative solution is the only option required.
Lessons of history
Throughout my career, I have tried to use a range of technologies and integration layers, to create a consistent single view of strategy which enabled us to have a dynamic and integrated view of work across the organisation which contributes to the delivery of performance, outcomes and objectives.
The most successful approach my team I was ever able to achieve when working inside large organisations, was the creation of a common set of integrated data stores aggregating this data execution (project, sprint and other delivery information) together and then providing an interactive dashboard.
Building this, required a significant team, dedicated investment which had built on an existing integration framework we had spent years building. The work resulted in a system which was partially integrated, brittle, inflexible and most importantly the leadership team were unable to effectively drill from the objectives they are trying to achieve into the detail of delivery in any meaningful way.
Unfortunately, what we learned is that desktop-based data visualisation tools like Microsoft PowerBI and Tableau (other vendors are available) can only provide a very small, relatively static snippet of the strategy picture and often misrepresent much of the real detail required to understand what's working in your strategy.
The fall-back position for many organisations, is large spreadsheets outlining either objective and KPIs and a list of projects. These fail to scale, are very difficult to update and maintain and can only ever be used by a very small cohort within the organisation who have a very specific interest in certain aspects of information.
As a result, most of the people involved in delivering the strategy have very little understanding of the work that's going into the strategy and the relationships between the different aspects of the organisation required to make this strategy successful.
Start small and identify sources of data
For a full description of the suggested steps, please download the full PDF version of this document on this page.
However, if the home-grown path is one that appeals to you, we recommend starting out with identifying all the sources of information required to drive strategy execution across your teams and then combining those sources into a common execution data model. You can then use to aggregate linked data to outcomes and objectives through the hierarchy of the organisation.
Having done this successfully, built your integrated sources and tested your data model, you can then move on to the process of building the visualisation layers in the tools that you find most appropriate.
Also consider how the data will be updated, by which roles, how you maintain consistency and ensure that the data is held in a high-quality state for all stakeholders involved in strategy.
Better ways of creating a single view of strategy
Because of these historical challenges, we set out to solve this by creating a dedicated platform (StrategyWorks), where we embed a best practice strategy execution framework. This simplifies much of the complexity and aspects of strategy into a single model which we have successfully battle tested in global enterprises through to small organisations.
Furthermore, we integrate all the key pieces of data which drive strategy and enable detailed understanding of the strategy for a range of different stakeholders, providing real meaning to their role.
In this model, everyone can be confident that their view seamlessly integrates with other views and working can be fully linked to outcomes.
We are giving this away for free, so if its something youre interested in discussing or trying, please get in touch.
Create your own single view of strategy (CTA)
If you would like to find out more about creating a single view of strategy within your organisation we would love to discuss, help and give you the benefit of our experience of what has worked in other organisations.
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