Top 10 strategic execution trends for 2015

More firms expected to follow high-performing organisations by applying a range of forward-leaning approaches to strategic execution

Real time isn’t a trend; it’s a reality. No matter how quickly – or slowly – a business can respond to change, the rate of change and the required speed to respond are constantly accelerating.

In 2015, we expect to see more companies follow high-performing organisations by applying a range of forward-leaning approaches to strategic execution that better enable real-time adjustments to an ever-changing marketplace.  

Real-time strategic execution

Planning for projects in advance will always be important, but building in the flexibility to adjust strategic execution in real time is gaining importance. As the velocity of business continues to increase, the likelihood that ideas and innovations that were relevant six months ago will become outdated during execution is increasing just as quickly. 

In response, companies are growing their reliance on leading indicators, running more projects in parallel to ensure that at least some succeed, and building flexibility into their strategies as well as their strategic execution to facilitate smarter adjustments in real time.

Leading indicators taking greater prominence

Traditional planning emphasised looking at historical indicators; more contemporary approaches have challenged companies to also examine their current status to influence decision-making. Today, this trend goes further as the use of leading indicators moves beyond early-adopting high-performing companies as organisations seek a more forward-looking perspective and better data to enable effective, real-time strategic execution adjustments.

Leveraging the enterprise perspective of EPMOs

Businesses are evolving their perspective on enterprise project management offices (EPMOs) from cumbersome and bloated to a real-time tool. EPMOs have gained respect for their ability to give an enterprise perspective and deliver detailed lines of sight into specific parts of the business. Perspectives and insights are empowering companies to make better real-time decisions, both reactively and proactively.

Cultural adaption enables better real-time decisions

Cultural differences can affect productivity and add challenges to strategic execution. This is particularly true when multinational organisations seek to work co-operatively across departments that are geographically, and therefore culturally, separated.

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A company’s New York finance team speaks a very different language professionally than its Bangalore engineering team. More companies are executing strategies to bridge these cultural divides, increasing collaboration and making it much easier for teams to adjust course in real time.

Aligning IT to the business

In the beginning, IT was bolted on to the business where “automation” had an impact. Over time, IT grew to dictate how work was done and with what tools. Today, IT is transforming to a more consultative role with a focus on enabling flexibility and accelerating the rate of strategic execution while increasing the business’s ability to adjust to change.

Adaptive execution of strategy

Management styles have often followed what is fashionable, rather than using appropriate action for each initiative based on its characteristics and requirements. Agile software development is a current trend that is gathering steam and spreading to other functions in many organisations. This approach to providing only high-level goals and letting teams decide who, what, when and how much to do responds to two trends. 

First, decentralising decisions is attractive to millennials, who have become accustomed to creating, reviewing and editing communications across all kinds of media, rather than simply consuming information. Second, technologies, markets and economies are changing ever more rapidly, so firms need to develop short-cycle product releases to cope with the velocity of change.  

However, in their rush to embrace agile development, some firms have lost the discipline to specify and test the individual modules and integrated systems that make up large, complex, high-risk solutions in regulated markets. The most sophisticated firms are now developing adaptive processes, tools and leaders who can assess each project and programme and execute it successfully in a more or less agile, rather than traditional, management style.

Unleashing the organisational surfer

Forward-thinking companies are unleashing the power of experience by introducing the “organisational surfer”. These surfers move throughout the organisation as needs dictate to bring their deep knowledge of the company, as well as their professional expertise, to trouble-shoot problems, spur innovation and bring new perspectives. Surfers provide companies with additional resources to adjust strategic execution to external and internal influences.

Design thinking

The days of design thinking as a speciality for product developers are numbered. As more executives embrace design thinking to solve an ever-broadening range of business problems, organisations are increasingly leveraging this powerful set of tools to accelerate strategy development. Also, they are benefiting from the experiences and rich data set provided by the design thinking process, helping to increase the speed of strategic execution, which, in turn, enables faster reactions to market changes.

Shift towards value-driven structure

Traditionally, businesses have focused on solving problems, but the shift toward value-driven organisations will  accelerate rapidly in 2015. More and more companies are evolving from a functional problem-solving structure to a value-driven structure designed to explore possibilities and look to the future. The forward-thinking focus of value-driven structures makes companies better prepared to react to external changes more quickly and effectively.

Righting the balance between strategy and execution

While slower organisations still lean on strategy development to remain relevant, every day more companies are shifting their balance toward strategic execution. Although strategy-making is still essential, successful organisations are putting more emphasis on ensuring their strategies are not over-thought, are well executed and are constructed to provide maximum flexibility.  

As business continues to accelerate, flexibility and speed of strategic execution becomes ever more important. Smart, top-performing organisations have already structured themselves to react more quickly to external and internal shifts. They view the future as a possibility, change as an opportunity and their strategy as the tool to get them there.

Tim Wasserman is chief learning officer at IPS Learning and programme director of the Stanford Advanced Project Management (SAPM) programme

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