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Why Good Strategies Fail?

In the Leadership and Strategy Execution in a Chaotic World session attended by project leaders as part of our series of Strategy Execution road show events, there was a discussion about why an organisation’s strategies fail. There are a number of categories; there is the formulation and structure of the strategies; the execution of the strategies; the skill sets required to deliver the strategic aims and the need for influence and management of stakeholders.

Here’s the overview:


The Strategy Execution Framework

Executing Your StrategyThere is a framework which can be useful to help work through these challenges. The Strategy Execution Framework (from IPS Learning and Stanford University) was devised to help organisations work through their “strategic execution capabilities” and help organisations “through transformational change in order to realise solid returns on strategic initiatives”.

The framework is covered in detail in this book too – Executing the Strategy

Here is the model which shows six inter-connected domains:

The Domains of the Strategy Execution Framework

The domains are:

Ideation – Nature – Vision – Enagement – Synthesis and Transition


The whole framework depicts an organisation – from the ideation (the identity of the organisation, “who you are”), the culture and vision of the organisation. Then engagement – where strategies are formulated and portfolios, programmes and projects are executed. Finally through to operations – where business-as-usual operates.

For each domain there are easy questions which help to understand what each domain means:

  • Ideation – who are you?
  • Nature – what is the context?
  • Vision – where are you going?
  • Engagement – what needs creating
  • Synthesis – how will we build it?
  • Transition – how will we operate?

The framework helps to understand the core components that help strategy become a reality – how the whole organisation interlinks and works together.

The Domains in More Detail


The three areas include:

  • Purpose – the reason the organisation exists in the first place
  • Identity – the character,image, brand and values
  • Long-Range Intention – what the organisation is dedicated to in the long-term

When the Strategic Execution Framework is used in a simplistic way – identifying which areas the organisation is already strong on – and what areas need improvement, the Ideation area is often identified as a strong area where people feel their organisation does well.

Take a look at one example on how the Framework was used with one organisation when identifying their strengths:

It’s a useful – and simple exercise which can be used by different groups in the organisation to see where the collective thoughts are.


The three areas include:

  • Culture – the artifacts, core values and behaviour of the organisation
  • Structure – how an organisation designs relationships between areas or functions
  • Strategy – the path an organisation designs to achieve its purpose and goals

With culture there is a further model from Schneider that helps us think about certain types of corporate culture and how these can affect the way strategies are executed.

Schneider Culture Model

Consider the four types here:

The horizontal line running from left to right is people oriented and on the right company oriented. On the vertical line from top to bottom it is reality oriented at the top and at the bottom, possibility oriented.

The four different types:

  1. Collaboration – how we work together
  2. Control- how can we control
  3. Competence – how we become the best
  4. Cultivation – how we grow and learn

The people and company orientations are pretty self-explanatory – the reality oriented is about what is happening now and possibility oriented is what is possible in the future.

No one culture area is better than another – the model is about being able to have those discussions about what your organisation’s culture is. The model has been picked up by the Agile community – the core cultures mapped to the Agile Manifesto. The diagram below shows how an Agile organisation majors in the collaboration and competence core cultures. It has been a useful tool to help people see which cultural aspects of the organisation may need attention.




The three areas include:

  • Goals – the determination of specific desired results
  • Metrics – the vehicle to evaluate progress to the achievement of strategic goals
  • Strategy – the path an organisation designs to achieve its purpose and goals

Again using the model as a basis for a group discussion, the image below shows the outcome when one team thought about where there may be weaknesses in the organisation – or to flip that, where are the opportunities to make improvements. For this organisation, Metrics was a prominent one, and moving into the Engagement domain too around Strategy and Portfolio.



The two areas include:

  • Strategy – the path an organisation designs to achieve its purpose and goals
  • Portfolio – strategy-based, prioritised set of projects and programmes, reconciled to the resources required to accomplish them.

The core areas here were the main focus points at this Strategy Execution road show – the areas where it has been acknowledged that there is a real opportunity for delivery organisations. It is here that the connection between the two needs to be strengthened – that the PMO functions has a part to play; that portfolio management should be designed; that education of how a well-designed and implemented portfolio management processes can help fully align strategies and the initiatives (programmes and projects)


The three areas include:

  • Portfolio – strategy-based, prioritised set of projects and programmes, reconciled to the resources required to accomplish them.
  • Program – multiple interdependent projects managed as a single unit
  • Projects – unique, temporary efforts defined by deliverables, schedule and resources

Here is the bread and butter of what we do in the project management domain. Do our programmes and projects really align to the organisation’s strategies? And does the organisation continue to focus on raising the delivery capability bar – investment in education, coaching and mentoring for future leaders for example? Are the frameworks for delivery robust?

And the final area:


The three areas include:

  • Program – multiple interdependent projects managed as a single unit
  • Projects – unique, temporary efforts defined by deliverables, schedule and resources
  • Operations – the ongoing processes of the enterprise that deliver value to the customer

The outcomes and benefits of programmes and projects translate into the ongoing operations of the business.

The Strategic Execution Framework is just one of the models that can be used to work through the challenges of closing the gap between strategy and execution.

The final part of the roadshow session was reiterating what constitutes the gap between the two – what will be needed by organisations in order to effectively achieve excellence in this area.

The image below shows both the technical and relational skills needed – and for advanced development options, the new Adaptive Strategic Execution Programme has been launched to tackle those. Take a look at the new programme for more information.



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About Lindsay Scott

Lindsay Scott
Lindsay Scott is Director of PMO Learning, the PMO training specialist and Arras People the programme and project management recruitment specialists. Lindsay is the project management careers columnist for PMI's Network magazine and co-editor of the Gower Handbook of People in Project Management. Lindsay created and hosts The PMO Conference and hosts the monthly PMO Flashmobs

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