Mapping strategy to execution

All to often we see the translation of strategy to execution fail. Tremendous amounts of time and executive effort go into creating and articulating strategy, yet the broad vision and directional guidance that this effort is supposed to generate tends to get "lost in translation" when it is handed down to the operating units to execute. In our work with executive teams we've developed a mapping approach to making this connection.

The basic structure we use generally follows this hierarchy:

Vision > Initiative or Goal > Strategy > Program > Project


  • Vision:Where you are going, i.e. your destination

  • Initiative:Incremental step towards the vision (to enable the vision)

  • Goal:Measurable result

  • Strategy:Way in which to accomplish a goal

  • Program:Specific and measurable actions required to generate a result (has a start and an end)

Seems simple, but these definitions are rarely shared or understood among management teams.

Most strategy planning systems fail to make the connection between visionat the top and projectat the bottom. Typically when we map this we find the disconnects; initiatives lacking strategies, programs lacking initiatives or goals to tie to, floating projects with no home or reason for being, and poorly articulated or inconsistent terminology making it very hard to see the basic direction of a business and how they are going to get there.

Further, the standard vehicle to communicate this information are PowerPoint slides. Perhaps, the worst thing to happen to communicationsince Email (in my opinion). Slides are one-dimension, flat , linear, and don't allow communication of the interconnections between various elements. Most strategy problems are not flat, linear, or one-dimensional. Rather they are complex systems and systems within systems.

Examples of "Operationalizing" Strategy

Following are two examples (subsets) of work we have done in the area of "operationalizing strategy" i.e. structuring, refining, prioritizing & deploying. Both were done after our clients consumed vast sums of executive time preparing slide decks at off-site planning meetings. In one of these cases the "Three year Strategy Plan" fit into 187 slides and was presented in a 12 hour marathon off-site with the executive staff (about 20 people in attendance). Virtually nothing was done after the off-site and a year later the senior executive could not figure out why "his strategy" to change the direction of the business appeared not be be getting "traction."

Bottom-up Planning

Perhaps the biggest failure of these approaches is that they tend to be generated from the bottom-up. Each business unit follows (or not) some sort of information template to do sub-strategy planning of their units. They are then aggregated together to make the "business's strategic plan." Similar to bottom-up Program Planning, this bottom-up approach tends to generate lots of data that does not communicate a simple picture of strategic direction.

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We've turned this upside-down and start at the macro level of the strategy definition, set the overall "architecture" and interface points, and then use this framework to drill down into the operating units so they can develop the strategies, programs and projects to achieve the strategy goals. Top-down, then bottom-up to validate (or not) the overall strategy.

Two examples follow; the complete maps are not shown for confidentiality reasons, names and things are changed, etc. Also not shown are the notes for each of the elements of the map that include; doneness criteria for each initiative (i.e. the exit criteria), mission statements for each program, and other bits of standardized information that each "owner" adds to the map in order to improve consistency.

Finally, "ownership" is the key to execution. If this is done right, the names assigned to the first level out from the center of the map are the executive staff, CEO in the middle. These initiatives/goals become hardwired into their annual performance management system.

Future posts will discuss techniques for prioritizing and rationalizing the resulting portfolio of programs and projects.