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From Big Idea to business success

I was sitting with the Marketing Director of a large service business, looking over the Big Growth Ideas we’d shortlisted with the Exec team. She was uncertain about one of the largest: “We tried it before, but didn’t get anywhere”, she said. When I asked what had happened, she replied “I’m not exactly sure. I know it lost its way a bit, and then I think someone left, and then it just kinda fizzled out”.

And thus a great idea died, not with a bang, but with a whimper. It fell foul of the three biggest pitfalls of delivery: lack of clarity, loss of accountability, and low visibility.

So this time around we set up a formal programme management structure; we agreed an owner for each Big Idea and a process for managing them as individual projects. Right up front we made sure that we got the clarity, accountability and visibility well and truly nailed, and that’s the main reason, that this time round, the projects have been so successful.

Clarity: You need to stay absolutely clear on two things: “purpose” and “lead measure”. Sounds obvious, but often your vision is lost in translation. The project team need to create a plan that will achieve your real aim, which means taking the time with them to clarify it, and to break it into more meaningful, shorter-term objectives that they can own. In complex and fast moving situations this might mean meeting and reviewing plans and prototypes on a monthly, if not weekly basis.

Accountability: Each Big Idea needs to be formally owned by someone at the Exec table. They need to be as accountable for the delivery as they are for their day job, and yes, that means performance contracts, remuneration and bonuses. If the owner leaves, the project ownership needs to transfer, or it will fail. Simple as that.

Visibility: The best way to keep projects on track is to have a regular review. A Programme Manger should pull together their objective view of where each project is, both in terms of progressing against the plan, and delivering against the lead measure. Every month the Exec should go through the projects, looking at where they’re off track, and taking actions to help them get back on. More on that here.

BOTTOM LINE: These are the “nuts and bolts” of delivering strategy: without these fundamentals, your big ideas will simply fizzle out.

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