Integrated Initiative List Template
This template will help you align all your major projects with your organization’s strategic imperatives.
Stop Struggling With Prioritization. Be Brave and Be Brutal.
I stopped talking about typical strategic prioritization many years ago when I realized that most of my clients actually require Brutal Prioritization.
Ultimately, the making and execution of strategy is about tough choices. Making choices and prioritizing the allocation of scarce resources should hurt. It should be as painful as hell. Frankly, it should be brutal. If your prioritization doesn’t hurt, you are probably paying lip service to strategic decision making.
In 15 years helping companies and associations make strategy, I have seen most every client struggle with real and meaningful prioritization. The point where tangible prioritization is required, is the point where strategy making and implementation usually starts to fall apart.
For a few years, I jumped on the "start, stop and continue" bandwagon. This is where you help your group through an exercise to bucket the items that need to be started, stopped and continued based on the strategic direction or imperatives of the organization. I tried it because it was a sneaky way to get people to talk about what they were willing to stop doing…think of it as a prioritization sandwich. I ended up hating it because it was generally a feel good but ineffective exercise. More often than not, participants wanted to stop "having so many things on our plate" or "never saying no".
Meaningful prioritization starts with a clear, tangible and measurable high level strategy. If your strategy is broad and vague, real downstream prioritization will be impossible. Your high level strategy must set out, in as clear terms as possible, where the key focuses will be. This is critical to provide guidance for managers making and executing operational and tactical plans.
In many companies, I try to force a series of high level strategic decisions and constraints. No one likes constraints, but without the guidance they provide, your organization’s strategy implementation will be vague and ineffective. Think about how you can set clear strategic constraints in your organization.
Here are a few approcahes I use with my clients:
- Define a practical vision. Rather than a vague statement of the organization’s future, consider a strategic but specific definition of what your organizations should look like across a series of key areas such as target markets, product range and culture 3 years from today.
- Define growth drivers. Clearly defined growth drivers should be the outcome of some simple, but tough conversations. For example, “if we want to grow our top line revenues from X to Y in the next 5 years…where specifically will that growth come from?” Regardless of the size of your organization, the vast majority of growth can only come from a few key areas, and most will be known today.
- Define your strategic thresholds. Once you understand your practical vision and growth drivers, map out annual increments of approximately where you will focus your management attention and investments each year for the next 5 years. The biggest danger in defining a great vision and growth drivers is that you will start everything at once. Clearly defined strategic thresholds are the best way to show the rest of the organization where to focus operational and tactical implementation plans.
- Define your strategic imperatives. Strategic imperatives are the glue that binds high level strategy and detailed implementation plans. Your strategic imperatives should simply state the 4-6 major strategic items (based on 1-3 above) that must be accomplished in the next 18 months. This is a critical step as it provides the clearest strategic constraints to the rest of your organization.
While meaningful prioritization starts with clearly defined high level strategy, it usually falls apart at the project portfolio level. This is where prioritization really needs to be brutal. The principle is clear: 80% of all the major projects your organization is funding should be completely in service of your strategic imperatives and early strategy thresholds. Period.
While the principle is clear, the mechanism to make this happen the first time can be messy. Once you have a portfolio of projects that is clearly aligned to your strategy, a simple quarterly process will help keep new projects aligned. Unfortunately, to get started you need to inventory of all major projects either planned or underway in your organization and you will need to kill most of them.
In my experience, 80% of projects you uncover will not be aligned to your current strategy and most organizations have at least 5 times more projects going on than they can handle. Rationalization of the initial project portfolio is where most organizations give up on prioritization because it is just too hard.