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Strategy is not a Project

Ed Fenwick
Insurance Experts' Forum, November 11, 2009

Do you remember, not too many years ago, that a hot topic in the industry was the high failure rate of major projects? Blown budgets and timelines, missed requirements and functionality, and failure to deliver the expected results had become the norm.

The industry, in general, has responded quite well to this challenge. First came an enhanced discipline around project management methodology. That was followed for many with a formalized organizational approach to managing change which typically carried the name Program Management Office (PMO). In many companies, I have seen that this disciplined process and organizational approach has yielded the intended results. Projects in these organizations routinely get done and delivered successfully—as planned and expected.

As with many human endeavors, success can have unintended results. There may be early warning signs on the horizon that the focus on improving project success rates is creating some unintended consequences and, in fact, some of us are noticing emerging warning signs as organizations move into the planning season for 2010.

The current global economic crisis has had a major impact on financial services organizations. For most, the path to success they had been pursuing has shifted. Where planning in prior years had a heavy emphasis on singling out the right projects that moved the organization toward its strategic goals, this year is different. Management teams are finding that they need to reset their strategic direction. What are the early warning signs that we are seeing from the unintended consequences of improved project execution?

•    The next generation of leadership talent in many organizations is the key resource in PMOs. They have been in it long enough that they are developing a language, perspective and approach that is obviously project-oriented. Previously, this same talent was often developing in general management positions and building broader perspectives.

•    When it comes to thinking broadly about the business, the marketplace and operations, planning teams have a lack of experience, vocabulary and framework.

•    Planning teams have a deeply engrained mindset, vocabulary and framework for talking about projects.

A similar phenomenon has occurred in some Six Sigma programs, which have become focused on Six Sigma dogma rather than on business results.

I am not questioning the value of PMOs, or suggesting that they be dismantled. In fact, they provide an essential capability that should be maintained and strengthened. However, if you see some of the early warning signs mentioned, you might want to consider doing the following:

•    Be sure that your talent development path includes your PMO as an important point, but one that is not an endpoint.

•    Take a look at your planning process to see if it needs to be reshaped and repopulated this year to better handle your business strategy.

Getting your strategy right for 2010 will be more important than ever.

Success won’t be about what projects get approved and funded. And remember, strategy is not a project.

Ed Fenwick is a SVP for The Robert E. Nolan Co., a management consulting firm specializing in the insurance industry.

The opinions of bloggers on www.insurancenetworking.com do not necessarily reflect those of Insurance Networking News.

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