The modern, technology-driven business landscape offers countless opportunities to introduce new products and services to the market. Unfortunately, even the most innovative leaders with clear visions often fail to achieve their strategic goals. Many organizations can’t meet the challenge to effectively define, staff, and manage the set of projects and programs necessary to see the strategy succeed.
The Strategic Execution Framework (SEF) developed by the Stanford Advanced Project Management program offers a structure to improve strategy execution abilities and speed organization through systemic change that leads to high performance and returns on strategic initiatives.
Building the Foundation
The Strategic Execution Framework was created to help companies keep their focus and align improvement projects with key objectives to achieve their goals. Based on the idea that strategic execution comprises a set of building block projects, the framework puts projects in place alongside regular operations. Whatever a business does, whether it is coming up with new services, products, markets, or channels, arises from project-based work. Closely related projects can be grouped together into a program. The totality of programs forms the organization’s portfolio of strategies targeted for investment.
The Six Domains
The framework includes six domains that are easy to remember with the mnemonic: INVEST. Applying the framework helps organizations retool their approach to pick the most strategically advantageous projects and execute them successfully.
The domains are:
Ideation gets to the heart of why the organization exists. It is made up of three components: identity, purpose, and long-range intention.
Identity is the values, brand, image, and charter of an organization. It makes the company different from others and allows the organization to compete for both customers and talent. The purpose is the primary reason that the organization exists. The purpose is why people show up every day and become emotionally invested in the success of the business. The long-range intention is what we sometimes call “True North.” It is the company’s long-term direction, and it’s the seed of the future strategy.
Organizations with robust ideation become noteworthy. They are recognized for their innovative products, outstanding user experience, or customer-valued services, as well as for who they are. Conversely, without strong ideation, organizations suffer from an uncompelling or confusing message that hinders performance.
The domain of Nature is about the organization’s internal work environment. It is comprised of three parts: culture, structure, and strategy.
Culture is made up of the core values, behavior, and artifacts of the organization. It represents the way the organization gets things done. The structure is about the way the company builds relationships between functional areas. Strategy is the plan for how the organization will achieve its goals and purpose. The best way to reach the strategic objectives depends on the organization’s approach and how it is organized.
The Vision domain is about how companies translate their long-range intention into near-term detailed goals and metrics. The vision includes three components: goals, metrics, and business strategy.
Goals are the defined and communicated desired results. Most organizations have goals, but those not supported by strategy and tied to metrics, rarely come to pass. Metrics are the method for evaluating progress toward the goals. Choosing the right metrics means understanding which behaviors to reward to achieve optimal performance.
The domain of Engagement is where strategy turns into action. It includes the projects that will move the business ever closer to its goals. Engagement contains two components: strategy and the portfolio.
Strategy is the organization’s plan for achieving its purpose and goals. The portfolio comprises the projects and programs the organization will execute, aligned with the required resources for success.
The optimal route depends on how the company is organized and how it gets things done. The portfolio is the set of projects and programs a company plans to execute, reconciled with the resources required to accomplish them.
Synthesis is where Engagement connects with execution and where plans become a reality. This is the test of the organization’s ability to execute and commitment to the strategy. Any delta between the planned and actual results points to a lack of consistency. Synthesis is comprised of three components: the portfolio, programs, and projects.
The portfolio is the group of programs and projects that the organization intends to execute, connected with the resources needed to accomplish them. Programs are interdependent projects that are managed as one unit. Projects are specific efforts with deliverables, a schedule, and assigned resources.
The ultimate measure of success is the Transition domain. It is the point at which an organization delivers on its objectives or not. It completes the cycle from strategy to execution. It includes three parts: projects, programs, and operations.
We defined the projects and programs above. Operations are the continuing processes of the organization that provide value to the customer. Transition is about turning outputs into operations.
Success in the Transition domain requires managing two critical factors:
Organizational implications: Project-based work involves change, and with change, challenges can arise. Operations and project leaders must work together to minimize any disruptions that transitioning can create. Thoughtful and coordinated transfer of the work output to the customer or end-users is essential to get the full benefits of any project. This means engaging operations early and frequently to get their input and support, starting from planning the project through the ultimate execution. This is necessary even if operations aren’t directly responsible for outputs until after the handoff.
Metrics consistency: The metrics established when the organization defined its strategy and goals in the Vision domain must align with the metrics used when the project is operationalized. If the metrics don’t map, performance is hindered, and success becomes out of reach. This is another point where collaboration between operations and project leaders is essential to getting the desired outcomes.
Whether a project involves launching a new product or service or implementing a new operational system, companies that are outstanding at transition collaborate from the start. They implement processes for continuously capturing and sharing lessons learned throughout the duration of project-based work and adjust the work as need.
The Strategic Execution Framework is not a simple checklist. Instead, it is a more holistic and, thus, more effective method for moving the business forward toward its ultimate destination.
Every one of these domains represents an opportunity for improvement. The framework helps leaders find disconnects and barriers to operational excellence. Some organizations are clear about who they are and want to achieve, but they don’t have the structure to support the vision. Others focus on the tactical and find themselves engaging in projects that fight fires but don’t align with the portfolio. Still, others may have difficulty getting over the goal line by embracing and institutionalizing the project’s results.
Regardless of which domains of the framework are more critical for your organization or what your most essential initiatives might be, the Strategic Execution framework offers a way to understand your business and find ways to innovate, execute, transition, and grow.