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Published in PM World Today – November 2008 (Vol X, Issue XI)


Implement Your Strategy Successfully

By: Bill Birnbaum, CMC

When it comes to implementing strategy, project management professionals have a significant

advantage. For the skills and the discipline inherent in project management are directly
applicable to implementing strategy.

It’s unfortunate that too many managers finish their strategy sessions, and only then consider
the question of implementation. Clearly this is a mistake. By waiting until after their strategy
sessions, they miss earlier opportunities to encourage successful implementation.

Project management professionals know not to commit this error. They realize that to
encourage successful implementation of their strategy, they should take specific steps before,
during and after their strategy sessions.


Prior to your strategy sessions, you have the opportunity to lay the groundwork for successful
strategy implementation. Here are your specific steps…

• Demonstrate Senior Management Commitment. If senior management isn’t committed to

the strategic planning process, neither will anyone else be. Senior managers must demonstrate
their commitment, not just by word, but by deed as well. They must devote their own time to
the planning process. And also demonstrate readiness to allocate the necessary resources to
the resultant strategies.

• Select the "right" planning team members. The members of your planning team will come
from the ranks of top management – likely your key functional managers. This brings the
expertise necessary to develop the plan and also allows the necessary immediate strategic
decisions. And just as important, it builds ownership among the key managers who will later
direct implementation of the resultant strategies.

• Gather the "right" pre-planning information. Gather not just the obvious financial data. Also
gather information about your customers and the benefits they seek in purchasing your
products and services. Why they buy. Why they don't. And information about your
competition. Their strengths and weaknesses. And how their offering compares to yours.
Successful strategies follow from your management team's full appreciation of your enterprise
and its relationship to its marketplace. You need to go well beyond the data. Gather
information to build and maintain your planning team’s knowledge and to encourage strategic

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Published in PM World Today – November 2008 (Vol X, Issue XI)

• Solicit input from your employees. Get your employees involved in the planning process.
Use a survey to "flush up" issues important to them. Their participation will build their
commitment. Employees having the opportunity to participate in their company's strategic
plan feel "a part" of that plan. They're committed to the success of the plan; and the successful
implementation of the strategies within the plan. At his company's strategic planning retreat,
the Vice- President of Marketing for one of our client companies remarked, "The managers in
our marketing department are eager to see this plan. They've provided much of the initial
input for this session, so they're looking forward to learning of, and implementing, the
resultant strategies."


At your strategy sessions, you and your planning team will develop each of the elements of
your strategic plan. During those sessions, you’ll again find opportunities to encourage
successful strategy implementation. Specific steps for doing so include…

• Encourage participation. Work toward rich, lively discussion on all issues. Solicit input from
the more hesitant, and, if necessary, temper the more domineering individuals. To do so, you
must be sure the facilitator of your sessions has not only expertise in the planning process, but
also, skill in handling the planning team's interpersonal dynamics.

• Develop objectives which you can track with your current reporting system. You'll be busy
enough implementing your plan; you don't want to pioneer a new reporting system at the
same time. Yes, once in a while – particularly for an “outside the box” strategy – you’ll need
to “invent” some new measurement. But try to keep such inventions to a minimum.

• Develop a "balanced" list of objectives. Resist the tendency to set all of your objectives in
the areas of finance and marketing. Make sure that at least one of your objectives is in the area
of human resources. Far more of your employees care about human resource issues than about
profit or sales volume. Having one or two human resource objectives, you can successfully
respond when an employee asks "What's in it for me?"

• Develop strategies built on your company's strengths. If you're strong in marketing, you'll do
best by promoting your way to success. If you're good at product development, you'd best
invent your way to growth. Don’t select a strategy just because it's currently popular or
because it worked well for another firm. For a strategy to work well for you, it must be based
on your company's strengths.

• Consider available resources. You’ll need to estimate the resources required to implement
each strategy. Be especially careful about over-committing those resources – particularly
peoples’ time. There's a fine line between challenge, which encourages implementation; and
over-commitment, which discourages implementation. Be careful.

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Published in PM World Today – November 2008 (Vol X, Issue XI)

• Develop a built-in monitoring system. Have a key manager accept responsibility for
implementing each strategy. That manager's name, along with a due date for completion, then
becomes a part of your strategy statement. Including a name and a due date along with the
strategy aids in monitoring the strategy's implementation. It also assures that a key manager
"owns" each strategy.


Following development of your strategies, you’ll have additional opportunities to encourage


• Communicate your strategy. Tell your employees of your strategy. Especially those
employees who will help with your strategy’s implementation. As you conclude your strategy
sessions, ask this closing question of your planning team: "Now that we've developed our
strategic plan, how should we communicate it to our employees?"

• Link your strategic plan to your operational plan. Ask each manager responsible for a
specific strategy to take that strategy back to his or her department. And there, ask those
employees who will implement the strategy to develop detailed tactics. Ask them to assign
responsibility for each tactic; to set due dates; to project required resources. Peter Drucker
wisely said, “Nothing happens until we reduce strategy to work.” Implementing strategy is
work. You’ll do well to manage it as such.

• Monitor your progress quarterly. You’ve perhaps heard the saying, “If you don’t measure it,
it won’t happen.” This certainly applies to implementing strategy. With a quarterly
monitoring system, you’ll be well aware of your implementation progress and any associated
problems. And during your quarterly monitoring meetings, you can consider your options for
getting a wayward strategy back on track.

• Fine tune the process. Watch for opportunities to improve your planning process. This will
help with implementation of your strategies in later years. At the third quarterly review of
your strategic plan, take a little extra time to discuss the planning process. To look back on
your strategy sessions. Ask, "What went well?" and "What didn't go so well?" and "What
changes might we make to improve the process next time around?" Explore any and all
suggestions to fine tune your planning process – so it brings continuous improvement to both
your strategy development and your strategy implementation.

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Published in PM World Today – November 2008 (Vol X, Issue XI)

About the Author:

Bill Birnbaum


Bill Birnbaum, CMC, is President of Birnbaum Associates, business strategy

consultants. He helps clients develop a shared strategic vision, and then turn
that vision into a sound business strategy. Bill has served on the board of
directors for three high growth corporations. He's taught strategy courses
for the American Management Association and authored “Strategic
Thinking: A Four Piece Puzzle.” His book is available through book stores
and on-line book sellers. His website contains informative articles on
strategic thinking, on business strategy and on economic trends affecting
business: http://www.BirnbaumAssociates.com/

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