How to translate strategy into actionable roadmaps.

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Bridging the divide between strategy and execution is a skill in itself. One that requires making an explicit connection between strategic intent and project delivery. All too often, however, new projects can fail to get off the starting blocks. Here we look at how leaders can translate strategy into action to get their teams really firing.

If the strategy’s unclear or the execution plan’s not fully scoped out, it can be impossible for teams to know where to start. Particularly if delivery looks complex or there are multiple interdependencies.

In these scenarios, it’s easy to get sucked into an unproductive cycle of ‘analysis paralysis’. This process then consumes a lot of time and resource, but tends to leave everyone none the wiser when it comes to deciding on a course of action. The end result being that no one goes anywhere fast.

Then there’s the problem of strategy ‘getting lost in translation’. When development teams are asked ‘Why is nothing happening?’ it’s not uncommon to get feedback like ‘We don’t really understand what’s required’. These responses are then relayed back to senior teams and a deluge of communications comes down outlining the broad strategic vision.

Trouble is, the source of the issue is rarely communication alone. Rather, it’s the lack of clarity on what the steps are to achieving the actual strategic objective. However good the dev team, an overview is just the start. They need the next level down, ideally the organisational and technical context and then clear guidance on what they have to do to deliver.

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These kinds of communication mishaps happen more often than you’d think. In our experience, if senior leaders are able to take the time to explain exactly what’s needed in a practical and understandable way then everyone can pull together in the same way.

In the absence of clear direction, developers are liable to apply their own thinking to get to the result. And this may be counter-productive. 

For example, if the application development team doesn’t have the API it needs to move forward or a search team doesn’t have the right data, they may opt for a creative workaround to fill the gaps. That’s when shadow IT starts appearing or builds start happening outside the corporate architecture. Delivery targets may be hit, and work may be getting done, but costs will be stacking up and teams could be creating major support burdens in the longer term.

Similarly, should one team get the memo but another doesn’t, projects can grind to a halt simply because no one’s working in concert or understands their role in the wider project delivery plan.

Dealing with the practicalities

Ultimately, getting things done depends on defining a portfolio of meaningful initiatives that everyone can get behind and follow in unison, with clear terms of reference. That’s easy to say but not so easy to put into practice. And there are lots of reasons why it can be difficult to execute strategy by making things happen.

First off is the slew of daily management demands confronting CTOs. It takes a lot of quiet reflection and thinking time to assess and unpack the corporate vision and create actionable roadmaps for development teams.

So why not delegate certain finance or HR tasks to others to free up the head space needed to define the key strategic objectives in readiness for frontline delivery? Then draft a communication plan to ensure that the right information goes to the right people and everyone explicitly understands the ‘what, how and why’ of the delivery plan.

Added to which, not every team leader or programme manager will have the pre-requisite skills and capabilities needed to undertake project execution. So it could be that some specialist coaching is needed to get them up to speed.

In our experience, that includes learning how to develop action plans that break big tasks down into digestible chunks for developers, and focusing on how to orchestrate and manage activities across functional teams.

The key point being that everyone is aligned and has what they need to play their part.

Connecting vision and strategy with meaningful delivery isn’t always as simple as it first seems.  All too often, we’ve seen organisations struggle to mobilise on their strategies, because they aren’t able to establish a clear direction and execute in an agile and cohesive way.

The good news is that by clearly identifying and articulating what success looks and feels like, and defining the practical actions needed to reach this anticipated future state, it’s possible to bridge the chasm between strategy and execution in a highly effective way.

Please get in touch if you’d like to chat through anything discussed in this article.