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Sunday, December 31, 2017

Governance: The seeds of Operational Excellence

I am sure many of us have heard phrases like "we are in a constant fire-fighting mode," or "Pick your battles to win", etc. Somehow, these phrases have become so much a cliche that they have become part of our core management DNA principles. Recently, I was in a training session when I heard participants claim, "we are so much agile that we don't have time for iterations." Ignoring to immediately respond by focusing on principles of agile, grooming the backlog, and planning for iterations on this paradoxical phrase, I started questioning further. Not to most people's surprise, my finding revealed the lack of governance structure in strategic execution.

As I played archery game with my younger son on the Wii-U, he was explaining that I need to pay attention to the wind and distance before I can release the arrow. "It is not just a focus and strength game," he reasoned when I kept missing the target. It dawned on me immediately why people were failing to pay attention to strategy in execution, While strategy from the steering committee tells the archer which target to shoot the arrow, the archer still needs to have a specific strategy on how to execute to ensure the benefits align to the expectations of the steering committee. It is, therefore, management's responsibility to ensure that there are metrics and measures in place to inform the archer to take appropriate corrective and preventive actions.

However, when the managers and leaders fail to provide the required tools for people to upskill or reskill their talents, then they inherently suck the oxygen out of operational excellence. So, for an organization to continuously improve, they need to learn from past lessons and face new challenges and problems rather than relearn the same lessons or revisit the same challenges. It is leadership's failure to put the appropriate governance framework to ensure that execution is constantly aligned with the strategy.

The essential factors for operational excellence may vary within industries but they all should be having five important facts that I would like to call with a mnemonic phrase, "Strategy coordinates complex deliverable optimization." Let me expand on these five keywords:

Strategic Benefits - The strategy should deliver more than powerpoints that make it into high-level objectives in people's scorecard. The leaders are accountable to provide clear measurable benefits that the execution should deliver. One of the important artifacts from program management domain is the benefits register that leaders should produce as an outcome from their strategic planning.

Coordinated Planning - While top management may have the vision, only the middle management knows the challenges of execution. So, top management should identify groomable talents within the organization involving them in the planning exercise with actionable outcomes. One of the best tools that the program and portfolio management domains recommend is a roadmap that orchestrates when the incremental and consolidated benefits will be realized (remember I just didn't say delivered) to help with adequate prioritization of customer and business value-add.

Complex Interdependencies - Whether benefits are delivered incrementally or consolidated, the complex interdependencies among projects and the operations still have to be conceived by leadership and management. The middle management should be empowered to reskill their competencies in such a way that they are able to articulate around the political, economic, societal, technical, legal, environmental, ethnic and demographic (PESTLEED) dimensions leading to operational excellence. The best way to hold the top and middle management accountable is to have frequent management checkpoints (besides the health gate reviews) to inculcate the risks to delivery and the costs of non-delivery as part of their program or project design including the considerations for transition and succession planning.

Deliverable Integration - Particularly when benefits are incremental, but also as benefits become consolidated, integration of a number of benefits is a change management exercise. Understanding how changes impact the organization and evaluating the sensitivity around it as the projects and programs. This may take the form of standard operating procedures and transition and succession planning agreements (note that I didn't say just a plan or meeting but agreement) but most importantly having a controlled approach to releasing both the products to production as well as people to other projects.

Optimized Pace - Having a closed eye to how people will stretch themselves to deliver when benefits are not prioritized with multiple high-level priorities with interdependent resources is waiting for accidents to happen with the hope they don't. The most important assets to replace are the people and not having the above measures in places increases the stress level. Allowing people to decompress by requiring them to work on personal stretch goals aligned to the strategic benefits will help them reskill themselves to deliver on complex initiatives. They can't firefight forever and choose different battles to fight leading to employee attrition in the absence of execution treated with strategic outcomes aligned to the organizational benefits.

These five elements, in my humble opinion, is the governance fabric that lays the foundation for operational excellence. What do you think?

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