Focusing on the Vital Few: How to Effectively Measure Strategic Initiatives
Expert advice for how to lay out a game plan for any project or initiative.
There is a fundamental need for a tangible frame of reference that can be used for aligning organizations. This is where an Alignment Map comes into play. We developed the Alignment Map to serve as a compass and a guide for the alignment process. Its goal is to focus everyone on those key factors that will lead to success.
There are two sides to the Map, and both sides should have measurable indicators. The left side has indicators of vision. The right side has a list of strategic actions and strategic initiatives. These actions and initiatives are also measurable, and we’ll explain below the methodology for measuring them.
Measurement for the right side
An initiative is a project. In the case of alignment, we use the word “initiative” to describe a strategic project of high importance rather than ordinary, everyday projects that companies have in place. The real measurement of the success of a project is the result it produces. The result is fact-based, but unfortunately, it’s only available after the project is completed.
What about measurement of the project before completion? One alternative is to measure the progress of the project against a set of criteria. Such measurement will be partially based on opinion, but still valuable. It can provide an early warning when the project isn’t doing well and will allow for intervention and course adjustment.
Let’s start by defining what makes a project, an initiative, successful. A project is successful if it has the elements of success before, during and after implementation. Here are the characteristics you need before implementation of a successful initiative:
- Good project plan with the right milestones and deliverables
- Clear objectives for the project to deliver after implementation
- Customer involvement to define the quality specifications and delivery date
- Allocated funds to assure the project can pay for the resources it needs
- Assignment of the right resources
- Committed and competent person in charge as a project manager
When these characteristics are present, the project has an excellent chance of tangible success. However, most projects will encounter challenges during execution that couldn’t have been foreseen, and the project plan will need to be dynamically adjusted. Here are the characteristics you need during implementation of an initiative:
- Update of the schedule based on a revised project plan
- Quality of work based on the customer specifications provided before starting
- Customer involvement during the implementation to assure satisfaction
- On-time delivery of the project milestones
- · Good project management
Paying attention to these characteristics will increase the chances of project success. If any of these characteristics are absent, the project manager will need to determine the causes for the missing item and find the remedy. Here are some characteristics for a successful project after execution:
- The objectives of the project are met and the benefits are measurable
- The project outcome meets or exceeds the expected quality
- The customers are satisfied
- The project is delivered on time
- The project is completed within budget
- The project has post delivery service
When all the characteristics are fulfilled, then the project has excellent execution.
Assuming that the criteria for starting the project are met, the measurement of progress will be based on the items outlined above for the “during implementation” phase. Evaluation based on these criteria will be necessary on a regular basis. Who should do the evaluating? Select one or more individuals within your organization or external people who would benefit most from the project and would agree to act as its customers. The customers of the initiative will rate its progress monthly using any combination of the characteristics listed.
When there are multiple customers of an initiative, their evaluation should be combined with some weighting criteria based on the value of the project to their areas. For example, if there are three customers, you could assign the weight of 20, 30 and 50 to them respectively. Calculate a weighted average of the evaluations from these customers. When this number is low, the person accountable for the initiative will have to analyze all the evaluations and determine a plan of action to bring the project into compliance.
We call the index that measures the progress of the initiative in this manner an INX, which stands for INitiative indeX. The right side of the alignment map will have INXs associated with the strategic initiatives. As the number associated with INX is based on opinions of the key customers, it’s not as a precise measurement of progress but an indicator to alert when the initiative has problems. Nevertheless, to make the evaluations as objective as possible, the on-time advance of the project should be based on its meeting milestone in a project plan, rather than the opinion of the customer.
Focusing on the vital few
Our experience shows that often companies attempt to implement too many initiatives beyond their ability to execute them well. It’s important to prioritize. Here are a few tips for prioritizing the initiatives to focus on:
Use the Pareto principle. Twenty percent of what you do will have eighty percent of the impact. As the Pareto principle is fractal, twenty percent of the twenty percent is truly significant, and only a vital few can add tremendous value. To determine the vital few, look at the list of your initiatives on the right side of your alignment map and pick the top set of initiatives that will deliver 80 percent impact on your vision. Focus on those initiatives.
Use the Cause and Effect principle. Each strategic initiative will have an impact on the indicators you’ve already defined as important. Some will impact multiple indicators of high importance. By analyzing the cause and effect relationship of the strategic initiatives with the key indicators, you’ll be able to eliminate those that are less important.
Use the weighting concept. As your financial and human resources are limited, you won’t be able to do all the initiatives you’ve identified, so pick the most important ones. To do this, you can distribute 100 points among the initiatives and pick those with the highest weights.
Use the sequencing concept. The large list of initiatives you’ve developed is intended to help you achieve the vision of the company. Usually, your vision expands over many years, and therefore not all the initiatives need to start immediately. By sequencing those that should be done this year versus those that can wait, you’ll be able to reduce your list to the vital few.