Plan Governance: The Strategy’s Nothing Without Follow-Through

By Joe Evans

Strategic plans without follow-through will collect dust and never be executed as intended. Plan governance is the essential “follow-through ingredient” to set the wheels in motion for strategy execution.

Keeping the Wheels in Motion

The overall strategic plan must be thought of as a portfolio to be managed. The strategic plan portfolio represents the overall macroscopic view of all programs and initiatives involved with strategy implementation.

With the right planning process, the portfolio is constructed as the organization plans. During the operational planning stage of strategic planning, initiatives are defined that support the strategy’s outcomes.

Those initiatives can then be broken down into bite-size projects so that they can be estimated, understood, and eventually — managed. Obviously, projects are much more detailed in terms of defining the timeframes, HR requirements, technology requirements, and other details necessary to pave a successful path to delivery.

To manage the overall strategic plan, however, we must have some different views of the work to be completed in order to successfully manage it. Grouping projects into programs provides a big-picture way of tracking, managing, and reporting on the tens, hundreds, or in the most extreme cases — thousands of projects that can arise from a corporate strategic plan.

Projects can be grouped into programs in terms of how they support the overarching strategy and goals or along budgetary lines. The overall group of programs is the portfolio. Plan governance then becomes the vehicle to manage the plan portfolio and ensure the implementation of operational initiatives with plan goals and track progress of plan-supporting strategic initiatives through effective oversight at the corporate and operational levels.

Plan Governance Offices

Organizations that have matured in their planning process have taken governance to another level and have implemented Plan Management Offices. Plan governance, whether implemented as a formal Plan Management Office or administered through a less formalized committee structure, should be responsible for the functions of selecting, managing and measuring of everything entering or within the plan portfolio. Plan Management Offices benefit the organization by offering better visualization into all efforts supporting strategic implementation. Plan Management Offices also position organizations to better manage the interrelationships of all the underlying initiatives, considering dependency relationships and constraints on resources.

Performance must be managed, and in order to manage performance — it must be measured. Without proper accountability built into strategic and operational plans, you can expect them to fall short of expectations. There is simply no way to track to the delivery of the strategic goals of the business without defined accountability that allow for this to happen. Accountability requires specific time frames along with measurable targets.

Even simple tools such as RACI models (see explanation and example below) can aid in mapping out Responsibility, Accountability, Consult and Inform roles relative to the programs or initiatives supporting the plan.

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As a function of the ongoing management of the plan portfolio, plan governance also involves refreshing the strategic and supporting operational plans to reflect changes as a result of completing plan goals and taking on new ones. This structure allows for strategic and operational planning to become much more actively managed and based on a shorter time horizons.

Lastly, a plan governance model can harvest metrics and status reporting from across the portfolio of all programs and their underlying projects. Metrics are harvested from the tactical layer to provide historical acceleration data to offer continual improvement to the planning cycle.

In the end, planning governance helps organizations filter through the minutia of everyday tasks to focus on accomplishing key outcomes sought by executive leadership.
Originally published: Sep 7, 2011

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