Balance long-term vision with shorter-term executional plans
This is easier said than done, of course, but it is important to balance a long-term vision (3-5 year window is standard) with a more precise short-term execution plan (1 year to 18 months). All of the initiatives in the execution plan should tie back to the long-term vision. If they don’t, they either need to be refined or removed, or the vision needs to be adjusted.
Use “level zero” estimates to ensure that you have the resources needed for success
Before agreeing to an execution plan, it is essential to have the business and technology leaders work with their teams provide a high-level estimate on people and time costs for each product. These estimates are often back of the envelope but should be based on actual people-weeks of time to ensure each team understands the needed resource allocation for all the key projects up front. This works just as well in an agile environment as waterfall, as the estimates are high-level and not based on exact requirements.
Regularly recalibrate your plans
As we say at dPrism: Shifts happen. The priorities that are agreed upon in Q1 are rarely exactly the same as the priorities nine months later. Many companies fall into the trap of just adding new priorities and projects on top of an execution plan that was already filled to the rim with projects. It is normal to adjust prioritization of projects based on new information, but it needs to work in both directions. If something is important enough to be added it is important enough to knock something else off the list.
Keep track and be transparent
The best execution plan in the world will not succeed if progress (and lack of progress) is not regularly reported. We are big fans of having key status information for strategic execution projects available online for everyone in a company to see. This information can then be used in regular (monthly) update sessions for an executive team that can lead to the recalibration described above.
Technology can help
There are a number of good top-down strategic execution visualization platforms on the market (we have a particular favorite; let me know if you want more information) that make it much easier to provide transparency on your strategic implementation plans. You should be able to provide and receive manual updates and also tie in to company systems for automated updating on KPIs.
Many companies have strong strategic visions and others have excellent executional capabilities. The best companies are those able to marry the two and continually achieve their vision. The five guidelines above have helped many of our clients. Let me know what has worked for your organization!