Translating strategic initiatives into operational excellence.

Brad Feld shared his experience trying to syncing some of his old technology in a recent Feld Thoughts posts. I felt his pain. I spent part of the holiday on a different project but had a similar experience.

Given that many of us will be starting the year with new initiatives and projects, I thought it would be a good time to share some insights that will help your organizations succeed.

Advanced Program Management

Leading organizations such as Google, Apple and Intuit reportedly noticed that many of their strategic initiatives failed during implementation. Stanford professors uncovered a knowledge and skill deficit of MBAs that are routinely tasked with translating strategy to operational excellence. Consequently, they developed Stanford Advanced Program Management [SAPM] to address the knowledge gap. 

Other organizations including Kaiser have subsequently used the SAPM to develop their leaders. I also completed the program to skill up and to validate some of my experiences.

Data + Decisions

The interview with General Colin Powell in the book How to Lead ring true on this issue.

Strategies are set with the best information at a specific point in time. Unfortunately, the information is often incomplete or in some cases, completely inaccurate.

The execution process often uncovers the flaws in the data, assumptions and strategic plans. Unless there is a process in place to feed the new information back to the strategists and into the strategic plan, the odds of success are very low. 

Frustration + Fear

I am frequently engaged when the strategic execution has gone awry and the frustration levels are off the chart.

Stepping into these projects is no easy task. Those involved are scared that they are going to be fired for an oversight or mistake. As a consultant, there is little that I can do to calm their nerves. Leaders need to acknowledge the fear and set the right tone.

In his interview, General Collin Powell talked about the importance of stating what those involved can expect because how leaders address the issue[s] will imprint onto the culture.

Failure is part of the innovation and transformation process. Leaders know it and expect it but few acknowledge it in a productive way. Teaching the philosophy of failing quickly and often builds resilience within the organization and minimizes the negative financial impact of failure.


Limits are a reality for people and companies. Companies can set limits for initiatives and projects to contain the scope and manage the resources. Identifying the current limits of people is a little more nuanced.

The project that I worked on over the holidays had me further into the weeds than expected. It made me think about my list test again. The list test helps me gage the level of input someone will need from me during a project. It’s really simple but it works.

The List Test

1/ Follow a list

2/ Complete a list

3/ Create a list from a stated objective

4/ Manage a list

5/ Manage multiple lists and competing priorities

Good Enough

What does good enough mean? Everyone should have a clear understanding of what constitutes good enough because it is a frequently used term. The responses may also give you some interesting insights about the clarity of the objective and how to engage people for success.