When we started ActiveStrategy more than 11 years ago, we based our new solutions on the knowledge we'd acquired over many years deploying performance excellence and strategy execution frameworks in the real world. This practical experience taught us that the software we were developing (to help make these frameworks easier to deploy successfully) had to have rich support for monitoring and encouraging the actions people take to drive performance.
So, from version 1.0 of our software through today, we’ve led the industry in support for tracking tasks and projects to make sure that all of the actions needed to get results are front and center when our clients use ActiveStrategy Enterprise (ASE) to run a business review. (As an aside, it still amazes me that, even today, some so-called “performance management” software packages have little or no way to truly track and manage actions.)
Because of how critical initiatives and actions are to driving performance results, I want to share some insights into some of the ways our clients are having particular success using ASE to manage them.
One way is by using "phases" in ASE, which let users group and manage large numbers of initiatives (which some clients relabel as "projects") according to various factors or attributes, such as the responsible department, the quarter in which the initiative is occurring, or type of project. I'll explain more on phases in a bit, but I first want to explain some of the more fundamental ways we handle projects in ASE.
Initiatives in ASE can have their own lower-level tasks and milestones, allowing you to get quite granular with project management. And you can group multiple initiatives and tasks together into what we call "program groups."
Initiatives and program groups display (among other attributes) owners, current status (at several levels), and status reports. They can all also be linked to measures, objectives, and to each other (so you can create hierarchies of program groups with initiatives below them, and tasks below them).
By linking tasks to initiatives, and initiatives to program groups, and then creating additional higher-level "parent" program groups, clients are capturing the status of hundreds (and in some cases thousands) of important projects that are being worked on throughout the organization.
But wait a moment. You might be thinking (if you're already familiar with ASE) that since ASE is a strategic management system, you should really just be using it to track the most important top-level strategic projects. To that I'd say yes...and no. Yes, you need to track the highest-level strategic initiatives and have your top management team review their progress on an ongoing basis. But no, that isn’t enough. The real value of any Strategy or Performance Management system is to drive accountability, transparency, and (most importantly) regular business reviews down to the people who actually do the work, so cascading initiatives is a critical piece.
Let’s take an example. A large government agency client of ours has about a dozen main strategic initiatives (to get a sense of scale here, many of these initiatives approach a billion dollars in funding). These are the 12 things that the leader of the agency reviews on a regular basis. But in preparing to report the status of each of those 12 top-level initiatives, the owner of each has to review the status of 20-40 sub-projects that drive each initiative. Each of the owners of those projects, similarly, needs to monitor the status of one project across many regions and several other contributing projects. And so on, and so on, and so on.
In a standard “Balanced Scorecard” model, these projects at the top level would (and should) be linked to the objectives (and, through association) to the measures they would drive. But once you get past the top few levels, it gets very difficult to meaningfully cascade objectives and measures down really deep into the organization.
But cascading the initiatives and child initiatives down many levels is much more practical--and meaningful. This actually does make it straightforward to link the actions of tens of thousands of people with those 12 top-level initiatives.
And by using ASE's “phases,” it’s easy to review progress during a business review, even though the projects may now involve thousands of people.
Here's how. In ASE, phases are more or less just "buckets" that you can use to group initiatives or program groups within a parent program group. You can have as many phases as you want, and you can call them whatever you want.
In the example above, each top-level program group might break all of the initiatives and program groups into the following phases: Cost Savings, Outreach, Effectiveness, and Efficiency. Thus, rather than working one-by-one through the status of 20-40 sub-projects during a business review, our client can examine and discuss how they are doing on projects within each specific area. In this case, phases allow for a logical grouping of actions that make the business review much easier.
Now let's consider a large corporate client. They have more than a hundred Balanced Scorecards throughout the organization (some are more "balanced" than others, depending on where they are). There are about a thousand initiatives being tracked, each dutifully linked to the objective it drives. When they are doing a business review of a particular business unit, they can review each initiative in turn with related objectives on the scorecard.
But what if I’m the CIO and I only want to review my IT projects ? What if I’m the head of marketing? Or the person in charge of compliance? It would be pretty difficult to find all of the initiatives I’m responsible for across the entire organization (because they are all linked to the cross-functional objectives). How can I quickly get a feel for the status of the activities related specifically to my group?
No problem! We can quickly create program groups that link to those IT, or marketing, or compliance projects and group them into their own view. Now don’t forget that they are STILL linked to their respective objectives, but we can also view them separately as part of a phase.
In IT, the groupings might be by development phase: ideation, requirements, development, QA, production. In Compliance they might be by area: federal securities law, affiliate rules, antitrust, environmental, political, and facilities management.
By creating the right hierarchy of initiatives and program groups and using phases to further group them into categories that make sense to specific leaders, we can make it possible to quickly and easily monitor the status of hundreds (or more) initiatives in a business area that are important to driving results throughout other areas of the organization.
The best part is that with ASE your business users can easily do all of this linking, grouping, initiative/program group creation...without needing any help from IT.
I welcome your comments on how you're handling initiatives today and thoughts on whether phases and program groups could help.