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Managing Major Corporate Initiatives

3. Relationship with the project team. Committee members should decide how to evaluate and motivate those charged with executing the project. Formal incentives can be dangerous because they set measurement standards that may turn out to be inappropriate. As one executive put it: “When you are doing new things in the organization, bonuses are terrible. Bonuses assume that you know where you are going.” The authors advise judging and rewarding the project team’s activities — how it schedules meetings, for example, or approaches problem solving — rather than its outcomes. To keep project teams motivated, steering committees should find a middle ground between micromanaging and dodging the tough calls.

4. Supervision and control. This area involves keeping the project team on track within the context of the company’s goals. Steering committees should question assumptions throughout the project, the authors write, and insist on translating technical jargon into business language whenever possible (in other words, can the marketing department sell what the technical department is inventing?). “Don’t take things at face value, and don’t stop questioning because it is inconvenient,” said one CEO.

5. Managing surprises and changes. The last point relates to the need to modify the project’s direction when objectives or opportunities shift — and they always will, at least to some extent. When large modifications are needed, small-scale experimentation, paradoxically, often leads to breakthroughs, the authors note. And when surprises occur, the best response is to get insight into why. Rather than focus on final results, the authors conclude, steering committees should make use of “intermediate insight milestones” to keep plans flexible and moving forward.

Bottom Line:
A five-point framework can help senior executives develop a better role for managing major initiatives. The guidelines foster strategic involvement and take aim at destructive meddling.

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