Monitoring Implementation
of Your Strategic Plan
By Bill Birnbaum, CMC
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Monitoring Your Progress

Developing an effective strategic plan is only "half the battle." Getting it implemented is the other, and generally the tougher, half. And an important part of strategy implementation is monitoring – taking a periodic look at "how it's going."

Monitoring the implementation of your strategic plan is important for a number of reasons. First, it helps to assure that your efforts conform to the plan. That you're actually performing the action steps you intended. That you're "on track."

Second, you've got to be sure the results you achieve align with your quantified objectives.. That you're accomplishing what you intended to accomplish. Monitoring helps here too.

Also, monitoring allows for corrective action. For making the necessary changes along the way. To "fine tune," not only your strategies, but your planning process as well.

And since monitoring is part of a control process, it encourages improved performance. Knowing they'll be measured stimulates employees to do a better job.

Finally, and most importantly, monitoring provides the essential link between the written plan and the day-to-day operation of your business. It demonstrates to all that "you really are managing the business according to your plan". Monitoring the plan makes your entire planning effort a tangible reality rather than a once-a-year academic exercise

An Early "Warning" System

A significant benefit of the monitoring process is that it serves as your "early warning system."  It gives you the opportunity to communicate how you're doing. Where the problems and opportunities lie. And what's changed.

For example... In developing a new product, the R&D department may run into a technical problem – and slip its schedule by six weeks. The marketing department needs to know about it. So does the production department. Through such feedback, you improve the implementation of your strategies and reinforce the spirit of cooperation within your organization.

Getting "Back on Track"

But let's be realistic. You will run into implementation problems. Everyone does. Some of your tactics may prove ineffective. Or your strategies won't work as you intended. Or you’ll miss accomplishing an objective. What then? What corrective actions can you take?

You can take one of four corrective actions. First, you can change your schedule – slip your due date. Second, you can change the tactics you're performing to implement your strategy. Third, you can change your strategy. Finally, as a last resort, you can compromise your objective. Each of these corrective actions is applicable under specific circumstances. Let's see....

You'd slip your schedule if you felt your fundamental strategy were still sound. And you felt the tactics you were using to implement the strategy were also sound. But you simply needed more time. Perhaps you were earlier overly optimistic in deciding on your due date. Or some other activity is temporarily competing for a critical resource. Or you decided to wait for some important piece of information – a market survey; a competitive announcement; the opinion of a newly hired manager. All are perfectly valid reasons for allowing your schedule to slip.

But be careful. You can't always slip your schedule. Because the world around continues to move forward. Competition introduces new products and services. Technology continues to advance. And the needs of your customers change as well. For every strategy there's a "strategic window." A period of time during which that strategy will work. But if you slip your schedule too far – if you miss that strategic window – your strategy simply won't work. Please be aware of your strategic window.

Some years ago, I worked with a manufacturer of scientific instrumentation. The company was then developing a new product which they intended to launch at the up-coming annual trade show. Were they to fail to meet their development schedule, they’d miss the launch at the trade show – an important marketing event. Their strategic window would be closed. Fortunately, and thanks to their commitment and hard work, they made their schedule and successfully launched their new product at the trade show.

Changing Tactics

If slipping your schedule isn't the solution to correct an implementation problem, how about changing your tactics? You'd do that, of course, if you believed your fundamental strategy were sound, but your tactics to accomplish that strategy were faulty. Or the people assigned to accomplish those tactics were the wrong people. Perhaps your marketing department really doesn't have the time to conduct the survey they committed to. Or the production department really doesn't have the expertise to automate the line. In either case, you might continue with your strategy but modify your tactics – by making use of manpower or expertise from outside the organization, for example.

Changing the Strategy

Next, you might consider changing your fundamental strategy. You'd do so if your problems weren't with your schedule or your specific tactics. But for one reason or another, your strategy was simply wrong. Either you mistakenly developed the wrong strategy. Or your external environment has changed – customers' needs, competitive offerings, legislative factors, the economy, etc. Or internally, your organization has changed. Perhaps through the acquisition of a new asset. Or a change in availability of a critical resource. Valid reasons to change your strategy.

Here's an important distinction between modifying tactics and modifying strategy – when we change our tactics, we do so because we've been doing the right thing wrong. When we change our strategy, we do so because we've been doing the wrong thing. Big difference.

Changing an Objective

Last choice – you'd compromise your objective. Here, you'd agree to "accomplish less." Naturally, such a decision – that of compromising your objective – is a last resort.

Deciding how much variation should trigger corrective action – and specifically what that corrective action should be – there's where managerial judgment counts most. Where you get to exercise the "art" of strategy implementation.

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