Is Your Organization Positioned for Success?
What is the primary objective of any enterprise? It is to succeed and generate a benefit for its stakeholders. Organizational success is driven by its strategy. Strategy is executed through projects. Project success and failure is affected by several related factors directly tied to the organization’s strategic objectives, and how the organization positions itself with respect to its environment, both internally and externally. These factors impact an organization’s ability to successfully structure, launch, and execute projects that deliver stakeholder benefits.
Success Begins with a Good Strategy
A paraphrase of Lewis Carroll’s Cheshire Cat in Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland (1865),
“If you don’t know where you are going, then any road will get you there,”
implies that there are multiple ways to accomplish an objective, equally effective. The problem is that if you don’t know where you are going, how will you know when you have arrived? Strategic plans themselves do not make decisions nor do they predict the future. They do help provide direction and serve as a tool that senior management can use to evaluate the implications of their decisions. Structured properly, strategic planning helps management position the organization so that it can respond logically, purposefully, and quickly to environmental changes.
For a strategic plan to be effective it must enable the organization to adapt to changes that occur during implementation. Organizational success involves understanding what can be controlled, and working to take advantage of opportunities provided by those elements that are outside of your control.
Sun-Tzu in The Art of War (circa 500 BC) stated, “What is of the greatest importance in war is extraordinary speed: One cannot afford to neglect opportunity.” But, how does the organization recognize an opportunity, assess it, and position itself to take advantage of that opportunity? Being able to recognize and grasp an opportunity is what differentiates successful organizations from unsuccessful ones. Success does not just happen. There is an old saying, “Success happens when opportunity and preparedness meet.”
Preparation comes from thoroughly understanding three primary elements:
- Understanding your internal and external environment. This focuses on the area within which your organization operates. Understanding your business environment is crucial to success. Does it help or hinder your ability to compete?
- Being aware of the obstacles to your success. How strong are your competitors within the marketplace and your industry? Unless what you have is significantly different or is for a specialized niche market, then customers have a choice.
- Become self-aware. Take a good look at yourself and your organization. How skilled are employees? What type of leadership is provided? How much experience is in the organization? How well you know the organization’s strengths and weaknesses impacts your ability to compete.
Define the Organization’s Core Competencies
In 2001, Chris Zook and James Allen wrote Profit from the Core, followed in 2004 by Zook’s sequel, Beyond the Core. Both books address the importance of considering several core business dimensions or competencies, when trying to strategically expand or grow the business. Every organization has a “core,” with an expanding and often complex set of growth opportunities or adjacencies. The further away from the core the opportunity lies, the greater the opportunity for diversity, but also the lower the probability of success. A critical challenge is being able to clearly define those core competencies. According to Zook (2001, p15), there are some basic questions that can be asked:
- What are the most potentially profitable, franchise customers and what real benefit/value do you offer them? Remember value is measured many ways, not just in pure dollars and cents.
- What are your most differentiated and strategic capabilities and what makes you any better than the other providers?
- What are your most critical product offerings and how are they any better than what is currently available?
- What are your most significant distribution channels for getting your products and services to your customers?
- What other critical strategic assets (patents, name recognition, etc.) do you have that contribute to the business?
Unless your organization can clearly and honestly answer these questions, investment plans should be reconsidered until the questions can be answered. Tools such as business plans, business cases, commercialization plans, and marketing plans will help with the answers. Knowing your current position and distance from your objective are critical. The further the objective, the greater the risk and potential for failure.