Bridging the Gap


Effective transition from strategy development to strategy execution

Advances in Project Management Series

By Lucy Loh and Patrick Hoverstadt

United Kingdom


There is fairly consistent survey evidence that current approaches to strategy development fail to deliver the planned strategic change in the majority of cases and we argue this shows they are intrinsically broken. There is a trend in the strategy literature and amongst strategists to blame this failure not on strategy itself, which could feel rather close to home, but instead to blame the failure on ’execution.’ From this viewpoint, the strategy itself is clear and adequate and it was just the projects to implement change that failed and, by implication, so did their project managers.

In this article we take a different viewpoint. We argue that what destabilises strategy execution projects is often the flawed strategy that feeds into them. Specifically, the strategy can be flawed in that it fails to take into account changes in the strategic environment that renders the strategy defunct. Conventional strategy also fails to take into account the direction and momentum the organisation is already locked into. We highlight some of the reasons for that and then go on to present a radically new model for developing strategy, and for managing its execution: a key challenge for the project and programme managers who are charged with this. The Patterns of Strategy approach is different from existing approaches at both conceptual and practical levels. It gives a much richer way to explore strategic options at the strategy development stage, and it generates a very precise implementation plan to inform the execution stage, as well as metrics which can be used to measure the effectiveness of the deployed strategy. So the use of a very different paradigm of what strategy is, and how it is defined, drives and enables a different paradigm for managing its execution.

How Patterns of Strategy is different

Most conventional strategy approaches fail to recognise other organisations as actors. When they are described in strategies – and that’s not often – they are positioned as static and passive. They are seen as static in that that their current position is a given, rather than simply being a point in time, and passive in that there is little or no consideration given to their potential to act, and to act with implications for us. In game theoretic terms, these approaches fail to recognise that other organisations have independent will, which they can and do exercise, and that in reality the interactions between organisations are complex and dynamic, unfolding like a drama or dance. Since these approaches don’t recognise the agency of other organisations, they define strategy as what we want our organisation to become, based on the assumptions that we can define what we want, and that we can get there without let or hindrance from others.

This second assumption is wrong. Other organisations are actors; they have options in what they do and how they do it, and their choice and execution of option defines the strategic space in which we operate and affects what we can accomplish. Once it is written down in this way, it is of course apparent that it is critical to model and understand the possible decisions and actions of others in our environment, but conventional strategy approaches don’t do this. The interventions and actions of those other actors can impact or totally derail the strategy execution itself. In these circumstances, strategy execution can get the blame for inadequate strategy definition, a real problem for programme or project managers. A range of studies and surveys suggest that, conservatively, more than 90% of strategic plans generated by conventional strategy approaches are not implemented. While there is considerable variation in the assumptions about what constitutes a strategy and what constitutes implementation failure, even the most sanguine indicate failure levels around 70%, and that makes the levels of failure very significant indeed.

Patterns of Strategy is a new approach to strategy development developed by Patrick Hoverstadt and Lucy Loh. In this approach, it is fundamental to treat actors as having independent will. In game theory, an actor is an individual or organisation with decision making capability, including the ability to create and execute a range of different options in any particular context or situation. Game theory examines what happens when my option A interacts with your option B, or my option A triggers a response from you of option C. It’s the interaction between my actions and your actions which creates the game, a constant dynamic as each actor seeks advantage for themselves. Patterns of Strategy models how we interact with key actors around us, explores what options each actor has, and how the situation plays out, depending on which options are chosen by each actor.


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Editor’s note: The Advances in Project Management series includes articles by authors of program and project management books previously published by Gower in UK and now by Routledge. Information about the series can be found at https://www.routledge.com/Advances-in-Project-Management/book-series/APM



About the Authors

Lucy Loh

United Kingdom





Patrick Hoverstadt

United Kingdom



Lucy Loh
and Patrick Hoverstadt have over 50 years’ combined experience in working with private and public sector clients internationally, and in organisations of all sizes from small to global.  Both have designed and delivered postgraduate courses at several European business schools.

They are directors at Fractal (http://www.fractal-consulting.com/), a consultancy which specialises in using systems thinking and management science approaches to tackle complex, intractable management issues where traditional approaches consistently fail.  This includes the development of Patterns of Strategy to provide a fresh and systemic approach to this key organisational challenge.

They are currently engaged in developing a systemic methodology for managing complex projects, recognising that these are different in kind from ordinary projects and so require a fundamentally different approach.

More at www.fractal-consulting.com

Information about their forthcoming book can be found at https://www.routledge.com/Patterns-of-Strategy/Hoverstadt-Loh/p/book/9781138242678