Galloping to Greatness in Strategy Implementation



By John Schlichter

Atlanta, Georgia, USA


The verb “to manage” was originally derived from the Italian word “maneggiare,” meaning to handle and train horses. This interesting bit of etymology got me thinking that one could demystify the way that capabilities in strategy-implementation are created by talking about it in terms of horse-racing. We are interested in how to help organizations become capable of choosing good projects and delivering them well to implement the organization’s strategies. But pretending that horse racing is our interest can be a useful thought experiment. Secretariat, Man o’ War, Phar Lap, Black Caviar, and Native Dancer are some of the legendary horses from world-class racing teams. One should learn from these examples that world-class management capabilities aren’t built in a day. Every photo-finish of competitors galloping across a finish line was a journey that began well before they set foot on the track. There are agendas that one must progress through.


The first agenda or level of maturity in horse racing is called “Standardization,” and it requires us to do the following:

  • Establish “process governance.” This means we must engage the team’s owners (executives) and coaches and riders (process owners) and enroll them to help us lead the transformation of the horse racing team’s capabilities.
  • Articulate policies. This means that we must identify what is important about the performance of the horse racing team, including which processes are most important for the horses to be able to perform in the way that their owners want them to perform.
  • Document processes. This means that we need to write down the steps of the important processes so that both the practitioners and the owners agree to them.
  • Train stakeholders. This means that we need to train all the necessary stakeholders in the things listed above, including the process governance structure, the policies, and the documented processes. We need to train them in a way that enables them to experience their own competence.
  • Establish oversight. This means that we need to implement roles and protocols that ensure consistent implementation of work methods.

These things (above) are necessary to create the foundation for building a world class horse racing team. You can see that there are aspects pertaining to the riders and aspects pertaining to the horses. The same is true for building world class performance in your project, program, and portfolio management systems. To become capable of implementing your organization’s strategies successfully, consistently, and predictably, start with standardization.


Standardization is consistent implementation of work methods. To enact standardization fully, one needs to pursue the next level of maturity, which is called “measurement.” Measurement includes the following things:

  • Identify critical characteristics of the horse racing process. We must articulate what is critical or essential for the process to produce a quality result.
  • Document “Results Measures.” We must document the expected outputs and outcomes of the process and how those outputs and outcomes will be measured.
  • Document the measurement system. We must document how measurements will be taken.
  • Train stakeholders. We must train members of the organization in how to collect and analyze measurements.

Both the riders and the horses have roles in this. The riders must support each of these things and the horses must be trained in what to expect, learning how their performance will be measured. For example, they may be measured for “speed,” and they may be measured for “safety.” They will learn that these metrics are important and that the organization is tracking them closely.

The organization may already know intuitively that the performance of their horses occurs within a range that they expect. Or they may see that the range of variation in performance varies widely, and they will begin to uncover the reasons why.


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How to cite this article: Schlichter, J. (2018); Galloping to Greatness in Strategy Implementation; PM World Journal, Vol. VII, Issue X – October. Online at https://pmworldjournal.net/wp-content/uploads/2018/10/pmwj75-Oct2018-Schlichter-galloping-to-greatness-in-strategy-implementation.pdf


About the Author

John Schlichter

Atlanta, GA, USA




John Schlichter coined the term “Organizational Project Management” or “OPM,” which is the system for implementing the business strategy of an organization through projects. OPM became a global standard and is how companies throughout the world deliver projects valued in billions if not trillions of dollars. “John has contributed greatly to PMI,” Greg Balestrero, CEO, PMI Today, 2002. “In John’s role as the leader of PMI’s OPM3 program, he has immeasurably contributed to the growth of the profession,” Becky Winston, J.D., Chair of the Board of Directors, PMI Today, 2002. Having created OPM3© (an international standard in project, program, and portfolio management), John founded OPM Experts LLC, a firm delivering OPM solutions and a leading provider of maturity assessment services. Industry classifications: NAICS 541618 Other Management Consulting and NAICS 611430 Training. John is a member of the adjunct faculty of Emory University’s Goizueta Business School.

John can be contacted at [email protected] or [email protected].