Great project managers facilitate SMALL choices


By Jeroen De Flander 

Brussels, Belgium

If strategy is a decision pattern, strategy execution is enabling people to create a decision pattern. Strategy execution is helping people make small choices in line with a big choice. This notion requires a big shift in the way we think about execution. As a project manager looking at strategy execution, we should imagine a decision tree rather than an action plan. Decisions patterns are at the core of successful strategy journeys, not to-do lists. To improve execution speed and accuracy, we should shift our energy from asking people to make action plans to helping them make better decisions.  

4am Friday morning in a suburb of a large city. Lisa got out of bed. She always did at this early hour. The routine came with the job. Lisa worked as a mail carrier for the national mail company. On an average day, she made hundreds of mail drops to the city’s apartment blocks and businesses. Lisa loved her job. And she was proud to be working in this industry with its long history. But more and more people used email and other communication channels to connect. She knew that the business—and therefore her job—was in danger.

While Lisa grabbed breakfast, her thoughts wandered to last week’s meeting. One of the executives had come over to the sorting center to talk about the future of the organization. Lisa understood that her company was doing ok, but that it would need to do better to secure its future. More specifically, she understood that efficiency had to improve from 6 to 5 seconds per mail item and customer satisfaction from 75 to 80 percent. “I can do that”, she had thought to herself after the meeting.

That Friday, on her 46th drop, an old lady opened her front door and waved Lisa over to talk. “Greater client satisfaction,” thought Lisa, “but my delivery speed will reduce if I stop.” She was paralyzed. “What should I do?” The choice seemed insignificant in comparison to all the other things this big organization needed to do to succeed. But it was her responsibility. And she wanted to do the right thing.

Now, think for a moment. What advice would you give Lisa? She saw 5 options: (1) To focus on efficiency, hurry to the next mailbox and pretend she didn’t see the woman; (2) To focus on efficiency, but to acknowledge the old lady with a wave while walking to the next mailbox; (3) To focus on efficiency, but spend a few minutes on small talk; (4) To focus on quality and take all the time that’s needed; (5) To focus on quality and try to sell the old lady something.

You’ve probably realized that the right answer isn’t so straight-forward. When you focus on quality, you lose out on efficiency… and when you focus on efficiency, you lose out on quality. In short, the strategy message delivered by the executive makes Lisa’s decision pretty difficult. Not difficult because of the efficiency-quality trade-off—trade-offs you’ll find in every good strategy—but because of the missing prioritization information. Many employees face the same challenge as Lisa on a daily basis. How do I balance 2 contradictory strategy elements and still take the right decision?


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About the Author 

pmwj17-dec2013-de-flander-AUTHOR IMAGEflag-belgiumJeroen De Flander

Brussels, Belgium

Jeroen De Flander is one of the world’s most influential thinkers on strategy execution and a highly regarded keynote speaker. He has shared the stage with prominent strategists like Michael Porter and reached out to 21,000+ leaders in 30+ countries. His first book Strategy Execution Heroes reached the Amazon bestseller list in 5 countries and was nominated for Management Book of the Year 2012 in the Netherlands. He can be contacted at [email protected] or www.the-performance-factory.com.