Interview with Mark Morgan, American Strategic Planning Expert


Interviewed by Prof Helgi Thor Ingason

Reykjavik, Iceland



Mark Morgan is a consultant to businesses around the globe and the founder of StratEx Advisors, Inc. His work is in the field of strategic execution. He also a co-founder of the Stanford Advanced Project Management program at Stanford University in Palo Alto, California, USA (http://www.apm.stanford.edu/).   Mark is the lead author of the book Executing Your Strategy, published by Harvard Business School Publishing in 2008. He is also the lead author of Executing Your Business Transformation published by Jossey-Bass in 2010.

Mark is a leading lecturer in a course in the MPM (Master of Project Management) program at Reykjavik University in Iceland. The course is titled “Program and portfolio management and sponsorship.” During the last visit of Mark to Iceland, he sat down with the program director, Prof Helgi Thor Ingason, for a discussion on the gap between strategy formation and strategy implementation in organisations.

Prof Helgi Ingason:          What are the roots and basic idea of strategy?

Mark Morgan:        The idea of corporate strategy emerged in the 1960s and over the last decades strategic management has been applied – to some extent – by most organizations. Strategic thinking and strategic planning has thus become quite important but the first ideas came from a mixture of consultants, academics and intellectual entrepreneurs such as Bruce Henderson, Bill Bain, Fred Gluck and Michael Porter. The basic idea of strategic planning, of envisioning a future and designing a path to reach that future position, is however more often described than actually executed in contemporary organizations. Many have lamented the lack of follow through on strategy and the gap between strategic planning and strategic execution. But why is that? Why do organizations find it hard to execute their strategy?

Ingason:      How does a typical organization formulate and execute strategy?

Morgan:       Based on my experience as a management consultant focusing almost entirely on the formulation of strategy and its execution, most organizations apply the ideas of strategic management to some extent. A typical company might recognize the need for a strategy, perhaps on their own or perhaps their board has asked for it. The management then convenes an offsite and bring in a facilitator to lead the process. The output of this offsite is typically a 3 inch binder or a massive PowerPoint file. Its destiny is to end in a desk drawer, book shelf or door stop or shared drive where it accumulates “dust”. Every year, the process is repeated.

The problem is that the strategic discussion seldom gets integrated with the actual operations of the company. Instead, these are treated as two completely different things, the strategy formation on one hand, and the operations on the other. A typical company does not treat the operating plan as the first year for the strategy implementation. Instead, a typical way to do it is to create an operating plan, driven by finance, by going through the annual budgeting process and produce a budget for the next year. Having done that, there might be time to consider strategy. This is however too late to be part of the budget and the important work required that emerges from strategic thinking becomes an exception to the operating plan that just got “booked”. It never enters the operational plan and only gets done by exception.

To put it differently, it is typically not a requirement of the strategic plan to drive a project portfolio that is reconciled to the resources required to execute it, let alone the accountability assigned to follow it through. Typically, the strategic planning process ends with a future vision with no commitment and no accountability. On the other hand, we have the operational process with no requirement to engineer the future. And in a typical organization, there is no bridge between those two aspects. This bridge – the execution – is a “no mans land.” A giant gap for the future to fall into.

Ingason:      Are we good at defining goals and doing what it takes to accomplish them?


To read entire interview (click here)