Strategy execution

Overcoming the alignment trap


Advances in Project Management


By Prof Darren Dalcher

Director, National Centre for Project Management

United Kingdom


The success of a vision is only as enduring as its execution. There is perhaps nothing more frustrating than to observe a beautiful strategy conceived in response to a promising big opportunity or cutting edge innovation, which succumbs to the vagaries and twists of life during an attempt at executing it.

A brilliant strategy, blockbuster product, or breakthrough technology can put you on the competitive map, but only solid execution can keep you there. You have to be able to deliver on your intent. Unfortunately, the majority of companies aren’t very good at it, by their own admission.’ (Neilson, et al., 2008; 60)

Sir John Reginald Hartnell Bond who retired as Chairman of HSBC Holdings plc, after 45 years with the bank, famously remarked that ‘there are few original strategies in banking; there’s only execution’.

Indeed, strategy execution appears to be difficult to carry out successfully. Sull, Homkes and Sull (2015; p. 60) refer to a survey of more than 400 global CEOs that found that executional excellence is the leading challenge facing corporate leaders in Asia, Europe and the United States, topping a list of over 80 issues, including geopolitical instability, top-line growth and innovation. The authors further concede that multiple studies indicate that between two-thirds and three-quarters of large organisations struggle to implement their strategies. Similar figures are regularly quoted in most strategy textbooks.

If execution is so important, why is it so neglected? To be sure, people in business aren’t totally oblivious to it. But what they are mostly aware of is its absence. They know deep down that something is missing when decisions don’t get made or followed through or when commitments don’t get met. They search and struggle for answers, benchmarking companies that are known to deliver on their commitments, looking for the answers in the organizational structure or processes or culture. But they rarely apprehend the underlying lesson, because execution hasn’t yet been recognized or taught as a discipline. They literally don’t know what they are looking for.’ (Bossidy & Charan, 2002; p. 31)

The problem with execution

Beer and Eisenstat (2000) note that while successful companies comprehend that they need a good strategy before proceeding to appropriately realign structure, systems, leadership behaviour, human resource policies, culture, values and management processes, many obstacles lie between the ideal alignment and the reality of implementation.

For one thing, senior managers get lulled into believing that a well-conceived strategy communicated to the organization equals implementation. For another, they approach change in a narrow, non systemic and programmatic manner that does not address root causes.’ (ibid.; p. 29)

Beer and Eisenstat point out that doctors refer to high cholesterol as a ‘silent killer’ because it blocks arteries with no obvious outward symptoms. They contend that organisations similarly have their own silent killers operating below the surface (i.e. within the shadow side of the organisation). These mutually reinforcing barriers block strategy implementation and organisational learning required for successful innovation, development and growth.

Beer and Eisenstat’s research identifies the most often mentioned major barriers to strategy implementation observed within the organisations they studied. The six ‘silent killers’ (p. 32) are:


To read entire article, click here


Editor’s note: The PMWJ Advances in Project Management series includes articles by authors of program and project management books published by Gower and other publishers in the Routledge family.  Each month an introduction to the current article is provided by series editor Prof Darren Dalcher, who is also the editor of the Gower/Routledge Advances in Project Management series of books on new and emerging concepts in PM.  Prof Dalcher’s article is an introduction to the invited paper this month in the PMWJ. 

How to cite this article:
Dalcher, D. (2018), Strategy execution: Overcoming the alignment trap, PM World Journal, Volume VII, Issue 5, May 2018. https://pmworldjournal.net/wp-content/uploads/2018/05/pmwj70-May2018-Dalcher-strategy-execution-overcoming-alignment-trap.pdf

About the Author

Darren Dalcher, PhD

Author, Professor, Series Editor
Director, National Centre for Project Management
United Kingdom


Darren Dalcher, Ph.D. HonFAPM, FRSA, FBCS, CITP, FCMI SMIEEE SFHEA is Professor of Project Management, and founder and Director of the National Centre for Project Management (NCPM) in the UK.  He has been named by the Association for Project Management (APM) as one of the top 10 “movers and shapers” in project management and was voted Project Magazine’s “Academic of the Year” for his contribution in “integrating and weaving academic work with practice”. Following industrial and consultancy experience in managing IT projects, Professor Dalcher gained his PhD in Software Engineering from King’s College, University of London.

Professor Dalcher has written over 200 papers and book chapters on project management and software engineering. He is Editor-in-Chief of Journal of Software: Evolution and Process, a leading international software engineering journal. He is the editor of the book series, Advances in Project Management, published by Routledge and of the companion series Fundamentals of Project Management.  Heavily involved in a variety of research projects and subjects, Professor Dalcher has built a reputation as leader and innovator in the areas of practice-based education and reflection in project management. He works with many major industrial and commercial organisations and government bodies.

Darren is an Honorary Fellow of the APM, a Chartered Fellow of the British Computer Society, a Fellow of the Chartered Management Institute, and the Royal Society of Arts, A Senior Member of the Institute of Electrical and Electronic Engineers, a Senior Fellow of the Higher Education Academy and a Member of the Project Management Institute (PMI) and the British Academy of Management. He is a Chartered IT Practitioner. He sits on numerous senior research and professional boards, including The PMI Academic Member Advisory Group, the APM Research Advisory Group, the CMI Academic Council and the APM Group Ethics and Standards Governance Board.  He is the Academic Advisor and Consulting Editor for the next APM Body of Knowledge. Prof Dalcher is an academic advisor for the PM World Journal.  He can be contacted at [email protected].

To view other works by Prof Darren Dalcher, visit his author showcase in the PM World Library at http://pmworldlibrary.net/authors/darren-dalcher/.