What happens between great strategy and less-than-great implementation? A report from project management training company ESI International attempts to find out. 

The report, “Powerless: Why Businesses Can’t Execute,” explains that the widening gap between strategic planning and actually doing is largely due to three factors:

  1. Constrained resources
  2. Demographic shifts
  3. Regulatory expansion

The report offers some ideas for accomplishing goals.

Strategies Fail From Poor Execution

ESI International cited Harvard Business School research showing that 90 percent of well-formulated strategies fail because of poor execution. And a Fortune magazine survey of Fortune 500 executives found that, while 82 percent felt their organizations could effectively plan strategy, only 14 percent thought they were effective on implementation.

Mark Bashrum, ESI’s Vice President and the report’s author, noted in a statement that, as large segments of the workforce approach retirement age, “a substantial amount of institutional knowledge may be preparing to walk out the door.” In addition to those retirements, the report said, the ability to deliver on strategy is threatened by workforce reductions and “the debilitating requirements of compliance initiatives.”

The report laid the blame for the gap on several factors. Organizational competencies that have developed over the past decade to improve agility and execution have been “eroded away by harsh economic realities,” it said. Similarly, it pointed to the disbanding or diminishing of support structures, such as a substantial reduction in the number of project management offices in the past year.

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Align Strategy with Business Outcomes

To address the problem of following up strategies with execution, the report recommends several, well, strategies.

ESI's report recommends that organizations develop project-focused resources that can align strategic objectives with business outcomes. It suggested that a baseline be established -- paying attention to current levels of skills and competencies required to achieve effectiveness. Using this strategy, progress can be measured, and a base level, at least, can be reached.

Editor's Note: Check out Driving Business Efficiency: Process and Project Management Fusion & the Impact of Time.

The report also advises creating coaching and mentoring programs, rebuilding and re-engaging the execution support structure, such as a project management office or a business analysis center, and focusing development efforts on their business impacts. “It is critical,” the report said, “that development efforts focus on measuring business outcomes rather than on the quality of the program.”