Project Management

Strategy Formulation is not Strategy Delivery

From the Servant Leadership: Serve to Be Great Blog
by , , , , , , ,
This blog is about leadership as it applies to projects and project management, but also as it applies to society in general. The bloggers here manage projects and lead teams in both business and volunteer environments, and are all graduates of PMI's Leadership Institute Master Class. We hope to bring insight into the challenges we all experience in our projects and in our day-to-day work, providing helpful tidbits to inspire you to take action to improve—whether in your personal life, your business/work life or on your projects. Read, comment and share your experiences as we share ours. Let’s make the pie bigger! Grab a slice!

About this Blog


View Posts By:

Cameron McGaughy
Catalin Dogaru
Mike Frenette
Suzan Cho
Jonathan Lee
Tolga Özel
Graham Briggs
Cecilia Boggi

Recent Posts

Strategy Formulation is not Strategy Delivery

Project Management is All Around Us!

The Servant Leadership Way: Virtues that bring Results

Acting a leader?

The Elusive PMO

A recent question on Quora prompted me to spend 20 minutes writing an answer because I believe it to be a critically important question.

The question was "How is strategic management used in project execution?" I didn't really want to answer that question, so I indulged myself and changed it to “How does project management fit with strategic management?”

Organizations must have a strategy. If they don’t, let’s just stop the conversation here.

Strategy needs to have a plan of execution. It is of no use for a bunch of executives to fly to some resort somewhere and dream up a strategy, then fly back, dispersing it to the minions, expecting that they will run off in all directions implementing it exactly as they envisioned. Strategy without execution is no more than a puff of smoke. It is where the rubber meets the sky, as we used to say at Michelin Tires.

Now let’s talk about projects. This is where the rubber meets the road. Others may have said that Projects are used to execute a strategy, and therefore must be aligned with the strategy.

I take a slightly different view. That is, Portfolios of Programs and Projects must align with the Strategic Intent of the organization.

Portfolios are often based on business units, answering the question “To be successful, what set of Programs and Projects must my part of the organization execute over this period of time, and for which I have funding, in order to meet the business goals set out for my part of the organization, interleaving with other parts of the organization?” The period of time may be a year, three years, five years or more; or changing continuously as in Agile Organizations - another topic.)

So you might ask, “What is a Program, then?”. I’m glad you asked.

A Program is a series of inter-related, and possibly inter-dependent projects, all of which must be executed to achieve a business benefit or set of benefits. That is, if any one of the projects is not executed (not necessarily at the same time), the business benefit cannot be achieved.

So - Projects are part of Programs (and for various reasons, if we define it this way, we must also say that a Program may contain many Projects or even only one Project). Projects deliver products, usually on time, on budget and to the desired level of quality using either traditional (predictive) or Agile (adaptive) methods. Products of projects are used to realize the benefits defined in the strategy and in this way set the stage for delivery of benefits, albeit not the actual benefits themselves. Benefits Realization Management is another topic for another day.

So how does all this answer the [modified] question?

Strategy is a must-have for any organization. Implementation or execution of Strategy has to be funded and planned. The best way to do this, in my view, is through Business-defined Portfolios containing Programs and Projects, that are created to be in lock-step with the Strategy, and through which executives who created the strategy cause their vision to become a reality.

It goes without saying that executives who implement their Strategies this way must provide the organizational resources required: their personal support, funding, people, and careful attention to change and how it will impact the organization. This raises the specter of Organizational Change Management, also a topic for another day.

I believe executives who set strategy and then empower their people to deliver it, providing the required resources and support whenever they need it, represent the epitome of Servant Leaders. Set the direction, trust your people and give them what they need to do the job.

What do you think? What is happening in your organizations? Is strategy delivery baked into your DNA? Or is it an annual talk about corporate vision that does little but excite people for a few hours a year?

Posted by Mike Frenette on: June 21, 2019 01:57 PM | Permalink

Comments (16)

Please login or join to subscribe to this item
Thanks, Mike. Definitely, projects can act as the spearhead of the organizations strategic vision, delivered as the outcome or through execution, i.e., automated testing strategy,

Well Explained . Thanks.

Too often, I've seen the latter: strategy is little more than an annual corporate pep talk to convince the workers that their tasks have meaning in some larger plan.

It's nice to work in place where we understand how our work contributes to the company's success. Ideally, our corporate strategy should also adapt based on the work we do.

Thanks Mike for posting valued topic

Good. Thank you for sharing and clarifying

Good one, and thanks for sharing.

This is so great, easy to understand and simple explanation, thank you!


Thanks for your ideas. I have had experiences where there was a disconnect between vision and execution. I believe that these are the two parts of strategy. As you say "where the rubber meets the sky" is the execution. To further your analogy, I've been involved with several "rubber meeting the road" efforts that in aggregate don't seem to combine together into coherent programs and portfolios let alone with corporate strategy. How I've tried to fix this in the past is to ensure that each of my project charters (purpose, success criteria, deliverables) contain a reference to a strategic KPI/OKR.

Thanks for the comments, everyone. John - just wanted to clarify that "where the rubber meets the sky" is describing strategy without execution, not the execution.

Aligning strategy with execution with a top-down approach to portfolio, program and project execution is the key. We as PPM professionals often find ourselves in a position where we try to "back into" strategy by pulling it into our project charters. I strongly feel that it needs to be the other way around. That is, before a project is even chartered, we already know to which program it belongs (even if it is a program of one project) and to which portfolio it belongs, and then to which part of the corporate strategy it relates.

I am fortunate to work in an organization that took this approach - delivering strategic intent through portfolios of programs and projects. It pays huge dividends through intense executive leadership, support and involvement.

One huge issue that is never addressed in project management forums is the commonsense notion that an organization’s strategy can be describable as “good” or “bad.”

Bad organizational strategy is common and good strategy is rare.

The following two sentences from the article are a criticism of bad strategy: “It is of no use for a bunch of executives to fly to some resort somewhere and dream up a strategy, then fly back, dispersing it to the minions, expecting that they will run off in all directions implementing it exactly as they envisioned. Strategy without execution is no more than a puff of smoke.”

Many writers in the project management space equate strategy as an “dreamed up idea.” Let’s call these dreams what they really are: goals, aspirations, and ambitions. Goals and aspirations are symptoms of bad strategy and not of good strategy.

A good strategy is one that that has the coherence of resources combined with appropriate leadership. Good strategy helps to marshal resources and coordination, moving the needle and creating impact.

Give me good strategy, adequate resources, and appropriate leadership. With them, strategy execution becomes a manageable challenge.

Thanks for your comments, Greg.

Whether a strategy is good or bad, planning and execution must follow in order to implement it. I agree that there is no point executing on a bad strategy. I must get your book on Amazon and find out more about the characteristics of good strategies.

"A good strategy is one that that has the coherence of resources combined with appropriate leadership. Good strategy helps to marshal resources and coordination, moving the needle and creating impact."

Exactly! I totally agree. And, in my view, coherence of resources means defining how the strategy will be executed. I believe this can be done through the definition of portfolios of programs and projects that are fully supported by the executives, appropriately resourced, and clearly linked to the strategy. The executives make sure the resources are committed: human, financial and whatever else is required.

Thank you Mike for sharing your views. Communicating the Strategy to the teams, aligning the strategies to Programs and Projects, execution, continuous support, measuring the progress/end results with proper metrics and revising (as needed) the Strategy are the key factors for SUCCESS!

Dear Mike
Interesting reflection on the theme: "Strategy Formulation is not Strategy Delivery"
Thanks for sharing

It reminded me:
“If you don't know where you're going, any road will take you there” - Lewis Carroll

It's the strategy that defines where we want to go.

Programs and projects take us there

Hi Luis. I really like your Alice in Wonderland reference and the vision you have implanted in my brain of a road comprising programs and projects taking us to our strategic goals.

Now... there are few other Alice in Wonderland quotes that might apply to organizations with vague methods for implementing strategy:

"Why, sometimes I've believed as many as six impossible things before breakfast."


"We're all mad here."

While mostly in agreement with the article, wish it had tried to define strategy in the context of business. Too often, strategy is confused with a performance goal. xx% market share is not a strategy; IMO, a strategy is an initiative trying to identify and address a significant challenge.

Please Login/Register to leave a comment.


"If you think you've hit a false note, sing loud. When in doubt, sing loud."

- Robert Merrill