Project Management

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This is a blog about Strategy Execution, about implementing change and driving ROI to the bottom line. It is intended for: Leaders and for Program, Project and Change Management practitioners trying to manage the weather systems of change raining inside the organization.

About this Blog


Recent Posts

Enterprise change vs Project change

Insights in Change Management—Interview with Kimberlee Williams, CEO, Ignitem (Part 1 Of 3)

What is leadership’s responsibility for driving and sustaining a nimble organization? Interview with Daryl Conner, Chairman, Conner Partners. Post 2 of 3

The strategic imperative of the "nimble organization" and the mirage. Interview with Daryl Conner

What is the Board’s Role in Strategy and Strategy Execution? Post 3 of 3

The strategic imperative of the "nimble organization" and the mirage. Interview with Daryl Conner

“The mind, once stretched by a new idea, never returns to its original dimensions.” ? Ralph Waldo Emerson

Daryl photo


In this post, I interview Daryl about what “nimble” means, why it is a strategic imperative, and why it seems to be so difficult for organizations to get traction with it.

For full disclosure, I work with Conner Partners, so I do have a bias. However, Daryl’s work of 40+ years speaks for itself—and you can make up your own mind. Please do share your comments below.


There are many definitions of “agile” and “nimble” in the business world. I know that you have a very precise meaning in mind. Would you share it?

Sure. The definition I use is “the organization’s sustained ability to quickly and effectively respond to the demands of change while delivering high performance.”

Some would say, “As long as you win the race you are first,” but I view nimbleness as a sustained, competitive, strategic advantage. It’s not enough just to ask, “Did we accomplish more change than our competitors this year?” Becoming truly nimble requires looking at the amount of energy that goes into accomplishing those changes and saying, “Was it optimized?”

In his own blog series, Nimble Organization, Daryl explores this further. In post 4 of that series, “Characteristics of Nimble Execution”, Daryl outlines the characteristics of organizations that are nimble at strategy execution:

Characteristics of Nimble Organization Daryl Conner

As he notes, two components work together—environment and application:

  • “Creation of the environment where nimbleness can flourish (reflected in the organization’s leadership, culture, and approach to change roles)
  • Creation of the application structures and processes that drive successful execution (reflected in the organization’s portfolio of initiatives and implementation architecture)”

How important is nimble for leaders today?

I published “Leading at the Edge of Chaos: How to Create the Nimble Organization” in 1998 and I thought then that I was late to the nimble game. But that was wrong. My first book, “Managing at the Speed of Change” (published in 1992), was about understanding how to implement the changes you have in front of you; “Leading at the Edge of Chaos” was about how to prepare for changes you can’t even envision.

The responses to the books, and many of the subsequent conversations I’ve had since their publication have been pretty consistent. There is an overwhelmingly positive affirmation of the idea of nimbleness. Leaders often say to me, “That’s exactly right. That’s what we have to do.”

I then make the point with them that, if you want your organization to be nimble, you have to treat executing change as a strategic capability. For example, it needs to be something you and your board talk about and take action on. This is when their interest in the idea of nimbleness starts to taper off. When it comes down to actually creating nimble DNA, I’ve found that very few leaders will invest the energy and mindshare that is required. They are so focused on the current change-related challenges that they can’t pick their heads up long enough to attend to a longer view.

Even though I‘ve had many such conversations with a wide range of executives, at this point in the discussion, I hear similar views: “Look, we are so overwhelmed with our existing portfolio of changes that you are going to have your hands full just teaching us how to deal with that. Isn’t it possible, Daryl, that if we manage this portfolio better with your help, we’ll automatically be more nimble? Can’t we leave it at that?”

My response is always, “Yes, you probably will be more nimble to an extent, but don’t confuse that with deeply embedding nimble DNA—at the level of personal mindsets and organizational structure—enough for people to be able to handle ongoing transformation as the norm. Will you be better prepared for new transitions after executing the changes you have before you? Of course you will, but that’s different than putting a stake in the ground and declaring that “It is imperative to become more intentional about being nimble…On my watch, this is going to happen.”

I have unsuccessfully made the case for years that being nimble is a crucial strategic advantage, not a luxury. Not that leaders aren’t responsive to the general notion, but actually following through with all the hard work involved in getting there is often not as well received. Getting a leader’s attention, interest, and enthusiasm isn’t that hard, but not many follow through with what it takes to actually build an enduring legacy of nimble operations. They almost always get diverted by the next crisis.

So, why don’t more organizations focus on becoming nimble?

There are many reasons, but one is that they fear they will have to stop what they are doing and pick up a separate task called nimble development.

That’s not really how it works, however. Shaping a nimble culture requires that leaders still do everything normally required of them, but they do it with the clear intention of fostering a nimble enterprise. For example, if an organization is seeking new talent anyway, why not hire people who have a predisposition for operating in a nimble fashion? Leaders know (or can learn) what those capabilities are and can incorporate a filter for nimble predisposition into their hiring criteria. Instead, I typically meet with leaders one week when they declare they are ready to move ahead with fostering a nimble culture (“We’re doing this!”), but by the next week, they meet with the board and there is a new customer service crisis or some other issue and all of their attention goes to that.

I’ve been fortunate over the years to work with several senior executives who were serious about architecting a nimble culture, so I’m not saying it never happens—I’m saying it is rare.

Does that mean organizations are not good at juggling multiple strategic priorities?

I think it’s more the reverse of that. They think they are so good at pursuing a huge number of priorities that they believe they can just add nimbleness to the ever-growing list of initiatives their organization must then endure.

More to come

Daryl shared more insights in the interview than can be covered in a single post, including thoughts on how leaders can manage their multiple strategic imperatives andstay focused on building organizational bandwidth and capability for “quickly and effectively responding to the demands of change while delivering high performance,” (i.e., a nimble culture).

Want to get started? Do contact Conner Partners directly or give me an email at [email protected] and we’ll find time to chat.

Thoughts? Reactions? Please share in the Comments section.

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Posted on: February 07, 2014 04:13 PM | Permalink | Comments (1)

Library—Great Books on Strategy Execution

We all have a “library” of resources we’ve read that have shaped our thinking and practice, which we reference. These are the books I reference. There are (many) more on my bookshelves but these are ones I recommend. My top four are in bold. (I couldn’t narrow it down to three.)  If you don’t see your favorites please share them in the comments section.

Business Planning:

  • “Corporate Canaries: Avoid Business Disasters with a Coal Miner’s Secrets,” Gary Sutton, Thomas Nelson, Inc., Nashville, Tennessee, 2005
  • “The Definitive Business Plan,” Richard Stutely, Prentice Hall, Great Britain, Revised Edition 2007

Change Execution:

  • “Execution: The Discipline of Getting Things Done,” Larry Bossidy and Ram Charan, Crown Business, NY, 2002
  • “How Organizations Work: Taking a Holistic Approach to Enterprise Health,” Alan P. Brache, John Wiley & Sons, New York, 2002

Change Management:

  • “ADKAR: A Model for Change in Business, Government and Our Community,” Jeffrey M. Hiatt, Prosci Research Inc., Loveland, CO, 2006
  • “Beyond Change Management: Advanced Strategies for Today’s Transformational Leaders,” Dean Anderson and Linda Ackerman Anderson, Pfeiffer, San Francisco, CA, 2001
  • “The Change Leader’s Roadmap: How to Navigate Your Organization’s Transformation,” Dean Anderson and Linda S. Ackerman Anderson, Pfeiffer, San Francisco, CA, 2001
  • “Change the Way You Lead Change,” David M. Herold and Donald B. Fedor, Stanford University Press, Stanford, CA, 2008
  • “The Dance of Change,” Peter Senge, Random House Inc., NY, NY, 1999
  • “It Starts with One,” J. Stewart Black and Hal Gregersen, Wharton School Publishing, New Jersey, 2008
  • “Leading Change,” John P. Kotter, Harvard Business School Press, Boston, MA, 1996
  • “Managing at the Speed of Change: How Resilient Managers Succeed and Prosper Where Others Fail,” Daryl Conner, Random House, New York, 1992, 2006
  • “Managing Transitions: Making the Most of Change,” William Bridges, Da Capo Press, USA, 2003
  • “Project Change Management: Applying Change Management to Improvement Projects,” H. James Harrington, Daryl R. Conner, Nicholas L. Horney, McGraw-Hill, New York, 2000
  • “Switch: How to Change Things When Change is Hard,” Chip and Dan Heath, Random House, Canada, 2010

Corporate Governance:

  • “What Directors Need to Know: Corporate Governance 2003,” Carol Hansell, Thomson Carswell, Toronto, Canada, 2003


  • “The Back of the Napkin,” Dan Roam, Penguin Group, New York, 2008
  • “Fierce Conversations: Achieving Success at Work and in Life, One Conversation at a Time,” Susan Scott, Berkley Books, NY, 2004
  • “Mind Maps at Work,” Tony Buzan, HarperCollins Publishers Inc., London, UK, 2004
  • “Resonate: Present Visual Stories that Transform Audiences,” Nancy Duarte, John Wiley and Sons, Inc., NJ, 2010


  • “As One: Individual Action, Collective Power,” Mehrdad Baghai and James Quigley, Penguin Group, NY, 2011
  • “Diagnosing and Changing Organizational Culture: Based on the Competing Values Framework,” Kim S. Cameron and Robert E. Quinn, John Wiley & Sons Inc., New York, 2006

Decision Support:

  • “The Opposable Mind: How Successful Leaders Win Through Integrative Thinking,” Roger Martin, Harvard Business School Press, USA, 2007


  • “How to Become a Great Boss: The Rules for Getting and Keeping the Best Employees,” Jeffery J. Fox, Hyperion, New York, 2002
  • “Mastery: The Keys to Success and Long-Term Fulfillment,” George Leonard, Penguin Books USA, Inc. New York, 1992


  • “Getting to Yes: Negotiating Agreement Without Giving In,” Roger Fisher and William Ury, Penguin Books, New York, 1991
  • “How to Get What you Want: The Negotiating Game,” Chester L. Karrass, Karrass Ltd., USA, 1992 

Organization Design and Development:

  • “Leading at the Edge of Chaos: How to Create the Nimble Organization,” Daryl R. Conner, John Wiley & Sons Inc., New York, 1998

Project Management:

  • Project Management Body of Knowledge, Third Edition, Project Management Institute, 2004


  • “Blink: The Power of Thinking without Thinking,” Malcolm Gladwell, Little Brown and Company, New York, 2005
  • “Freakonomics: A Rogue Economist Explores the Hidden Side of Everything,” Steven D. Levitt and Stephen J. Dubner, HarperCollins Publishers Inc. New York, 2005
  • “Krakatoa: The Day the World Exploded: August 27, 1883,” Simon Winchester, Perennial Classics, NY, 2005
  • “The Tipping Point: How Little Things Can Make a Big Difference,” Malcolm Gladwell, Little Brown and Company, New York, 2000
  • “The World is Flat: A Brief History of the Twenty-First Century,” Thomas L. Friedman, Farrar, Straus and Giroux, New York, 2005

Strategic Marketing:

  • “The Innovator’s Solution: Creating and Sustaining Successful Growth,” Clayton M. Christensen and Michael E. Raynor, Harvard Business School Press, Boston, Mass., 2003
  • “The PDMA Handbook of New Product Development,” Milton D. Rosenau, Jr., Abbie Griffin, George A. Castellion, Ned F. Anschuetz, John Wiley & Sons, Inc. New York, 1995

Strategic Planning:

  • “Blue Ocean Strategy: How to Create Uncontested Market Space and Make the Competition Irrelevant,” W. Chan Kim and Renee Mauborgne, Harvard Business School Press, Boston, Mass, 2005
  • “Competing for the Future,” Gary Hamel and C.K. Pralahad, Harvard Business School Press, Boston, Mass, 1996
  • “Good to Great: Why Some Companies Make the Leap…and Others Don’t,” Jim Collins, HarperCollins Publishers Inc. New York, 2001
  • “The Future of Management,” Gary Hamel, McGraw-Hill Ryerson Agency, 2007
  • “Re-Imagine!: Business Excellence in a Disruptive Age,” Tom Peters, Dorling Kindersley Limited, USA, 2003
  • “Strategy Maps: Converting Intangible Assets into Tangible Outcomes,” Robert P. Kaplan and David P. Norton, Harvard Business School Press, Boston, Mass., 2004

What’s on your bookshelf?

Posted on: February 02, 2012 10:16 PM | Permalink | Comments (0)

“Your culture is a competitive strategy – treat it that way” . Guest Post Mona Mitchell (“Culture eats Strategy” series Part 5)

Here’s another powerful voice from the “Culture eats Strategy” discussion currently running on LinkedIn in the Group Strategic Leadership Forum.  This one is from Mona Mitchell, CEO, Achieveblue Corporation.

I believe we must apply the same rigor to our culture strategy and development as we do to other core strategies.

Culture must be defined and measured, and continual improvement plans must be developed with the same degree of analysis, action planning and introspection as any other core strategy.

I believe that culture is not something that can be left for leaders to talk about in their annual report or trotted out for at town halls to the troops. It should not be a vague statement of nice words. You have to identify what is the Ideal culture required when you are defining your strategy and this must be done by the executive team. It might have some visionary titles but its components must be easily defined, understood and measured. It should be put in the context of the organization’s vision, values and strategies so that all can understand expectations at all levels of the organizations .

You should always have a measure of culture and once you understand the Actual operating culture against the Ideal, like any strategic process, there must be a strategy to close the gap. And this strategy must be as explicit as any strategy in the organization with accountabilities clearly defined and measurements in place.

This strategy can have and should have financial paybacks. These paybacks should be measured against other strategies.

Certainly the actions of an organization’s leaders will have a great impact in creating the climate that fosters the ideal culture. Many, when faced with the measurements and feedback, will understand how their own actions have created both the positive and negative aspects of the current culture, perhaps inadvertently.

If strategy is not deployed and you have a great understanding of your current culture, other structural issues can be identified which when addressed will substantially enhance the formation of an Ideal culture. These may be in areas such as physical or technological infrastructure; company business processes and policies; metrics or perhaps areas such as compensation and incentives. Again through prioritization and cost benefit analysis, we can identify those initiatives which can have the biggest benefit to our overall corporate success.

Mona is the President and CEO of Achieveblue Corporation, an organization focussed on growing and building vibrant organizational cultures. Mona is on LinkedIn here.

If you are interested in creating a “culture of change” – a “nimble” organization (“one that has a sustained ability to quickly and effectively respond to the demands of change while continually delivering high performance”) – check out a few posts from the master of change, Daryl Conner, here.  

And, if you would like to discuss strategy execution approaches we have implemented successfully for other Fortune 100 companies, it would be a pleasure to connect – you can reach me at [email protected].

Posted on: January 31, 2012 07:20 PM | Permalink | Comments (2)

“Breakfast for four” guest post Garrett Gitchell (“Culture eats Strategy for breakfast” series Part 4)

This is the third guest post in the summer series “Culture eats Strategy”. This one is from an experienced change management leader, Garrett Gitchell President of Vision to Work, Inc.  One of the things I have come to respect, and look forward to, in Garrett’s perspectives, is his willingness to poke the elephant in the room.

Culture, according to Webster, is:

“The set of shared attitudes, values, goals and practices that characterizes an institution or organization.”

 Strategy gives us a choice between: a battle definition, an evolutionary meaning or one which uses “stratagems” in its wording- denoting schemes, tricks and artifices of deception.

Breakfast just got interesting.

Culture develops with time.

 Inputs tweak culture (in the corporate sense, think M & A). With the tweaks new culture appears. Culture, despite ‘group think’ to the contrary, is malleable. In fact it is influencable. For example, in the change arena, adding social media or video conferencing can change the way people interact (which influences attitudes and values). 

In an opposite sense, taking something away can also form new culture. Best example? Consider the outcomes when a founder CEO retires.  Now think of the culture that would result from the removal (not replacement) of a performance management system. People would actually be free to work together toward goals. 

Culture does not challenge change. People do. They do it because structure and process give them the opportunity to. Done enough times that challenging becomes cultural. (Models and approaches to change that acknowledge challenge and resistance to specific change as commonplace do not help). Resistance is, in fact, one way TO change culture. Can you really be sure resistance is because of a specific change? Perhaps change is just the catalyst for calling out poor structure or process?

 Add strategy to the mix.

 Now we can do battle, evolve or craft a sneaky move to end states (the outcome of the strategy/vision- defined and described through the perspectives of different stakeholders).

 End states, our chance to add some civility to this meal.

 End states show what is missing and what can be carried forward (skills, competencies, people and yes culture) and what needs to be added and/or developed (same list). By extension a good strategy must determine what the culture would be for that end state. If it is not the same as the present (hint: of course it is not- disturbing the status quo IS change) then some inputs may be needed to mold new culture.

 Good strategy, especially for big change, can effectively eliminate culture (as it was).

 Of course the CURRENT culture will challenge any change in some way. That current culture, because of the challenge, will begin to change and adapt.

 Go back up to our culture definition, it is “practices” that will get in the way of strategy. A few practices that I find hard to define as culture anymore since they are so common:

  • Buck passing
  • Organic decision making
  • Selfish approaches to task accomplishments
  • Committees
  • Multiple levels of approval

 People, like culture, can be surprisingly flexible, strategy is at the beginning so can be defined.

Beware the elephants in the room- structure and process.  They frequently take their breakfast of strategy and culture. Culture is the result of the two (so tweaking either will change culture) and strategy needs all three- structure, process and culture- to succeed (plus people of course).

 Our guests, structure and process, should perhaps receive a little more attention at this breakfast.

 Garrett is an outstanding speaker and consultant.  He runs his own firm in the San Francisco Bay Area, Vision to Work, and also writes a blog challenging us all to think differently about issues around change – More about Garrett on his website and blog here and you can find Garrett on LinkedIn here.

If you have a Strategy that is a business imperative and would like to discuss the approaches we have implemented successfully for other Fortune 100 companies it would be a pleasure to connect – you can reach me at [email protected]

Posted on: January 31, 2012 07:19 PM | Permalink | Comments (0)

Survey says “Issues of the 21st Century are more complex”. Guest post Walter McFarlane (“Culture eats Strategy” series Part 3)

“Culture eats strategy (change) for breakfast.” True? Are our current organizational cultures up for the strategies of 2011?“. 

Yes, and survey says …

This question was posed on LinkedIn in the Groups “Organizational Change Practitioners” and “Strategic Leadership Forum” back in January and over 600 insightful posts were contributed.  This is the second guest post in a series excerpted with permission from that discussion. 

Walter McFarland is an experienced, consulting executive who believes “The human and organizational performance issues of the 21st Century are more complex–and more important–than ever before.  Building a high performing 21st Century workforce will require fresh perspectives and bold action.”.  His post:

I just wrapped up a research project for Oxford and HEC Paris that looked at one facet of internal Change Leadership. It was a qualitative look but had an interesting sample: 3 Fortune 300 or better organizations and two global not-for-profits. Central question turned on what most influences leaders’ thinking about Change?

You guessed it. Recent experiences with Change in the context of the current organizational culture was first of the lot. In fact, the leaders I interviewed were unable to discuss Change outside the context of their organization. They saw deep understanding of the current culture–and how to function within it–as a key qualification for Change Leaders.

They also frequently spoke about the notion of building a “culture of Change” in order to better align the culture with the new reality of nearly continuous Change. Interestingly, they both loved and feared this notion. On the one hand, such a culture might be faster and more agile in executing Change–hence giving competitive advantage. On the other hand, such a culture might be distracting to core business operations. In their minds focusing too much on Change could threaten viability. They often mused about what an optimum 21st culture might look like.

A common answer–at least to them–involved creating cultures that integrated Change into the culture not as a discrete activity–but as an increasingly routine business activity.

Walter is on LinkedIn here.

If you are interested in creating a “culture of change” – a “nimble” organization (“one that has a sustained ability to quickly and effectively respond to the demands of change while continually delivering high performance”) – check out a few posts from the master of change, Daryl Conner, here.  

And, if you would like to discuss strategy execution approaches we have implemented successfully for other Fortune 100 companies, it would be a pleasure to connect – you can reach me at [email protected]

Posted on: January 31, 2012 07:18 PM | Permalink | Comments (0)

"Too bad all the people who know how to run the country are busy driving taxis and cutting hair."

- George Burns