Galloping to Greatness In Strategy Implementation - PART 1 / by John Schlichter


The verb "to manage" was originally derived from the Italian word "maneggiare," meaning to handle and train horses. This interesting bit of etymology got me thinking that one could demystify the way that capabilities in strategy-implementation are created by talking about it in terms of horse-racing. We are actually interested in how to help organizations become capable of choosing good projects and delivering them well to implement the organization’s strategies. That’s what we do here at OPM Experts LLC. But pretending that horse racing is our interest can be a useful thought experiment. Secretariat, Man o' War, Phar Lap, Black Caviar, and Native Dancer are some of the legendary horses from world-class racing teams. One should learn from these examples that world-class management capabilities aren't built in a day. Every photo-finish of competitors galloping across a finish line was a journey that began well before they set foot on the track. There are agendas that one must progress through.



The first agenda or level of maturity in horse racing  is called "Standardization," and it requires us to do the following:

  • Establish "process governance." This means we must engage the team’s owners (executives) and coaches and riders (process owners) and enroll them to help us lead the transformation of the horse racing team's capabilities.

  • Articulate policies. This means that we must identify what is important about the performance of the horse racing team, including which processes are most important for the horses to be able to perform in the way that their owners want them to perform.

  • Document processes. This means that we need to write down the essential steps of the important processes so that both the practitioners and the owners agree to them.

  • Train stakeholders. This means that we need to train all the necessary stakeholders in the things listed above, including the process governance structure, the policies, and the documented processes. We need to train them in a way that enables them to experience their own competence.

  • Establish oversight. This means that we need to implement roles and protocols that ensure consistent implementation of work methods.

These things (above) are necessary to create the foundation for building a world class horse racing team. You can see that there are aspects pertaining to the riders and aspects pertaining to the horses. The same is true for building world class performance in your project, program, and portfolio management systems. To become capable of implementing your organization’s strategies successfully, consistently, and predictably, start with standardization. Several other agendas follow, which will clarify the difference between “maturity” and “capability,” two concepts that nearly everyone confuses. Stay tuned for Part 2.