In my previous article (Strategy design and execution in education management – Part 1) we delved into strategic planning and how a single strategy is converted into multiple projects, also called portfolio of projects. In this text, we will focus on project execution, some of the main limitations and some solutions.
The Fortune magazine claimed, in 1999, that 70% of strategic failures are due to poor execution and in 2003, suggested that less than 10% of strategies are well executed according to the plan. Evidence endorsing this idea abound in management as a whole and education management is no exception. Strategy execution is difficult in practice for many reasons, but a key impediment to success is that execution is rarely seen as a set of techniques and control measures.
Therefore, successful strategies need not only sound planning but also efficient execution. In keeping with this, a PDCA cycle proves to be extremely helpful. It divides any project into 4 phases: Plan, Do, Check and Act.
In this stage, a document called project charter is designed. It has information about the objectives (always SMART), scope, risks’ analysis, premises, chronogram, deadlines, budget, scope, etc. I strongly recommend inviting key stakeholders (teachers, students, parents) whenever possible and appropriate to collect information in keeping with their expectations, needs and wants. Monitor stakeholders closely, especially the ones with high influence in the project.
This is the execution stage, the most important and more often than not, the most overlooked. This suggests that the execution phase has its own rules. Aspects that are overlooked are communication, clear roles and responsibilities, realistic deadlines, good time management and adequate guidance. Blind delegation and poor communication skills are often the main cause of poor execution.
“You can’t manage what you can’t measure”
We will now bring into focus the check or monitor stage. In strategy execution, what gets measured gets done. Taking this one step further, what gets measured closely and appropriately gets done faster. In order to guarantee that the processes involved with performance improvement are on track, managers need to use metrics such as KPIs and KRIs. A basic definition can be found below:
KPIs: Key Performance Indicators are the most important metrics related to the main aspects that will lead to the strategic results. They are linked to the means that will yield the results. Therefore, the performance aspects that are essential to produce the expected results.
KRIs: Key Result Indicators highlight whether or not the desired result(s) is/are being materialised or not.
A sound plan suggests what managers can expect in a given moment of the project. Hence, KPIs point out if the plan is working as expected. In case performance results are disappointing, a thorough analysis of the situation will provide decision makers with enough information to take action. Hence, management tools, KPIs, right problem solving techniques and decision-making tools are paramount to any strategy success. Moreover, when it comes to strategic planning, the better managers are equipped in terms of managerial tools and expertise, higher the odds of success.
To sum up, schools increase their efficiency when their strategy is clear. Moreover, strategies are better materialised through portfolio of projects and each project is conducted through a PDCA cycle. Each project has its own metrics such as KPIs and KRIs. When projects are efficiently monitored, problems can be pre-empted, mitigated or even addressed completely. Therefore, managing means monitoring, anticipating issues and acting accordingly. It has nothing to do with empiricism, gut feeling or any home-grown approaches. On the contrary, intelligent strategy planning and execution is a must if schools aim at being successful. While the approach outlined here will not guarantee success, it will greatly improve the odds. The same cannot be said about a laissez-faire management behaviour since, more often than not, it only produces stress, failure and frustration. A clear perception the goals, means, potential risks and mitigating measures are more than necessary. As Franklin Roosevelt states:
“To reach a port we must set sail –
Sail, not tie at anchor
Sail, not drift.”