Jim Sutton

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Taking the Business Performance Bridge

TAKEAWAY: One way to facilitate business performance is to intervene right at the hand-off between strategy and execution. New energy and approaches are being applied at this point of hand-off, using it as a bridge  to promote change, simplify, and increase diligence.

In the war of business, there’s a vital bridge between strategy and execution. This is the bridge where companies move from ideas to reality, and the battle fought here often determines the outcome of the war. You need to take this bridge, maintain it and use it to your advantage. However, many companies fail to accomplish the mission. Too many don’t see the battle line, or take it for granted, or don’t take the required deliberate steps.

It’s an up hill battle if direction has been less than clear or incomplete, multiple plans are in play, and the troops are looking for clarity or even find themselves at odds with each other (friendly fire). With supportive leadership and a meaningful strategy and objectives that are expected to drive behaviors and performance, what can a company do to take the bridge, to bring the strategy to life and perform as desired?

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Process is the Blood of Business Performance

We’ve all heard that you can’t improve what you don’t measure. Even more basically, you can’t measure what doesn’t exist. Not everyone is in a bloody process mess, but in cases where you hear “we don’t really have a process” the key word is really. If they are delivering a product or service, they have at least the essence of a process. Processes might not be formal or agreed or understood, which in turn makes them susceptible to waste and variation and manipulation, but they get manage to get things delivered. All things considered, such a situation usually provides no real basis for improvement, it is more a definitional exercise, and might best benefit from something like DFSS. Companies might need a blood test if up to now they were freely growing up and not worrying about processes, if they are made up of companies that have been merged together or otherwise “re-engineered”, if they come to find their efforts more subjected to compliance and complexity, or if they have reached a performance ceiling.

It’s never been productive, and today it’s evermore untenable, to be stuck speculating about what could be done and should be done versus what’s said to be done and what is actually done. But it happens – quite a bit. Companies get stuck in such a rut and are hard pressed to get out. Like plaque in the blood stream, it’s hard to clean up even if you know it is there. And why is that? The short answer has to do with the need for the blood system (process) to work in conjunction with the nervous system (rules) as attached to the brain (strategy-goals-objectives), all of which is affected by DNA (culture), and ultimately the soul (individual behaviors), which in total reflects and sustains meaningful life (operational capabilities).

So let me slow down here before I get my blood pressure up. Please don’t get me wrong on ideas like collaboration and refinement. It’s more than okay, it’s necessary to speculate and think deeply about process. But such thinking must be characterized by movement toward closure and readiness to assume associated responsibility. Apply the tourniquet. Beware of sending process off to committee. Processes and process ownership cannot be sacred cows – they are too important to health.

Theoretically, the company (the body) owns the processes (the blood). But process is an easy target. Everybody knows the blood is in there and for whatever reasons, could try to draw it. This does not usually work and is not advised. Processes are an element of the business architecture that also need some applied ownership. The rightly skilled people need to be entrusted with the right degree of formalized ownership. To keep efforts vital and unconstrained (“disease free”), process ownership should include: 1) the associated process performance ownership – not just a determination of what needs to be done; 2) real experts – either directly or through defined direct communication mechanisms; and 3) a clear defined path to influence (and in some cases control) the interdependent architectural elements (such as policy/rules) and fundamental enablers (such as leadership and IT).

Of course, processes represent precious intellectual property that must be protected – it is lifeblood.

Image: renjith krishnan / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Business Fusion and Performance via PPM

TAKEAWAY: Project & portfolio management (PPM) has come along well in recent times, primarily by IT in the course of building business-IT relations. In some cases this PPM discipline can be viable to strengthen the enterprise.

Kudos to the IT community for putting new structure and discipline around project & portfolio management (PPM). Not only does PPM present the opportunity to build business-IT relations and alignment, PPM can be used to inject all manner of goodness into business capabilities and performance at large.

PPM sits at the junction between the business architecture and the underlying business model – the performance crossroad. A progressive adoption of PPM can be a gatekeeper, reinforcing positive change and behaviors. Approach it as  IT or IT governance only and you might be missing some attractive opportunities.


PPM is typically adopted to promote transparency and understanding in terms of how IT is to be developed and deployed in support of business objectives. The basics include things you might expect or use within a program management office (PMO), addressing such as project criteria and prioritization, funding allocation and appropriation, and deliverable specification (and satisfaction) in context of business requirements. PPM brings some formalization to business-IT interactive processes and gets everybody on their toes.This typical application of PPM can help keep a spot light on the chronic worry of IT spending, the percentage spent on sustain versus new development, etc. Importantly, it also helps protect against the usual reasons IT projects don’t live up to their expectations.

Then one day there can be an epiphany. PPM is really working well as relates to the IT projects and portfolio. So why can’t this structure and efficiency be applied to the corporation’s wider interests, to all the classes of projects and the associated investment portfolio? Is there existing redundancy, and if so, is it really needed and can it be afforded?

Consider that many projects are undertaken to establish new capabilities. And when it comes to establishing those capabilities in business operations, the business-IT fusion has to be there. And this fusion is much more flowing and probable and effective if it has been established and in evidence from the top down.

The suggestion is that PPM can grow beyond IT in scope and benefits. To do so it has to be a dynamic exchange characterized by good communications and structured control. Artfully executed, stronger business-IT fusion can begin to creep in, and the PMO function is elevated to the enterprise. This could bring it to the point where all things are more aligned, and where there is less tendency for “shadow IT”.

While the benefits of progressive PPM can be seen on a project basis, benefits can go up and some forms of complexity can go down when the discipline is applied to the enterprise portfolio. By doing planning and prioritization in one spot, it can foster an atmosphere of trust and ownership, and facilitates good cross-functional learning. PPM can become a center of knowledge and expertise, providing an excellent forum to drive to common terminology and practices, such as lean. Positioned and defined this way, PPM can be used to deliberately manage change. It can be used as the company’s focal point for definition of key processes and their associated key performance indicators (KPIs), and merged with process automation.

Business-IT integration is always going to happen in some fashion. PPM, especially when applied as an enterprise enabler, just makes it more predictable and productive. PPM might start for IT oriented purposes, but can be extended for wider business interests. PPM as suggested might be one of those crawl-walk-run propositions, probably starting with a rigorous self-examination that assumes a willingness to take on some challenging realities.

Freebies to Apply Competitive Strategy

These things are not only free, they’re important. Regardless of where you sit in the company or how big it is, one size fits all. There is no schedule – you can do these now or anytime. It’s up to you. And good for you if they’re already habit.

Think Strategically

Put yourself in the place of the business owner, be and act like her/him, maybe with a magic wand. Think about the big picture. Don’t be consumed by tactical thinking. Look outward, with a customer and market orientation.

Understand Customer Needs

Know your customer, and your customer’s customer.  Understand what your customer is trying to do, how they are doing it, how they measure success, and how others measure them.

Uncover Innovation and Value

Be committed to continuous learning. Learn to learn, and do it. Network, formally and informally, and interact with all levels of your teams. Forge strategic partnerships and alliances. Be a hub of communication with an attitude of plenty.  Be involved and demonstrate endless curiosity. Develop personal relationships and commitments. Don’t be afraid to show you care and that you don’t know everything.

Execute and Work to Closure

Work to scale with your customer, giving them what they need now, knowing that you can build on it. Get value-adding things done in the here-and-now, with consideration for your customer’s specific situation and abilities. Done right, this is more a sense of purpose and conviction than urgency.

Embrace and Promote Change

Never forget that the things above (really everything) has to be done in context of constant change. You have to be in touch with change and facilitate it. Make time and build a reasonable working understanding of what it takes to change organization, culture, and technology at various levels. Don’t fight it – you cannot win.

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