How we do it

“If you want to control the output, control the process.”                   - Andrew McAfee


     Focus on Results    


We believe initiative leadership requires a discipline of defining and managing initiatives large and small.  While most companies have their own thresholds and requirements for business case, project management and the like, there are common themes necessary to achieve business objectives and outcomes.  Successful efforts begin by crisply defining the endpoint-measurable results to ensure focus and definition of completion.  Measuring and managing to the result throughout execution ensures not only an effective solution, but an efficient execution.

Initiative leadership  Considering the key principles and tactics discussed throughout this section, leading initiatives is ensuring the right blend of internal and external perspective, proven and promising thinking, and encouragement and control.  Successful initiative leaders never lose focus on the business outcome.

Key dimensions of results – Understanding and defining the key dimensions are important to inform the dialogue of leadership.  Getting results too late or by burning through too many resources is not a suitable outcome. There must be definition of success along multiple dimensions, many driven by the specific approach to execution.

  • Scope (benefit)
  • Schedule (calendar)
  • Resources (investment)
  • Stakeholder-specific requirements

Initiative dashboard – Existing and emerging technologies to track progress qualitatively and quantitatively are becoming more powerful and more real-time.  Based on the emerging collaborative platforms, this capability to see progress against the result dimensions, enhances executive’s ability and discipline for initiative leadership.

Most important throughout design and execution is ensuring the appropriate level of structure and management (e.g., risk management, change management and project management) to ensure executive alignment, feedback and refinement, collaboration, and support for management decisioning.

     Proven Tools    

Executive Alignment

Executive teams must provide both the vision for change and “active management” throughout execution.  Each leader must constantly work through political and emotional barriers to arrive at a rational consensus, and speak to the organization with a single voice.  We support senior leadership teams with decision frameworks, problem solving tools, individual coaching, and a flow of “fact based” and validated data to facilitate timely decision-making and to mitigate risk.

But there must be more. With the explosion of information and the accelerated pace of change in the business environment, decisions must be pushed down in the organization.  Instead of 5-10 strategic thinkers, there needs to be 100. Instead of 50-80 key decision makers, there needs to be 1000.  The executive team must develop new management routines to enable them to remain current on business activities and to assess and manage business risks across the spectrum of strategic and tactical initiatives executed by their delegates.

Execution roadmap – With a shared focus on business outcome, all initiatives are integrated into a single, visual, and dynamic plan that identifies resource and input constraints along a common timeline.  Key milestones are visible and published throughout the organization, and decision points and contingencies are identified.  Common and shared support activities are consolidated and managed as an integrated effort.

Decision map – Management decisions are incorporated as part of the critical path schedule, participating decision makers are identified, and their individual data requirements to make corresponding decisions are defined.  This decision support information is collected and presented as part of initiative management and is integrated into standard management routines.

Management infrastructure – Work product related to all roadmap activities and performance data identified as part of the decision map are made available to stakeholders on a common platform.  Decision makers can review progress, completed work, and support data on a real time basis; they may proactively conduct targeted reviews, or be automatically alerted when new information is available or when milestones have been reached.

Clear executive sponsorship and commitment to results coupled with the management team’s commitment resources and eliminating barriers are the differentiating factors to a successful effort and achieving targeted business outcomes.

Change Management

Our approach to change is focused on delivering business outcomes and is steeped in practical experience of designing and managing hundreds of initiatives.  While implementing change to achieve objectives with speed, predictability and control is complex, the elements summarized below are common to most strategic improvement efforts.

Stakeholder & environmental analysis – Identifying and defining the needs and preferences of stakeholders is an increasingly important responsibility of leadership.  Savvy management teams look for ways to group those stakeholders with similar-enough needs and preferences within the business environment and use these groupings to effectively and efficiently understand, inform and influence.

Change equation – All change occurs through changing the behaviors of people.  And people, be they staff, customers, consumers, or suppliers tend to resist change.  One way to think through the key elements of making change is analogous to an inequality:

Need for Change  *  Vision of Future  *  Steps to Achieve  >  Natural Resistance to change

Need for Change represents dissatisfaction with the present conditions, a compelling gap between “as-is” and the “to-be”.  Vision of the Future represents a positive picture of what is possible in the future.  Steps to Achieve the vision represents realistic actions and activities to reach the vision; requires both resources and approach.  Resistance to Change represents the natural and normal personal resistance to change (e.g., loss of control, too much uncertainty, surprise, confusion, loss of face, real and perceived threats, post-change issues, past resentments, perception of more work, etc.).  If any element of the change equation is not addressed through change management, the left side of inequality reverts to zero, and the inertia of your stakeholders’ natural resistance to change will overcome the change effort.

Clear roles and responsibilities – In order to manage change, all members of the change team need to know their role for each activity they are involved in, and recognize their role may vary from activity to activity.  While there are a number of unique roles to strategic improvement initiatives including sponsor, once the key activities are determined, one of four generic ARCI roles discussed in the table, namely Accountable, Responsible, Consult and/or Inform can be assigned to key stakeholders and team members.  A single position or individual may need to accomplish more than one role for a given activity.

Advocating for the vision, supported by a compelling, relevant and emotional story, similar to brand marketing’s tactics is critical to most strategic initiatives.  Also, we recommend crisply defined and reinforced responsibilities to increase focus, integration and performance.

Risk Management

We can never eliminate all risk, as risk-taking is a foundational element of business.  Risk management is a disciplined approach to think about, identify, quantify and act to minimize the impact of uncertainty within the critical dimensions necessary to achieve a targeted objective.

Risk management process – Beginning with the objectives and working back to what is necessary to occur to ensure success of our effort, we start with identification to maximize what risks are to be managed,  ranging, for example, from suppliers, the approach, the environment, and others.  Following identification with quantification of the probability and the potential impact to the approach or outcome, and completing the process with resolution through one of five generic action plans.

For mission-critical efforts more structure can drive to scenario analysis  — pairing high uncertainty with high impact on results  — to drive one of five generic approaches.

Risk action plans –  Acting on identified, quantified and prioritized risk to business, project and/or outcomes can be grouped into one of five generalized approaches.  This choice is an element of decisioning, leadership and management.

  • Avoid the risk, by altering objectives or methods
  • Transfer the risk, although this may transfer only liability
  • Mitigate the risk, or reduce likelihood and impact
  • Manage the risk by increased control and vigilance
  • Accept the risk as a cost of doing business

Leadership alignment to the appropriate level of risk management, coupled with the management team’s commitment to a comprehensive risk management approach, and integrated with other on-going efforts are critical to success of the initiative and the investment in risk identification, quantification and resolution.

   Differentiated Tactics    


We believe Swift-Teams exemplify the fusion of proven traditional change management and program management techniques enabled by emerging collaborative tools and methodologies, grounded in a “fail-fast-forward” philosophy.

As an engine for driving process and behavioral change into the organization, Swift-Teams provide short-interval deliverables, typically within three to four weeks. Each team’s work is sequenced with other on-going initiatives, and is managed via an integrated plan that lays out the scope and sequence of work/team modules.

The Swift-Teams are flexibly resourced from throughout the enterprise, supplemented as necessary with external experts, customers and partners. At the completion of each Swift-Team cycle precious resource assignments and individual projects may be efficiently adjusted.  Team characteristics include:

  • Client led
  • Collaborative (ValueRole™ supported)
  • Solutions driven
  • Visible and transparent
  • Iterative and adaptive

Swift-Teams are applicable to both leadership-driven strategic initiatives as well as smaller, tactical efforts with little or no leadership oversight.  The corresponding level of project management and program management is matched to a combination of task complexity, resource investment, and the implications of a Swift-Team’s failure to achieve their business objective/outcome.

Many organizations have had success with traditional cross-functional teams (e.g. Natural Work Teams), but consistency of implementation falls as the scope and duration of the team’s charter grows.  For example, resources appropriate for the beginning of the effort may not be right for subsequent activities, “insider/outsider” perceptions reduce ownership of the results, and the results-focus is weakened by time and changes.  The principle change with Swift-Teams is to design the work-break-down structure work packages with whole digit multiples of scheduled Swift-Team cycles (e.g., 3 weeks), to allow defined integration-points/milestones for hand-offs and resource adjustment

Rapid Assessment Framework

Aligning the organization around the question “What is most important?” is critical early in any effort.  NextForge has developed an objective “root cause” approach to assess enterprise performance and prioritize opportunities against 102 critical dimensions of enterprise health.  The approach can be conducted in a very short period of time, reaching a much broader representative base than traditional, qualitative interviewing methods, while adding a self-assessment and gap identification to initial issue identification and prioritization.

Business elements –  Our base model consists of fourteen (14) elements, each containing a number of sub-elements defined by a range of four observable statements of business practice (“best practice” to “no practice”); narrative comments can be also be collected.

Technology –  Utilizing a browser-based polling technology, managers, employees and other stakeholders record their observations of enterprise behaviors with a user-defined subset of the 14 business elements they identify as substantial barriers to business performance.  This multi-level assessment tool can very rapidly provide a picture for management from different perspectives, including any misalignment between positional and/or functional groups.

Company-  and industry-specific language can be added to tailor the instrument, and clarity can be validated by first conducting the assessment with a smaller sample (e.g. management team).  Individual anonymity is assured, but all responses are tagged with identifiable position/functional groupings.

Read more about this tool in the Online Aide.

     Emerging Tools    

Collaborative Frameworks

For the current generation of employees entering the corporate workforce, the web is the operating system for their life, the indispensable and unremarkable means by which they work, learn, share, and connect.  Web-based technologies offer an unprecedented opportunity for business improvement and collaboration. The key is to harness and focus the use of these technologies toward business results.

NextForge works to leverage your existing investments and identify additional light-weight technologies needed to unify fragmented parts of your organization, remove structural barriers, facilitate inter-dependencies across the wide breadth of the organization, and leverage the untapped potential of all employees.

In the near-term, existing collaborative platforms provide a home base for project collaboration through, for example, file-sharing, email archiving, project web-sites, forums, resource search, and project management blogs.  Each of these technologies are hosted within the platform environment, facilitate the management of project teams, provide a durable record of project decisions, while providing visibility into contribution and interim work product.

As the enterprise becomes dependable in the discipline of collaborative technologies, the tacit knowledge, the hard to get at knowledge of how work actually gets done, becomes institutionalized for the longer-term.  An additional benefit of capturing this tacit knowledge is broadly sharing these best practices throughout the organization- fueling smaller, continuous improvements- with an ultimate objective of reducing the number of strategic top-down initiatives required to fix today, freeing up resources to focus on preparing for tomorrow.

More important than the technology selected, and more difficult, is the adoption by the organization of a new way of working together; behaviors must change.  Critical changes to leveraging these emerging collaborative platforms include:

  • Management’s support through meaningful use of the tools.  For example, executive blogging to initiative teams, commenting and asking questions in forums, and periodically and informally checking work-in-process effort to provide feedback and direction.
  • Employee willingness to “work in the open.”  For example, an individual no longer can keep developing work private, with a grand unveiling when it is “done.”  Ownership and development activities belong to the work group, with the interim work accessible and revised in a continuous process.