Business strategic plans are essential to help develop a focus on achieving growth or other organizational goals. The strategies control strategic projects, for instance, the acquisition of technologies or the development of new products in ways that will lead to the achievement of specific objectives. Despite the value of strategic plans and proper development, studies show that organizations fail to achieve their goals due to poor execution (Bishop, 2017, 31). Sometimes managers complete their projects, but the results fail to add up to the overall firm goals. The development of good strategic plans is not a guarantee that project managers will deliver results that meets organizational objectives. Researchers have found that most business strategies fall due to poor execution in projects (Afandi, 2017, 48). Strategy execution is implementing and managing strategic plans in projects, including operational goals, systems, and structures to achieve organizational objectives. Improper execution means that projects proceed without incorporating the overall ideas needed to meet goals. There is a gap between strategic plans and their implementation in projects that leaders need to fill for success.
Research on strategy execution has attracted attention following uncertainties in organizational environments that affect the implementation of good strategic plans in projects. The economic environment, government regulation, competition, and technology changes affect organizations’ ability to meet their strategic projects’ objectives (Ichsan et al., 2017, 657). Such environments need appropriate approaches and skills to effectively execute the initial strategies on changing nature of projects with influence from the environment. As a result, researchers are investigating leadership in strategy execution to maintain focus on organizational goals despite changing environments. The adverse outcomes of failed alignment of business projects with strategic plans also lead to the study on strategy execution. Afandi (2017, 48) notes that failed incorporation of company strategies in IT projects can lead to poor organizational and performance outcomes and resource waste. Strategic plans define pathways towards achieving targeted performance. Failure to follow the plan implies that projects will not contribute to company gains leading to wasted time and finances. Therefore, researchers are investigating strategy execution in company projects to minimize waste and maximize objectives. The next section will assess the current literature on strategies that leaders use to execute organizational strategies in business projects.
Project Portfolio Management in Strategy Execution
Studies such as Orlandi et al. (2020, 4) have investigated the impact of project portfolio management (PPM) in executing organizational strategies with positive results. Orlandi et al. (2020, 4) and Ichsan et al. (2018, 2362) quantitative research employed questionnaire surveys to determine project portfolios’ alignment with strategic objectives. The questionnaires directed to project managers asked about portfolios’ use to balance programs and processes, monitoring strategic actions, assessing alignment levels, project prioritization, and formal authorization, among others. Orlandi et al.’s (2020, 4) application of questionnaire surveys was significant in the study to have objective data on how project managers use portfolios to meet organizational goals. According to Ichsan et al. (2017, 658), organizations use projects to implement strategies to achieve goals. Project managers are responsible for all activities, including monitoring, authorization, and balancing between processes and projects to accommodate the targeted strategies. As a result, a survey on manager’s use of portfolio management to execute strategies provides an appropriate research process and reliable data.
Orlandi et al. (2020, 4), Ichsan et al. (2017, 658), and Abubakar et al. (2018, 64) demonstrate that PPM provides dynamic capabilities for leaders to execute strategies by implementing different initiatives. The studies view organizational strategies as a set of processes that programs should follow to ensure they adhere to company goals. Such a perspective reveals the value of proper strategy execution to improve performance, efficiency and minimize waste which is a common organizational objective. In one of the studies, Ichsan et al. (2017, 669) found that portfolio management abilities positively impact strategy execution with project managers mediating the two. Project managers control the various management processes, including monitoring to assess whether they align with organizational strategies. The managers use PPM as a tool to execute various initiatives that align with organizational strategies. Ichsan et al. (2018, 2362) and Orlandi et al. (2020, 4) show that PPM is significant in ensuring optimal performance with minimal resource waste. Through PPM, managers can adjust or select projects that can face prevailing environments to maintain focus on specific goals, such as increasing customer satisfaction while ensuring proper use of resources in such programs. As a result, the studies show that PPM helps leaders overcome environmental uncertainties and ensure strategic orientation through processes such as monitoring to facilitate strategy execution.
Staff Inclusion in Strategy Execution
Nketia (2016, 474) and Zaidi et al. (2019, 2) investigated another leadership approach to execute strategies in projects that successfully require staff inclusion. In one of the studies investigating the impact of strategy implementation on employees, researchers found that the process affects staff performance, including output (Zaidi et al., 2019, 2). Organizational strategies define ways through which employees handle their tasks and behave. Although the management defines the strategies, employees are responsible for implementing projects, for instance, ensuring that the process leads to unique products. Zaidi et al. (2019, 2) reveal that employees can resist adopting initiatives that contribute to strategy execution. Such resistance results from feeling of isolation from the company or perceived negative impact on their job. Junior staff feels isolated from the company leads to dissatisfaction and resistance towards processes that support strategy execution (Nwachukwu et al., 2018, 54). The findings align with those from Nketia’s (2016, 474) study that found increased support to strategy execution where the process of strategizing is open. Employee involvement influences support of organizational change as models such as Lewin’s change framework reveals (Kabeyi, 2019, 31). Strategy execution is similar to organizational change since it defines new ways of carrying out tasks and behaving, especially in a project. The studies show that employee inclusion in strategy execution leadership can increase adherence and support of the various initiatives leading to success in aligning projects with strategic plans.
Apart from employee inclusion, studies have also investigated the role of strategy definition in successful execution within projects (Stukalina, 2016, 13; Ali, 2017, 3). In one of the studies to investigate the management of projects in the context of a university strategy, researchers found that inter-related strategies compete for resources and opportunities leading to inadequate alignment with the programs (Stukalina, 2016, 13). The study demonstrates that multiple strategic plans block successful execution. Such a barrier occurs since implementers are not aware of which goals to prioritize in competing needs. Leaders are responsible for defining strategies and committing to making employees and other stakeholders understanding important objectives under focus. A different study (Ali 2017, 3) found that employees’ inclusion in strategic planning and execution raises success in implementation. Employee engagement facilitates understanding of strategic plans as managers commit to making everyone be at the same level of understanding. The studies show that defining strategies and management commitment supports execution.
Challenges Facing Strategy Execution in Strategic Projects
Studies, for example, Van Der Waldt (2016, 2) and Al-Hajj and Zraunig (2018, 22), have also investigated and shown that some leadership and management approaches block strategy execution in strategic projects. Al-Hajj and Zraunig (2018, 22) use a qualitative approach to assess project practitioners’ data on their management styles and success. Data from project management processes were significant since managers serve as a conduit of passing organizational goals, mission, visions, and strategies to respective programs and staff. Failure in management to involve strategic plans and use appropriate leadership styles can lead to a waste of resources when results do not improve performance or serve other objectives. Van Der Waldt (2016, 2) observes that failed projects translate to failed execution of strategies since outcomes do not serve the needed roles. Projects can fail because of poor management. As a result, an investigation on strategy execution challenges through project practitioner’s data is reliable to provide objective information.
On the other hand, Van Der Waldt (2016, 2) used a mixed methodology with theories of management, organization project management, and strategic management to assess organizational levels of managing strategic plans’ alignments in projects. The researcher later used the result to quantitatively investigate a company’s adherence to approaches of strategy execution. Van Der Waldt’s (2016, 2) approach to investigating challenges in strategy execution is valid and reliable following a process that links management’s styles and the organizational environment with strategy execution. Implementing strategic plans involves management and organization commitment to managing resources and processes to meet the strategy demands (Rodríguez et al., 2019, 72). A qualitative approach assessing an organizational level of aligning to proper management practices was therefore reliable in providing data to investigate challenges in strategy execution.
Management Competence and Style
Al-Hajj and Zraunig (2018, 22) found that strategy execution might fail due to a lack of project management competence and appropriate style. Leaders and project managers have a strong command of programs, and other staff follows guidelines to show loyalty and trust. The role of managers is to interpret organizational strategies into initiatives that other staff can consume during implementation. Jawad et al. (2018, 2) report that success towards project implementation and strategy alignment depends on personnel knowledge, implementation strategy, proper control process, and management commitment. The managers develop a framework of projects and can choose to incorporate and commit to strategic plans. Jawad et al. (2018, 2) provide some of the management competencies and requirements whose lack can block strategy execution, including control processes. Monitoring project processes helps to correct areas that deviate from organizational goals, mission, and strategies. Managers’ commitment to projects can also challenge strategy execution where leaders care less about the benefits of results to the whole organization (Sholihah et al., 2019, 6273). Project managers focus on program outcomes alongside improved performance and efficiency for the whole organization. Failure to have the whole company perspective and commitment to overall success can block the incorporation of strategic plans in projects.
Studies, including Theodore et al. (2017, 363), have also found that managerial discretion also influences strategy execution and company performance. Theodore et al. (2017, 363) report that strategy implementation influences the relationship between managerial discretion and organizational performance. The statement implies that the implementation of strategies requires cognitive abilities to identify where processes do not align with organizational goals. Discretion is important in overall company management and strategy execution following the uncertain and changing company environment (Karlsson, 2019, 316). The ability to make informed judgments and choose a different process in a project enables managers to maintain the program within the organizational strategic plan. López‐Cotarelo (2018, 268) found that managers need management discretion to make appropriate choices that align with specific situations. Strategy execution requires such judgment capabilities because of the changing project processes. Although projects follow a plan, there is always room for adjustment with arising issues, for example, insufficient resources. Managers should judge whether changes in a project to meet its goals also align with overall organizational strategies.
Current research on the success of strategy execution in projects reveals that management strategies, skills, and competence are important towards appropriate implementation. The identified factors that lead to success or challenge strategy execution relate to project managers and organizational leaders, including portfolio management, employee inclusion, strategy definition, managerial discretion, and management competence and style. Researchers employ qualitative and quantitative approaches while others use management and organizational theories to show leaders’ impact on strategy execution. All approaches in studying the topic are consistent in showing that a manager’s style, skills, and competencies are significant in strategy execution. However, previous studies investigate factors related to low-level managers such as those in charge of projects and fail to investigate organizations and top managers’ role in successful strategy execution. Although the findings are consistent to show the impact of project managers, the studies also hint at companies’ influence, for instance, culture (Theodore et al., 2017, 362). Organizations also hold similar features and affect the styles and behaviors of project managers. For instance, company rules and regulations affect managerial discretion, influencing strategy execution (Sumadilaga et al., 2017, 1077). There exists a gap to identify whether companies also hold success factors in strategy execution. Future studies should investigate the impact of organizational culture, agility, and environment on strategy execution.
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