Managing Priorities: Looking for a Leaner & More Efficient Way?
Is your big project suffering from stakeholder aversion?
Managing Priorities: Looking for a Leaner & More Efficient Way?
Is your big project suffering from stakeholder aversion?
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How to Bring Your Ambitious Strategies to Life? The answer is Super Projects

How ambitious is your strategy? Is it a moonshot with big hairy audacious goals?  Will it transform your organization, perhaps even its industry?

If the answer is yes, then another question immediately arises: What is it going to take to deliver on your ambitious strategy? Answering that question is the focus of our research.

A Super Question

What is it going to take to bring your ambitious strategy to life? Whether it is a strategy for digital transformation or taking a new product to market, what will be required to make it happen? 

You may be thinking it will take a long list of things, including talented people, organizational commitment, sufficient resources, and so on. Of course, these things are among the essential ingredients of success. But, how to bring it all together?  What is the overall framework for making it happen?

Given the level of ambition, an ordinary or everyday project is unlikely to be enough. A piecemeal, ad-hoc or lack-luster approach won’t work. It is going to take a massive, sustained and coordinated effort, together with careful planning and intelligent / adaptive execution.

In short, your ambitious strategy will require a super project to make it happen. But, have you got one?

Is Yours a Super Project?

Is yours a super Project? Could, or should it become one? Before rushing to answer, pause for a moment to reflect.

The answer to the super project question isn’t always straightforward.  The response is likely to vary depending on:

  • Who you ask, for example whether you ask the CEO, or a member of the project team.
  • When you ask them, for example if you ask the person in public, such as at a town hall, or in private.

Moreover, the desired answer isn’t always ‘yes, it’s a super project’. For example, maybe you are at the pilot or planning stage, and it is too early. Besides, what does it even mean to be a ‘super project’?  What does it take to qualify for ‘super project' status? These are issues at the center of our research.

What are Super Projects?

Every super CEO needs super projects, every super strategy needs them too.

‘Super Projects’ are, super ambitious, super confident and super aligned. They, are also characterized by super complexity and super collaboration.

CEOs love super projects. Wall Street loves them too! Whether it's an internal re-organization or the launch of a new drug or technology, super projects have the potential to transform organizations, even industries and societies.

Super projects matter! They deliver on the strategy, they bring the vision to life. Super projects are the vehicle for change and innovation – they promise to shape the future.

Why the term ‘Super Projects'?

We use the term ‘Super Projects' because our particular focus is on big, bold and important projects, programs or initiatives – those that shape the future of organizations, even industries1.

However, there's another reason for using the term ‘Super Projects'.  It is to reframe the conversation, encouraging senior executives, in particular, to look at the issue of change, transformation and executing on ambitious strategies in a new way. 

This reframe is important because the word ‘project' isn't always helpful. Indeed, it can alienate many senior leaders.2 Words such as ‘transformation' and ‘change' have as much, if not more, negative baggage.

There is a lot of talk about failure and frustration when it comes to both projects and transformation. We believe much of it is unhelpful, perhaps even misleading3.   

We would rather focus on super, rather than failed or failing projects, on success rather than failure. The technical term for this is Appreciative Inquiry, and it can result in much more powerful conversations4

Our goal is to channel some of the fatigue around transformation and disillusionment regarding change into curiosity and excitement around super projects. This won't be achieved by mere word play, however. The objective of this book is to share real stories and practical strategies for success. The aim is to create a playbook for executing on ambitious strategy at a time of accelerating change and uncertainty.

A Super Challenge

Super projects can get leaders hired and, if they go wrong, fired.

Successfully delivering super projects is one of the most challenging things that organizations do. If the widely reported rates of failure and frustration re transformation and change (typically put at 70% plus) have a value, it is to highlight just how complex and demanding it actually is. 

Existing in the gap between planning and execution, super projects are the most difficult part of strategy. There are where ‘the rubber meets the road' – where visions and aspirations come into contact with reality.

Typically, super projects have super PR. After all, ‘bigging-up’ projects is essential to securing resources. But, don’t be fooled by the hype, super projects are reality, rather than myth. They have a messy side too. Although hidden from view, this is part of what really makes them ‘super’.

Super Real

You might be thinking that everything about super projects is ‘super’, but that's not exactly true. Away from the public gaze, even super projects have moments where their teams are overburdened, and their plans are called into doubt. They must wrestle with a long list of challenges –  internal bureaucracy, scarce resources, changing business needs and priorities, misaligned stakeholders, etc.

In reality, it is difficult for any project or initiative to be ‘super’ all the time – to be super ambitious, super confident and super aligned.  No matter how much those leading wish it was so.  It is also difficult to ensure super teamwork and collaboration, too. To pretend otherwise flies in the face of the reality of working in a large organization. Also, in the face of the much publicized (if somewhat exaggerated) rates of big project failure.

No False Starts!

So many books on big projects, transformation and even strategy, get off on the wrong foot. At least somewhere in the opening pages, if not the opening paragraphs, you will find the usual statistics regarding the level of failure involved.  Typically, the numbers suggested range from 70% to 85%, or even higher. 

Even if we really believed the figures (or believed that they were helpful), that's not a mistake we're going to make with this book.  We're not going to start by telling you that you're probably going to fail. Rather, we are going to focus on how you and your ambitious project or initiative can and will succeed. 

That doesn't mean we will to shy away from the risk and obstacles.  Rather, like those who are leading super projects, we will lean into complexity, embracing the real-world challenges of making ambitious things happen within large organizations.

This book is a good news story.  It is about how leaders are navigating change and complexity to bring ambitious projects and initiatives to life. It is a homage to those who are making it happen, despite constraints, obstacles and setbacks.  It draws inspiration from those ambitious leaders who are going to extraordinary lengths to shape their organizations, their industries too. 

A Surprising Super Power

Paradoxically, ‘super projects’ are not super because they don't have flaws, or don't face obstacles, but rather because they do.

They are ‘super’ because, despite everything that is thrown at them – internal bureaucracy, scarce resources, misaligned stakeholders, etc. – they keep on going. Being undaunted by challenges and setbacks is what really makes projects and the teams running them super. That is the 5th Superpower, we call it ‘moxy’. 

“Moxy” is a colloquial term to describe someone's ability to face challenges with courage, determination, and energy.  We also define it as ‘thriving in the mess'.

Dedicated to the New Organizational Super Hereos

Our previous books were dedicated to heroes – to people who achieved extraordinary things and possessed extraordinary talent, discipline and skill. Our last book was dedicated to Michael Schumacher, for example. This book follows the same trend, but without mentioning any specific individuals by name.

It is dedicated to all those who are leading, sponsoring and contributing to super ambitious projects, programs and initiatives. Whether it is the successful launch of a new drug or the implementation of a new technology these are the unsung heroes at the forefront of change today. They are shaping their organizations, industries and even societies.

However, being at the forefront of change – at the ‘coal face' or cutting edge of strategy and ambition – isn’t easy.  Our heroes can find themselves pulling and pushing for change, while their organizations, or parts thereof, seem reluctant or are easily distracted. Thus, it can be a lonely and stressful journey, often requiring tremendous personal sacrifice.

Although they are no strangers to setbacks or disappointments, our super project leading heroes refuse to listen to those who say that it cannot be done.  Despite everything that is thrown at them – internal bureaucracy, scarce resources, misaligned stakeholders, etc. – they keep on going.

To those who make super projects happen, telling your story is our priviledge.

We support super projects and super teams, how can we support you?

SOLUTIONS & SERVICES: Here are some of the ways that our research & insights are put to work by our clients:

  1. although much of the thinking can be applied to smaller projects too []
  2. In some organizations, the word ‘project' is a dirty word, associated with internal complexity and high rates of failure.  In other organizations, it is a confusing term used to describe anything from organizing the annual conference to implementing a new backend technology. In other cases, it can be difficult to talk about ‘projects' without appearing disconnected from strategy or tainted by the frustrations with traditional project management. []
  3. The gloomy PM surveys don't just illuminate how complex project management and delivery has become.  They paint a much bigger picture. The opportunities and challenges presented are as much about change and innovation as they are about projects or transformation. See: Project Failure: Are the reports exaggerated?, []
  4. Appreciative Inquiry: ‘The questions we ask and what we inquire into are generative. The more positive and generative the questions, the more positive and generative the outcome' from Stavros, Jacqueline M.; Torres, Cheri; Cooperrider, David L., ‘Conversations Worth Having', Berrett-Koehler Publishers, 2018. []

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