Experts explain the benefits and pitfalls of software tools in strategy and business execution
The benefits of using software, introducing new software, or perhaps extending current versions of software for strategy execution may be somewhat easy to identify, but hard to quantify. There’s often not only a cost financially, but potentially an employee/managerial bandwidth cost to getting started.
Due to this, we asked 50 experts WHY they think software/technology is essential for successful strategy execution, which software options they use, and the order of importance of strategy tools that can help promote successful execution.
Of the 50 strategy execution experts:
- 87% present strategy data in spreadsheets and slide decks
- 56% utilise collaboration and white-boarding tools
- 48% use project management software
- 41% use OKR software
The key execution principles that our experts suggest have benefitted from these tools include:
- Focus and prioritisation of goals (Average ranking in list - 2.1/9)
- Alignment and effective cascading of goals (Average ranking in list - 3.34/9)
- Empowerment, Accountability & Sense of Ownership (Average ranking in list - 4.15/9)
- Measurement & Metric visibility & accessibility (Average ranking in list - 4.39/9)
- Transparency & Communication of goals and progress (Average ranking in list - 4.73/9)
- Team Motivation, incentives and recognition (Average ranking in list - 5.44/9)
- Agility & good cadence of management at all levels (Average ranking in list - 6.2/9)
- Continuous Improvement, Learning, & Retros (Average ranking in list - 6.56/9)
- Individual Performance Management against organisational goals (Average ranking in list - 8.1/9)
*Respondents were asked to rank principles in order from most beneficial to least beneficial in regard to effect on strategy execution
Benefits of using software for strategy and business execution
Tracking in real-time/measurability
A majority of C-level execs, managers, and team members lack comprehensive information on project progress against initial targets and goals. 85% of organisations demand business cases for change projects (impossible without data), and without real-time tracking or measurability, only 2.5% of companies completed 100% of their projects successfully.
The expert insight from our survey further accentuated the need for tech/software tools to measure real-time data, with Piers Mudd citing that "Tech tools are critical to supporting execution, primarily through data capture and visualisation. As a tech-enabled, data-driven company, we capture myriad data points at every stage of the production, operational, processing, distribution, commercial, and financial functions. This real-time visibility of almost every stage of a complex value-chain is crucial to effective decision-making. You are shooting in the dark without this."
Strategy experts Manar Hussain and Ahmed Abdelrahman agreed with Piers, suggesting that the measurability aspect of software and tech tools not only create a greater level of consistency/best practice, but also make it easy to organise, visualise, and explore important data, communicating across various departments, making business execution quantifiable and visible to everyone.
Ross Boyd added that real-time tracking and measurability enhances decision hygiene, overcoming the confirmation bias that could be held without a view of the 'full picture', building context towards actionable insight. The whole story plays out in-front of your eyes, rather than holding periodic meetings which make it much harder to spot trends or show the full picture.
"A common mistake i've seen in this area is businesses waiting too long to understand that something is wrong with their excursion that need to be fixed or replaced" - Ahmed Abdelrahman
Transparency and communication
One of the best ways to promote transparency is through strong communication at all levels of a business. A central source of truth with clear, concise, and data-led information doesn't just increase trust, but can also help improve employee engagement. A study conducted by Cisco last year suggested that 76% of employees found it too difficult to see what is going on inside a business. With an increase in remote and hybrid working, employees, now more than ever need to be communicated business goals and the progress of those goals.
Dominic Cameron, NED and Chairman of SaaS businesses, as well as Anders Reeves collaborated this point, stating that strategy execution can be supercharged with simple software tools. Dominic's view is that technology/software encourages clear and transparent communication of strategy and goals, with Anders adding that they benefit real-time collaboration; visibility of performance; cross-platform integration (aggregate data sourcing); simple accessibility (SaaS vs on-prem/VPN only...); agility, and allow for change without cumbersome processes.
This was further backed up by experts Stuart Hayes and Amerikova Anastasia who stated that these tools can bring dependency and wider visibility - "You can’t build an amazing house with the best tools if you don’t have a good architecture and design"
"Leaders must be consistent, authentic, transparent, and clear in communication of strategy" - Stephan Uhrenbacher, Co-founder
Whilst it can put many companies off due to the sufficient effort to initially align company goal across various departments, the benefits of increased alignment through technology include, but are not limited to improved cross-department collaboration, reduced time-to-market, and better roadmap planning. Measuring metrics in a central source has also been proven to improve alignment, as it helps document how each department can help each other, improve efficacy with individual actions and tasks etc. Teams then realise that they win and lose together, increasing output.
This was further backed up by two of our experts in the survey, Guy Lock and Taha El Hajji, who stated that technology tools bring daily tasks right to the coalface, improving on the transparency above, allowing for increased alignment. Increased alignment then improves various aspects of the business including speed of decision making, less wasted resource, safer risk taking, and greater dynamic culture.
Strategy execution should have the following 3 attributes. 1. Easily explainable to stakeholders, and team members. 2. Results in increased revenue, reduced costs, or increased competitive advantage or some combination of these 3. 3.Can actually be executed within a reasonable time horizon - Damien O'Connor
Planning and Review
One of, if not the most important assets at a business is your team's time, capacity for work, and motivation. Forward planning, based on a treasure trove of data, especially when formulated top-down and bottom-up, contributes to the 92% of employees that suggest technology helps them do their job more productively.
Using software/technology tools also aids the planning and review process by creating one centralised location of data, the ability to track data in real-time for potential pivots or weighting of tasks, real-time budget tracking, and instant updates that can help review current work without long and tedious meetings.
Corporate & Startup veteran Shalom Passy contributed to this point, saying that software tools enable several targets: Supporting & Documenting top-down planning, periodical review process, and enabling changes based on progress (or lack of), as well as enabling visibility and transparency. Areen Shahbari also touched on this point, stating that tech tools help to share the company’s strategy road map and balance scorecard with all employees, making sure that employees can identify easily how their job is aligned and contributes to achieving the company’s strategic and financial goals.
Fellow expert Darren Jackson likened software tools to the engine of a car, a key component helping companies drive forward with their strategy execution.
Of course there are some caveats to using software and tech tools for strategy execution, as our experts rightly point out.
Daniel Bridges and Roland Butler mentioned that although central to success, many companies typically overuse and clutter software tools, as senior managers compete to use tools THEY are comfortable with, leading to too high a dependency on tools that are not interoperable. This then requires tight management to identify and implement the right tools across the business.
Likewise, it can be extremely easy to over index on tech tools when it comes to strategy execution, especially if pre-tool process is not in place. Other experts also warn against software fatigue, incorrect data entry, inconsistent updates/process, inadequate support from hierarchy, and more, that all make the use of tech and software for strategy execution obsolete.