Summary of the Book Review – The DNA of Strategy Execution

As we compile AIPMO’s library with book reviews using a 10-point evaluation assessment, selected reviews will be featured in blogs, providing a summary of their content utilizing a quick reference card.

Recently, AIPMO conducted a review of ‘The DNA of Strategy Execution: Next Generation Project Management and PMO’ by Jack Duggal. This blog aims to provide a brief overview of the book’s key points.

This book presents a fresh perspective on Project Management Offices (PMOs) through a strategic lens, using what is termed the “DNA” of management—strategy, execution, governance, measure, connect, learn, and change.

The author uses the DANCE acronym to characterize today’s business environment. It is Dynamic and changing, Ambiguous and uncertain, Nonlinear, Complex, and Emergent and unpredictable, driven by disruptive factors and shifting stakeholder needs and priorities. DANCE is comparable but broader than VUCA (Volatile, Uncertainty, Complexity, and Ambiguity).

The author uses a complexity continuum (simple – complicated, complex – edge of chaos – chaos), where in the simple and complicated domain you can use SPEC (Scope-Plan-Execute-Control) to manage linear, well-defined stable situations and in the other domain you have to manage the unexpected by using an organic approach. You must cultivate skills to Sense, Respond, Adapt, and Adjust (SRAA).

Note: These domains align with those found in Snowden’s Cynefin model.

The book contains the genetic instructions used in the development and functioning of all known living organisms. The author asks and answers the question in this book if you could decode the DNA of effective strategy execution and what this means for project management and the PMO. He sees strategy, execution (the two foundational strands) and governance, connect, measure, change, learn as DNA elements. The context and customer focus is the operating environment in which the DNA thrives. Refer to the following Quick Reference Card that summarizes this book. Simplicity was added as an additional element and each element has its own chapter in the book.

Strategy with strands: Diagnose the pain, make choices to minimize spending, design the selection and prioritization criteria, decide and commit appropriate action and evolve to adapt and finetune the criteria (based on evolving strategy). Where to play, how to win, and what to do and, more importantly, what not to do, then selection and prioritization (based on business fit, strategic fit, rewards, risks, and resources) of initiatives and projects in a coherent way. 

Execution with strands: Develop your people‘s talent and skills (artistry, DANCEing, changemaking, connecting, learning, entrepreneurial). You need an adaptive platform of enabling processes, technology as enabler (tools, systems, apps, and bots) and work that flows through organizational channels (pooled, sequential, reciprocal, and adaptive flow).

Governance with strands: To define and establish, you need a steering body; standards are needed to establish a foundation of stability; effective policies/procedures for each of the DNA elements can expedite the flow of execution; use gates as decision points as a project or program progresses; use review/audit to assess the status; you have to be cognizant of the compliance issues, unclear responsibility and accountability leading to confusion and delays; clear definition and limits of authority are pillars of sound governance and clear decision rights result in effective actions (recommenders, agreers, performers, input, deciders) and simple rules/guidelines can help to steer in the right direction in complex situations (boundary, prioritizing and stopping rules).

Connect with strands: List what to connect – customers/stakeholders, silos, business, interfaces & interdependencies – with the how – networks and connections, marketing communications (marcom), relationships, and community and collaboration. The Stakeholder empathy map is a nice tool as a replacement for a stakeholder profile.

Measure with strands: You have to know how to define success. Objectives help to define success and key results help to measure it (are you a Ben or BoB, Ben stands for Benefit: measure output, and Bob stands for Benefit of the Benefit: measure outcome). How do we report (present and communicate) the measures and metrics to influence desired action, and are we learning and adjusting (double-loop learning).

Change with strands: Awareness helps to better sense and prepare for the consequences of the change. Anticipation takes it further to develop capabilities to anticipate what we cannot see currently, particularly the unintended consequences of the DANCE – dynamic, emergent, and unpredictable changes. The PMO must do enough to assess and prepare for change readiness and the absorption of the change. Execution or implementation alone is not enough. Without adoption, implementation has no value. Should we start by understanding the customer? What does the customer need? What do they like and dislike? What motivates them? The choices that you provide to the customer help in paving the path and help to design the structure toward desired outcomes. Structured checklists can also help to pave the path toward greater adoption. To connect you need to frame memorable and sticky messaging and communicate it in a relevant way. When a senior leader has to start something new or initiate any kind of change, they cannot do it on their own. They need the connectors, many agents, at different levels that are infecting others and spreading the positive virus.

Learn with strands: Making failure acceptable and learning from it is easier said than done; it is a cultural issue. Curiosity is essential to remove the blinders. Knowledge management, document repositories, and collaboration tools to capture project artifacts are a foundational aspect, but not enough. You need feedback loops, feed-forward, retrospectives, pre-mortem, storytelling, and the learning question. All of this is only possible if employees feel they are part of a meaningful community. The PMO can be the curator to identify, organize, and share lessons, ideas, best practices, tools, and apps. There is a tendency to overestimate the role of planning beforehand, and underestimate the role of correction, after kick-off. In a constantly changing and disruptive world, continuous improvement is like running better and faster, just to stay in the same place, whereas continuous innovation is a double loop, where you learn and evolve to create something new and better.

Simplicity: Simplicity is difficult to practice. Start by understanding and applying the following principles of simplicity: from whose perspective, minimalism – less is more, scalable, self-eliminating, desire lines and simple rules (10 laws of simplicity: Reduce, Organize, Time, Learn, Differences, Context, Emotion, Trust, Failure and The one). Build a Department of Simplicity and develop simplify intelligence.

Conclusion: This book helps to shape your mind and provides direction when considering the fact that more and more organizations are prioritizing agility as one of their survival themes. You want to know what this means for your PMO if you aim to continue adding value through your next-generation PMO to your customers and thus your organization. Every DNA element is explained through leading questions, decomposed into strands, accompanied by numerous examples, techniques, a checklist, and key takeaways. There aren’t many books on PMOs, so this one is a must-read if you are a PMO manager. In the appendix, you can find an overview of PMO functions and activities organized by DNA elements and strands.

For the detailed review of the book using AIPMO’s 10-point scale, please visit the book review page.