Business Improvement Initiatives: Strategic Business Planning, Implementation, and Assessment, Pt. 2

Now it is time for the executives to understand their role in leading and supporting the change effort since their active participation is critical. The executive team must demonstrate - through personal accountability and day-to-day behaviors - a healthy disrespect of the status-quo, a sense of urgency, and knowledge of business improvement initiatives. They must communicate their expectations of others, the importance of achieving the change objectives identified during strategic business planning, and a willingness to break down barriers to change encountered by their business process owners and improvement project teams. They must, to use an overused phrase, "walk the walk" to empower and also reward those who deliver the results.

Following a proven change methodology will keep the project team focused, on task, and on (or under) budget. In business improvement initiatives, clarity about expected deliverables, outcomes, timelines, and tasks provides the structure and discipline that enable team members to focus on essential activities and challenge activities that deviate from the strategic business plan, are unnecessary, or can be delayed.

Detailed education of the project team, followed by a detailed assessment against recognized best practices for the change milestone selected, empowers the project team and allows the team to understand the strengths and weaknesses of their current business processes. They then develop a keen understanding of the process and performance gaps that they must close. The project team or teams report to an initiative leader who is responsible for the success of the business improvement initiatives. He or she, in turn, is accountable to an executive sponsor of the initiative and to the executive steering team comprised of the senior executive and those who report directly to that executive. In order for strategic business planning objectives to be successful, this initiative leader serves as the interface between the design teams and the executive steering team. The executive sponsor and initiative leader assume accountability for success and must maintain the sense of urgency and importance of the work to all project team members and to all those who will be affected by the required changes.

Setting improvement goals is extraordinarily important in establishing improvement objectives, in measuring progress, and in identifying mid-course corrections of the business improvement initiative's activities if progress is lagging. These goals must be stretching and achievable and must also meet the needs of the stakeholders. The executive steering team must monitor progress and ensure that results are being delivered in a way that supports the company's stated values.


As previously stated, strategic business planning and identifying necessary improvements is performed well by most companies. It is in successfully and wholly executing these strategies and improvements that most companies fail.

The most effective business improvement initiatives are built upon a foundation of knowledgeable, consistent, and highly-visible executive leadership. Best practice education of all steering team and project team members involved in the initiative enables them to answer questions about "how" the individual business processes will be improved, as well as "why" those improvements are necessary.

Clear accountability is a key element in successful business improvement initiatives and should be mapped during the initial strategic business planning process. Everyone enjoys responsibility, but accountability can be uncomfortable. Initiative executive sponsors, individual business process owners, and project team leaders must have documented and specific objectives, possess the leadership abilities required to design and implement the new business improvement processes, and accept accountability for process transformation. In addition to being involved with the strategic business planning process, executive sponsors must champion the business improvement initiatives - acting as a liaison between project managers and executive steering team, ensuring a constant flow of communication, and making necessary resources available. A single, full-time initiative leader is typically assigned, although multiple project leaders may be necessary for a larger project in companies with multiple operating divisions and/or geographic regions. Last but not least, if the business improvement initiatives include implementing or improving Sales & Operations Planning/Integrated Business Planning, full-time supply and demand managers will be required for each strategic business unit.

As an essential part of strategic business planning, formal benchmarking procedures are necessary to chart the timeliness and efficacy of business improvement processes, to measure results against others in your industry and across all industries, and to determine if improvement milestone requirements have been met. Through the use of qualified outside educators, coaches, and assessors - who have both recognized expertise and personal hands-on success in such improvement initiatives - the business improvement initiatives will be accelerated and enhanced by those outside experts who have the experience and objectivity required to provide straight feedback and ensure the initiative's ultimate success.


Even though strategic business planning and implementation are complete at the point of a successful assessment, the need for improving business results is not - in fact, a process of cyclical review, assessment, and continuous improvement begins with final assessment of the business improvement initiatives. When the steering and project teams believe they have met the objectives of the improvement initiative, it is important to enlist the outside experts mentioned above to conduct this formal assessment of progress against best practices, behaviors and results. Although the project team and outside coaches will have self-assessed progress routinely during strategic business planning implementation, the view of objective, outside resources is important to validate progress and to suggest additional milestones that will drive even greater benefits to the bottom line.

To ensure ongoing continuous improvement of processes and results, process owners must be identified and must never be satisfied with current performance. They must periodically update documented policies and procedures, conduct self-assessments against ever more demanding best practice standards, and establish new improvement goals, normally in the context of additional business improvement initiatives. The foundation for continuous improvement includes application of continuous techniques, performance assessment of individuals against requirements of their formal role definitions, on-boarding education of people new to the company and/or changing roles within the company, and periodic, formal assessment of the processes by outside experts.

By meeting and exceeding best practices and standards for business excellence through strategic business planning, your company can be among that 10 percent that not only desire change, but who actually achieve their strategic business improvement goals. In doing so, your company will deliver its business objectives and goals. Your company will no longer resist the effects of changes in the marketplace, but will embrace and even precipitate industry changes that will reward you with an insurmountable competitive advantage.

About the Author:
Dennis L. Groves is a Principal and Chairman of Oliver Wight Americas as well as President of Oliver Wight International. He has taught numerous public and private courses in Sales and Operations Planning, supplier planning and control, integrated planning and scheduling, data structures and bills of material, and inventory record accuracy. For more information, please visit

No. of Times this article has been viewed : 791
Date Published : Dec 12 2010

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