Top critical review
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A workable and appealing alignment framework
on November 26, 2003
Consultant Cathleen Benko and business professor McFarlan come into alignment in this tremendously practical book. Today's companies need to bring their misaligned, overlapping, and inconsistent projects into alignment through "frontier living". This means delivering results in the present while adapting for the future's business context by using four "traits" to configure your project portfolio for confusing, volatile, and unpredictable conditions.
The title of the book refers to the need to "connect the dots" between an organization's objectives and its project investments to create and balance present and future value. The book's plethora of tools combined with the easygoing writing style makes it engaging and painless to absorb. Benko and McFarlan can be forgiven for overstating the role of project alignment - that is, after all, the standard book author's tendency. It is true, however, that companies project initiatives total up into the trillions of dollars and it requires no stretch to accept the claim that those initiatives have grown faster than companies' ability to manage them. Benko and McFarlan focus on the project portfolio as the most promising key to unlocking value, arguing that the portfolio is a company's future currency. We find their underlying principle that "companies are better served by adapting themselves for the future rather than by trying to predict its destination" to be a sound one.
Alignment, in this book, specifically means aligning three drivers of business performance: a company's project portfolio with its objectives; the projects in the portfolio to each other; and the portfolio and company's objectives with the ever-changing realities of the business context. To prosper on the "information frontier", certain shifts in mind-set - "traits" - are needed. Along with operational short-term and strategic long-term objectives, these constitute the organization's *intentions*. Four traits are used throughout the book as each of the various tools are explained and applied: Eco-Driven (effective collaborations), Outside-In (looking at yourself the way others look at you), Fighting Trim (agility, coordination, and options orientation to deal with uncertainty and respond to change), and House in Order (provisioning the other traits to enable cross-enterprise collaboration).
The seven alignment tools in this book fall three groups. The Trait Meter assesses, plans, and measures trait development according to the four traits. Once this first step is completed (which includes creating an Intentions Framework), the second group of diagnostic tools comes into play: The Intentions, Sides, and Right Brain tools. These measure the nature and size of the alignment opportunity, identify organizational bias and sort projects into business activities, and identify change capacity issues. The third group of tools - Common Threads, Project Chunking, and What-If Planning - focus on building flexibility into the portfolio.
Working through the book for real will, of course, be far more challenging than merely reading it. But the authors have done a good job of clarifying important issues of alignment and have provided a workable and appealing framework and toolset for tackling those issues.
(3 stars from me is good. 4-star ratings are given too easily.)