Thursday, April 30, 2009

China's biggest particle accelerator set to work

China's biggest particle accelerator set to work
Updated: 2009-04-30 13:59

BEIJING -- The building and testing of a machine that can create super X-rays capable of exposing the complicated structures of chemical compounds and proteins has been completed at Shanghai Zhangjiang High-tech Park in Pudong New Area.

The Shanghai Synchrotron Radiation Facility is expected to significantly boost China's capability and competitiveness in scientific research, especially in life sciences, officials from the Shanghai Institute of Applied Physics of the Chinese Academy of Sciences, the facility's key developer, were quoted as saying by Thursday's Shanghai Daily.

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The 1.2 billion yuan (US$176 million) particle accelerator, China's biggest light facility, will also help in the study of viruses and new drugs and the development of technology.

Next month the synchrotron will be opened to universities, scientific institutes and companies for approved research.

The trial operation of the facility in about 60 projects since last month has already yielded results.

"We have found seven new structures including one enzyme which can break down an environmental toxicant," said He Jianhua, head of the institute's synchrotron radiation experiment division.

The institute is cooperating with the Shanghai Institute of Material Medica on researching treatment of bird flu and is expected to work with Sinopec on petroleum catalyzers.

"The machine will be an effective tool in research on viruses as well as for swine flu medicines although we haven't received a request yet," He said.

The facility was jointly proposed by the Chinese Academy of Sciences and the Shanghai government in 1995, with construction starting in December 2004.

The synchrotron's beamlines were adjusted from May last year to March. So far the facility has built seven beamlines and experimental stations for research and development in life sciences, new materials, physics and biochemical projects.

The particle accelerator can produce X-rays thousands of times stronger than normal X-ray machines capable of exposing the minute structure of human proteins.

"Thanks to the technology, we can know a protein structure within 20 minutes. Such a procedure usually took several months," said He.

The institute hopes to complete the facility's proposed 60 beamlines by 2020, and have 40 completed by 2015.

Streamlining Manufacturing Processes with SOA Frameworks

Streamlining Manufacturing Processes with SOA Frameworks

SOA platforms and frameworks can dramatically simplify the 'default' manufacturing business processes implemented on an ERP system.

Most medium to large manufacturing companies (and many smaller ones as well) use some form or ERP system to help manage the data and processes related to their businesses. While ERP systems have strong transactional capabilities and are good at tracking and storing data, most of them have relatively poor process management capabilities, forcing users to tailor their businesses to the software rather than molding the software processes around what's required by the business.

For example, some of the most popular enterprise ERP systems ship with a rich set of process templates for Dispatch, Invoicing, Production Planning, Logistics, Stock Allocation and several other functions. However, they are designed around the concept of "Separation of Duty," where an assumption is made that every step in a business process may potentially be executed by a different party; in the majority of cases, however, a single person executes a process (for instance, an invoicing process), in which case the process can be dramatically simplified. Moreover, changes to default process templates in the ERP system are difficult and time-consuming, often requiring significant programming in proprietary languages such as "ABAP." Finally, integration with third party enterprise applications remains a significant challenge in the enterprise ERP world.

Enter SOA. SOA platforms and frameworks can dramatically simplify the 'default' manufacturing business processes implemented on an ERP system. In this article, we examine how the world's third-largest distiller, United Spirits Ltd., optimized a number of critical business processes via an SOA framework, saving well over $750,000 in the first year alone. The company in question uses a popular (and expensive) ERP system but the discussion on simplification of the process applies equally well to other ERP systems as well.

Invoicing and Dispatch

The default invoicing and dispatch process implemented over the existing ERP system within the company requires five steps and nine screens for each invoice creation. Designed for generality, where multiple people may be needed to execute separate steps, this process takes 12 minutes per invoice on average. Moreover, significant (and expensive) training is required for each person creating an invoice, making it difficult to scale the invoice creation process across offices located in different geographical locations.

When implemented over an SOA framework, the entire invoice-creation process is reduced to just two steps with two screens, requiring only 2 minutes per invoice. Invoicing data is now entered into customized HTML screens and the SOA framework manages the details of updating the ERP system by making the appropriate API ("BAPI") calls at the backend. The result is a dramatically simplified invoice creation process that requires no ERP-specific training, can be easily scaled across different geographical locations and is over 600% more efficient.

As an example, USL generates over 7,000 invoices per month. With the new, optimized SOA-based invoicing process, USL saves over 150 man-days per month. Moreover, non-tech-savvy personnel in remote locations and factories can easily create dispatch requests and invoices; this was not possible earlier since such personnel had to be pre-trained on the ERP system interfaces -- a difficult and expensive proposition.

Lifting Plans and Bulk Orders

A Lifting plan is an estimate of the sales that will possibly be made over a quarter, half-year or other fixed term. A bulk order is an estimate of what will be lifted in a larger order.

Lifting plans and Bulk Orders are both critical processes in the sales organization of most manufacturing companies. Very often, however, the IT systems of the manufacturer do not support the Lifting Plan and Bulk Order concepts. Even sophisticated ERP systems have inadequate support. For instance, in some ERP systems, the concept of a Bulk Order is tied to a single unit or plant and its functionality is inflexible and cannot be easily customized to match the needs of the business.

SOA technology helps resolve the problems created by inflexible IT systems. It is now possible to create application flows that compare the Lifting plan and Bulk Orders for each salesperson against actual orders, with the results being fed directly to the automated invoicing process discussed in the previous section. Further, the SOA systems enable managers to track differences between actual invoiced orders and the Lifting plan / Bulk Orders for each salesperson, enabling closer monitoring and better tracking of sales and salesperson performance. Benefits include fully automated processes with the Lifting plan and Bulk Order concepts integrated with invoicing and report generation and easy modification of processes without programming.


Manufacturers normally ship goods on a regular basis to multiple distributors mostly via road and rail and sometimes by ship. In the typical case, distributors send trucks to a multiple manufacturing plants to pick up goods. Each distributor has a credit limit with the manufacturer. It this limit is exceeded, an explicit approval is normally required from a company manager to raise the credit limit.

The problem of securing credit change approvals efficiently is complicated due to several reasons: distributor vehicles may arrive at a company's production facilities at night; ideally, decisions on approvals should be made quickly since delayed approvals cause significant disruption and loss of profits for both the distributor and the manufacturer. Unfortunately, even with the powerful ERP systems that most manufacturers use today, the approval process is complicated: company managers need to manually log on to the ERP system to approve credit; bad internet connectivity can often prevent access to central company IT systems from remote locations; plus, the ERP interfaces used are typically poor and difficult to learn, requiring companies to spend significant time and resources in manager training.

SOA applications alleviate this situation by easily enabling approval requests on mobile phones. The initial approval request is processed by an SOA flow and placed on a portal that can be accessed by company provided mobile phones. The SOA flow then generates an SMS (Short Message Service) message that is sent to the GPRS-enabled mobile phone of the manager, who then accesses the secure portal by clicking a link in the SMS. The manager can now approve or reject the request in the portal directly over his/her mobile phone. Once the request is handled, the SOA flow automatically updates the company ERP system at the backend with the approved/rejected notice.

This process of using SOA flows to manage approval requests has several benefits. Managers no longer need to access the company ERP system via cumbersome client applications; all relevant information now available on their mobile phones. The learning curve is much lower, as are licensing costs (since fewer ERP client licenses are needed). There is also a significant cost and time saving for distributors due to faster turnaround times for approval requests.

Order Processing and Stock Allocation

Problems with enterprise ERP systems often have a negative impact on the stock allocation and order processing in a manufacturing unit. For instance, many ERP systems allocates stock immediately for any sales order by default. If orders are processed using the default templates, then by the time one reaches the last order in a batch, one may have run out of stock. Also, orders with higher priority that arrive in the middle of the batch cannot be processed because available stock has already been pre-allocated to previous orders. In such cases, the "rollback" needs to be performed manually -- a cumbersome and error-prone process.

All of these problems make it impractical to enter all orders into the ERP system in a single shot. In the typical case, orders not entered into the system until they are ready for dispatch. The lack of prioritized allocation of stock based on how the company wants to run its business is also a major hindrance.

Enter SOA. Using SOA flows, all orders can be entered into the system as they are produced. The orders are 'held' within the SOA flow while they are prioritized. Additional SOA flows are used to prioritize orders before any stock is allocated to each order. Once the orders are prioritized, a third SOA flow is invoked to pick up an order, allocate stock to it "just in time" and send it for invoicing via the optimized 2-step invoicing process discussed earlier in this article.

The benefits of this approach include, among others, highly flexible order processing tailored to enterprise needs, easier and flexible order prioritization, no manual rollbacks and "Just in time" stock allocation.

New Regulations

In almost any jurisdiction globally, new regulations (especially tax regulations) often have revenue implications for manufacturers. For instance, consider a manufacturer that outsources a task to a third party contract manufacturer (CM). For convenience, the manufacturer instructs the CM to sell directly to and end-user or distributor, collect the revenue and pay the Manufacturer its share after keeping the CM commission.

This process works well as long as there's no change in prevailing tax regulations. If for instance, as was the case in a European jurisdiction recently, the payment from the CM to the Manufacturer becomes subject to a new tax regulation (such as Service Tax), the CM has to deduct the new tax from the payment to the Manufacturer. The Manufacturer thus loses money unless the Manufacturer directly sells to the End-user.

A solution to this problem requires custom business processes to be implemented to "reroute" cash flows to legally circumvent a regulation. Using the previous example, a new business process is required to re-route the payment as follows: Manufacturer sells direct to End-user; Manufacturer instructs CM to dispatch goods to the End-User; Money flows from End-User to Manufacturer and from the Manufacturer to the CM, thereby avoiding the service tax.

Existing ERP systems cannot easily handle process-change-requests such as the above. A flexible SOA system, however, can implement such changes within days if not hours. The benefits include rapid, automated business process changes to circumvent new regulations, leading to added business flexibility and profitability


In this article, we have discussed several real, practical business problems that plague manufacturers every day. All of these examples have been taken from a large manufacturer -- specifically, USL -- the world's third-largest distiller of spirits. By moving to a flexible SOA platform, USL saved over $750,000 in the first year alone (on an investment of less than $200K) by optimizing its Invoicing, Logistics, Order prioritization/Stock Allocation and other processes. USL believes that in the coming years it will save several million dollars a year because of the flexibility of its SOA platform.

Atul Saini is the CEO and CTO of Fiorano Software Inc., a provider of enterprise class business process integration and messaging infrastructure technology.

Following Swine Flu Online

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Following Swine Flu Online

Tracking and communications could play a key role in combating a pandemic.

By Michael Day

Flu flow: HealthMap, created by Google and the CDC, annotates a global map with news articles, official medical alerts, and other data in real time. Credit: Google
Credit: Google



The World Health Organization (WHO) admitted on Tuesday that it's too late to contain swine flu, and experts say that it is now vital to track the spread of the virus in order to mitigate its effects. Vaccines and antivirals will be crucial to the effort, but tracking and communications technologies could also play a key role in monitoring the virus, distributing accurate health information, and quelling outbreaks.

Bloggers and social-networking sites were among the first to follow the outbreak's rapid spread from its epicenter in Mexico--where swine flu has been linked to more than 150 deaths--to cities across the United States and on to Europe, Israel, and New Zealand.

The need for fast information has seen the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) build up a large following on Twitter. Groups ranging from fellow federal institutions, such as the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health, to local Red Cross divisions, as well as many regular Twitter users, are employing the service to receive updates. Some experts, however, warn that Twitter can just as easily spread misinformation and panic. According to data from the medical tracking site Nielson, conversations related to swine flu reached 2 percent of all messages on Twitter over the weekend. By contrast, Google's Flu Trends, a site that aims to spot flu outbreaks by monitoring search queries related to flu symptoms and treatment, has shown little increase in activity in recent days.

Some Twitter users have also been criticized for spreading misinformation by, for example, warning friends and followers against eating pork, which is not related to the spread of swine flu. Evgeny Morozov, a fellow at the Open Society Institute, in New York, wrote in a blog post on Saturday, "Having millions of people wrap up all their fears into 140 characters and blurt them out in the public might have some dangerous consequences, networked panic being one of them."

Meanwhile, other Internet tools are helping to track the spread of the virus geographically. HealthMap, which was created by researchers from Children's Hospital Boston with support from Google, the CDC, the National Library of Medicine, and the Canadian Institute of Health Research, adds real-time news alerts, official medical information, and other data to a global tracking map.

Susan Perkins, a specialist in microbial evolution at the American Museum of Natural History, in New York, NY, who has previously applied geographical information systems to the study of how viruses evolve, hopes that Internet technology and "the new field of info-epidemiology" can make a difference in future epidemics, if not in the current swine-flu outbreak. "Sites like HealthMap or Google Earth are a good new way to visualize data," she says. "These readily accessible platforms also let people in diverse fields--public health, evolutionary biology, et cetera--share the same information."

Perkins believes that being able to process viral genomes more quickly could make a big difference: "In the future, I would hope that diseases will be able to be better tracked with software that can combine genomic information with real geographic information. That will give us the most power to solve--and then hopefully break--transmission patterns."

Others say that tracking the spread of the virus could help reveal how deadly it is, how easily it spreads, whether drug resistance is emerging, and how to target precious public-health resources. Jeffrey Herrmann, an applied mathematician and software engineer at the University of Maryland, has developed software that can analyze the spread of a disease and pinpoint the best locations for treatment or mass vaccination. He says that this approach "could be used by local public-health departments to determine how many sites and how many staff they need to dispense antiviral medication or vaccinate people."

The WHO's Pandemic Influenza Task Force decided on Monday to raise the alert to level 4 on the pandemic scale. This means that confirmed human-to-human transmissions are now causing community-level outbreaks.

"We might expect up to 30 percent to 40 percent of the population to become ill in the next six months," says Neil Ferguson, a member of the WHO task force and a professor of epidemiology at Imperial College London. He adds that the virus appears less lethal than H5N1 bird flu--but crucially, it's more contagious. In the six years since its emergence in 1993, H5N1 has killed 257 people; swine flu has already killed 150 in a matter of weeks. The last pandemic, Hong Kong flu, killed about 700,000 (1 in 1,000 of its victims) in 1968.

So far, no deaths have been reported outside of Mexico, but the consensus among virologists is that it is too early to say whether suggestions that the death rate is higher in Mexico will be borne out. Some have suggested that better treatment in the United States has made infections there less dangerous. Or it could be that the much greater number of cases seen so far in Mexico--there are now more than 2,000 suspected--has made some deaths there more likely.

Pharmaceutical firms, meanwhile, have begun the race to produce a vaccine. Switzerland's Novartis said on Tuesday that it had received the genetic code of the new virus strain, enabling it to begin work in earnest. The WHO estimates that an effective inoculation is still six months away, but this might be in time for a second wave of infection later in the year.

Peter Dunnill, a professor of biochemical engineering at University College London, warns that even if a vaccine is produced, not everyone will have access to it. "Based on calculations done in relation to H5N1, the global capacity for providing a vaccine at its most optimistic is less than 10 percent of the world's people," he says.

Antiviral drugs are likely to provide the first line of defense. In the United States, Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano said recently that she will release a quarter of the 50 million courses of antiviral drugs in the national stockpile. She added that the Defense Department has another 7 million courses ready. But their effectiveness could be short lived--particularly if they are used now, and the virus resurfaces later in the year. Professor of immunology Peter Lachmann of the University of Cambridge says, "Tamiflu resistance is extraordinarily widespread and develops very quickly. We would be very lucky if this virus does not develop resistance."

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

IBM Systems Journal

IBM Systems Journal

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Amazon warehouse case study

Amazon warehouse case study

The Strategic Advantage of Global Process and Practice Networks

The Strategic Advantage of Global Process and Practice Networks

6:42 PM Wednesday March 25, 2009

In our last post, we discussed talent development as an operational challenge. This time around we'll explore how the organization itself needs to change so that it develops a talent edge.

It goes without saying that no matter how much talent a company might have, there are many more talented people working outside its boundaries. Yet all too many companies focus solely on acquiring talent, on bringing talent inside the firm. Why not access talent wherever it resides?

Some might say there's no way of doing so without sharply increasing the cost of complexity. New institutional practices can reduce these costs, however, as companies become:

• Less transactional and more relational.
• Less "hardwired" and more "loosely coupled."
• Less focused on merely accessing external capabilities and more focused on rapid capability building for every participant.
• Less focused on the firm and internal silos and more supportive of richer cross-enterprise interactions and collaborations among workers.

By rethinking their institutional arrangements along these lines, companies can forge connections and carry out interactions less expensively and more rapidly and flexibly than they could through conventional institutional practices. They can also help their own talent connect more easily with other talent, beyond the four walls of the enterprise, to achieve higher performance levels.

In the past, executives have tended to be wary of cross-enterprise collaboration out of concern for a loss of intellectual property or disagreement over the distribution of rewards. However, these concerns are largely shaped by a zero-sum view of the world -- if one party gains, the other parties must inevitably lose.

Focusing on talent development helps to shift executives to a positive-sum view of the world -- as talent improves, more value gets created in aggregate and all participants have an opportunity to gain more than they had before.

But institutional innovations, while necessary, aren't sufficient. Companies must also participate in (and sometimes orchestrate) new organizational forms and structures called global process and practice networks. These play a key role in helping talent-driven companies access world-class talent beyond their boundaries.

The new generation of motorcycle assemblers emerging in Chongqing, China, is a leading example of a global process network. In this network, companies such as Dachangjiang cultivate rapid improvement in motorcycle design and performance through innovative working arrangements with their design partners. Rather than providing designers with detailed product blueprints, assemblers supply them with rough sketches accompanied by tightly specified performance requirements.

It's up to all relevant design partners to work together on their own initiative without the intervention of Dachangjiang to resolve issues and reach the assembler's aggressive performance targets. As highly specialized participants clash around ways to meet aggressive performance targets and still meet tight deadlines, creative new approaches emerge and learning increases across the network of participants. In the process, quality has gone up while costs have fallen by two-thirds.

Global practice networks, by contrast, are even looser forms of collaboration that involve participants from similar skill areas working on common performance issues. Global practice networks are emerging in such diverse areas as open source software and extreme sports.

Although they don't tend to refer to them this way, extreme surfers have used global practice networks to push the limits of their sport. In the 1950s, six-foot waves were considered challenging, yet today big-wave surfers successfully ride 60- to 70-foot waves. Big-wave surfers tend to congregate at specific beaches and breaks to learn their craft, and frequently connect at competitions and, increasingly, through the Internet. They gain from carefully watching each other and observing new techniques and practices under different wave conditions.

Their individual activities and interactions are more often than not orchestrated by commercial entities like surfboard makers and contest organizers, who define new challenges and motivate surfers to push their performance to the next level. Even where money is at stake, collaboration rules: At the 2008 Mavericks Surf Contest in Half Moon Bay, California, as the six finalists paddled out to catch the final set of waves, they agreed to share the prize equally, regardless of who was declared the winner.

Both kinds of global networks -- process and practice -- create opportunities for talent to come together and generate "productive friction": a powerful force that shapes learning, as people with different backgrounds and skills work together on real problems.

While many executives pursue the nirvana of a frictionless economy, aggressive talent development inevitably and necessarily generates friction. It forces people out of their comfort zone and often involves resolving differences among people with divergent views and experiences.

In designing these networks, several best practices are emerging:

First, organize the right environments to generate productive friction. In part, this requires:

1. Bringing together people with diverse experiences.
2. Investing the time required for them to develop shared understanding.
3. Defining aggressive performance requirements.
4. Providing employees with tools that help them negotiate the most promising approaches for achieving results.
5. Specifying action points that force participants to produce a solution meeting the performance requirements within a certain period of time.

Such actions are challenging enough when they occur inside a single firm, but things get all the more challenging -- and rewarding -- when companies connect talent across multiple institutional boundaries. Talented workers benefit from the broad range of experiences and approaches that diverse parties bring to a problem.

Second, innovate talent management within the firm. Leading companies recognize that today's career is no longer a straight shot up the corporate ladder. Instead, it involves what Cathy Benko and Anne Weisberg characterize as a "combination of climbs, lateral moves, and planned descents" along the "corporate lattice." They extend the concept of mass customization to a new approach for how work gets done and careers are built called "mass career customization."

In our next post, we'll look at the changes necessary at the strategic level to gain a talent edge. Meanwhile, what other organizational changes would corporations be advised to implement, assuming they were to take talent development as one of their highest priorities? What likely obstacles would they encounter as they seek to deploy global process and practice networks?

Four Fatal Flaws of Strategic Planning

Four Fatal Flaws of Strategic Planning

3:47 PM Friday March 13, 2009
by Ed Barrows

Strategy execution is drawing a lot of attention these days, but that in no way means companies have abandoned their time-tested strategic planning processes. In fact, as far as management tools are concerned, strategic planning is as popular as ever, with 88% of large organizations engaging in some form of formal strategic planning, according to Bain & Company's 2007 Management Tools and Trends report. This number may still be on the rise as economic conditions force companies to search for new ways to jump-start business growth.

Yet despite this widespread adoption, managers continue to make fundamental mistakes that undermine otherwise well-intentioned strategy-formulation efforts. Here are four fatal flaws that consistently creep into strategic planning processes that, if avoided, can significantly improve both the process and the results.

Skipping Rigorous Analysis
Many managers believe their business experience and knowledge base alone equips them with all the information they need to conduct effective strategic planning. This belief is almost always untrue and serves only to undermine the kind of critical thinking from which truly creative strategies are born. A good strategic planning process takes full advantage of the numerous tools of strategic analysis — such as the five forces model, strategic group maps, or the value chain — to gain key insights regarding how the industry is evolving, how competitors are changing positions, and where an individual firm's sources of competitive advantage lie.

Eric Okerstrom, vice president of strategy management for Hagerty, a national specialty insurance agency that insures collectible automobiles and wooden boats, learned this lesson during his most recent strategic planning efforts. The company conducted extensive customer analysis and market segmentation work and, in so doing, realized that their brand wasn't as well known as they first thought. "Our entire leadership team believed that most participants in the collector market knew who we were and wanted to do business with us. What we found out during our analysis was that while our brand was strong amongst our core client base, there was room for improvement." It wasn't that Hagerty didn't have a known brand or delighted customers — they did. It was just that marketing perception and share data revealed that their name wasn't as widely recognized as they previously thought. "We reoriented a significant portion of our strategy and reexamined who our true competitors were because of the data we encountered during the analysis," says Okerstrom. They found that while the traditional end-user insurance purchaser was still important, it was equally important to focus more intensively on the general insurance agency channel that was recommending their product. Now they have adopted an innovative sales approach with a key distributor segment that will help them reach a major portion of the market they had not focused on previously.

Believing Strategy Can Be Built in a Day
In Hagerty's case, changing the minds of key managers took longer than one day. Yet many executive teams earnestly believe that effective strategies can be identified, explored, and agreed upon during abbreviated offsite meetings where the main driver of the agenda is the timing of snack breaks. While offsite meetings are useful forums in which to share information and address key issues, meetings should be adequately timed — over days or weeks if necessary — so that sufficient preparation and review and discussion can occur before and during the event.

MDI Group, one of Atlanta's largest IT and financial staffing organizations, has engaged in annual strategic planning each year for the past decade. In preparation for their yearly offsite, the leadership team, after examining a comprehensive package of performance information, completes a series of templates including a SWOT analysis and a key capabilities review. "We would discuss our SWOT analysis in the morning of the first meeting day, summarizing critical issues as we went. Then we would brainstorm how to address those issues immediately following lunch, with a hard stop no later than 3:00pm," recalls Mike Cleland, president of the IT division. "It always felt rushed, and it seemed like we never really got our arms around the underlying forces driving the key issues." In reality, they didn't. MDI leaders became frustrated as they kept encountering the same key issues year after year despite putting significant time and energy into the planning process.

So MDI modified its approach. For their most recent strategic planning efforts, the leadership team conducted the same up-front activities, but this time they identified four key issues a month before — not the day of — their meeting. Each key issue was assigned to an "issue team" comprised of senior managers for detailed analysis prior to the meeting. For three weeks each team applied a structured problem-solving approach to their issue, isolating root causes and identifying plausible courses of action. Teams then briefed their findings the day before the offsite to ensure all participants had a consistent understanding of the issue, the causes, the options, and — most important — the team's recommended plan going forward. The result was a streamlined process and better decisions. "It really accelerated the meeting," said MDI CEO Ella Koscik. "Also, we have a much higher level of confidence in our actions coming out of this meeting than we've ever had in the past."

Failing to Link Strategic Planning with Strategic Execution
According to a recent survey by the Conference Board, execution overall and strategy execution in particular hold the first and second positions when it comes to "top issues" in executive's minds. It's no wonder — executing strategy requires the work of the entire organization, whereas strategic planning only requires the top team. But part of a top team's challenge in execution often stems from the failure to link their work with ongoing strategy execution. In his article, "Obstacles to Effective Strategy Implementation" (Organizational Dynamics, Vol. 35, No. 1, 2006), Lawrence Hrebiniak of the Wharton School notes that "Strategic success demands a 'simultaneous' view of planning and doing. Managers must be thinking about executing even as they are formulating plan."

Prescolite and Progress Lighting — both brands of Hubbell (headquartered in Orange, Conn.) — show how to accomplish this in practice. Both businesses use what they dub the Long Range Strategic Planning (LRSP) process. This integrated strategic planning and execution system incorporates both strategy formulation activities, such as ongoing analysis of changes in market conditions, with execution activities like management of integrated strategic programs. At the start of the planning year, they perform a "deep dive" on critical competitive issues facing the businesses; the remainder of the year they focus on measuring and monitoring the progress they are making relative to the strategy. As they encounter unforeseen issues — which they usually do — they then analyze them within the confines of the LRSP process. They also maintain a running list of "must-do" integrated programs that they readjust as business conditions change. "We've refined the LRSP process over the past several years to not only make it more flexible and responsive to changes in market conditions, but to also make it more integrated," says Charlie Harris, vice president and general manager of the Indoor Lighting division. "The process today is at the center of what we do and largely responsible for driving successful execution of our brands' strategies." These businesses have made their strategy process a continuous and dynamic one — a more realistic approach than the once-a-year planning meeting that still dominates many corporate strategic planning efforts.

Dodging Strategy Review Meetings
Strategic plans quickly become obsolete when there is no activity in place to keep them alive. Worse, managers sometimes feel freed from execution accountability when reviews are continually rescheduled or dropped from the calendar altogether.

The most direct way to maintain a consistent focus on strategy is to schedule and hold regular strategy review meetings. At the end of the strategic plan formulation, managers should establish a strategic governance process where strategy review meetings — whether they are monthly or quarterly — are scheduled a year in advance. This way, managers can be sure the time for the sessions remains sacrosanct. A typical strategy review lasts anywhere between a half and a full day — so leaders must plan accordingly. To make the meetings productive, the leadership team should develop a standing agenda they can follow consistently each time they meet. The strategy that was created at the beginning of the execution cycle should be the topic of conversation at every meeting — no discussion of operational issues should be allowed. Consistent with avoiding fatal flaw number one, the necessary analysis should be prepared and the findings circulated before the meeting so that the session can be dedicated to guiding decision-making as opposed to conducting unbounded, unstructured discussion.

The Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) began holding regular strategy review meetings at the end of 2007, when they started developing a new strategy execution system. While the FBI maintains a vigilant 24-hour-a-day, 365-day-per-year focus on their top tactical priorities, they had never formally held strategy review meetings. "It was really interesting watching [Director Robert S. Mueller III] ask his staff how they were progressing on their parts of the strategy," noted Executive Assistant Director Tom Harrington of the FBI's Criminal, Cyber, Response, and Services branch. "People were watching to see if Mueller was serious about the strategy. By the end of the meeting, after some pretty intense questioning, it was clear he was." The FBI has gone on to hold strategy review meetings quarterly at the mandate of Director Mueller. Further, both their reporting process and meeting approach has gotten more refined. "The meetings get better every time. They're more focused now; we've come a long way from where we started," says Ryan Kennedy, the strategy management analyst responsible for facilitating the process. Running effective strategy review meetings is a learned skill but one that starts with scheduling and sticking to the strategy in the first place.

Ed Barrows is a lecturer at Babson College and the founder of He specializes in coaching executive teams to improve their strategy processes. Reach him at

Boeing 737 manufacturing

Boeing 737 manufacturing

Automotive Assembly line

Automotive Assembly line

VanDer Lande conveyors

VanDer Lande conveyors

AS/RS at beverage distribution center

AS/RS at beverage distribution center