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Project Management

Strategic Doing in IT project management

date: 13 May 2022
reading time: 5 min

Since the early 70s, we’ve seen constant change in strategy and leadership approaches. Change is needed to keep up with the speed and complexity of our evolving world and technological advancements.

We’ve been moving from hierarchies towards networks: from waterfall models to agile methodologies. But the complexity of the problems managers face, each new day keeps increasing, and so must their capacity to generate ingenious solutions. Strategic Doing was designed to allow that, and here’s how.

Since 2005, with my Purdue University colleagues, Scott Hutcheson and Liz Nilsen we have been working on turning insight on complex collaborations into a replicable, scalable, open discipline that they call “Strategic Doing.”

A set of skills for agile leadership

As a project manager, you are more than familiar with strategic long-term planning as well as unexpected problems that seem to arise out of nowhere.

Agile methodologies like Scrum help with planning and managing unanticipated problems. However, due to the fast-changing pace of the world and the speed of technological improvements, the nature of problems themselves is becoming more and more complex, and the solutions you need also become more challenging.

Strategic Doing states that the way to solve wicked problems is through high complexity collaboration and experimentation: as a leader, you need to design and guide complex collaborations, which you can do by using a set of ten practical skills.

You may ask, what if I do not possess all ten of those skills? Well, that’s the heart of the matter: you are not expected to excel at each of those skills; your challenge as a manager is to manifest skills within your team or network, build the environment to combine them and create new solutions.

Collaboration vs teamwork

Understanding the difference between teamwork and collaboration is key to implementing Strategic Doing, so let’s quickly review how these differ.

Teamwork is about team members aligning towards the same goal, while Collaboration is a process during which you leverage existing assets in your network to create new value.

Rather than defining roles on the team and you making decisions, when collaborating you will design and guide the collaboration process through structured conversations. Leadership is then distributed across your team.

To implement Strategic Doing and move from conversation to measurable outcomes, you will need more than conversation and the required ten skills you will need trust.

Strategic Doing enables people to form action‐oriented collaborations quickly, move them toward measurable outcomes, and make adjustments along the way.

The importance of conversation and trust

Strategic Doing is based on the understanding that complex collaborations originate from conversations with an elemental structure and trajectory that happens in a safe environment for everyone involved.

Conversation in your team or network is a critical point. Why? There are two main reasons: number one is that you have control over how the conversation develops, and number two is that most of our knowledge is tacit, not explicit.

As a leader, you can design the conversation to bring out valuable, helpful knowledge and experience that your team or network already have.

Trust is also key to collaborating meaningfully and leveraging existing assets. Trust will emerge with time, from stable patterns and a safe environment.

The 4 questions & 10 skills of strategic doing

You can think of Strategic Doing as a constant loop of thinking and doing. Going back and forth as many times as needed, even on the same skills and questions, is a natural part of the process.

Before you begin

We already mentioned how conversation and trust are crucial points in the process. Before you begin, these are the two skills you need to work on:

Establish a safe environment for deep, focused conversations; Somewhere everyone feels comfortable and where no external distractions interrupt the conversation.

Frame these conversations around an appreciative question.

What could we do?

Once you have discussed the strategic outcome you want to achieve, think about actions that will help you move in that direction.

Identify hidden assets people are willing to share to create new opportunities.

Leverage and link these assets.

What should we do?

You already worked on what activities you COULD do; now it is time to focus on which of those activities makes sense to focus on.

Use the Big Easy” matrix to identify easy opportunities with big impacts.

Measure your progress and convert your “Big Easy” into an outcome with measurable characteristics.

What will we do?

Move from plan to action: define concrete, short-term steps you can take to move toward the outcome.

Define at least one Pathfinder project with guideposts.

Draft a short-term action plan with everyone taking a small step.

What’s our 30/30

Agree on when to hold the next conversation to discuss what you’ve learned, adjust as necessary, and keep moving towards the solution.

30/30 meetings” to gather data and adjust.

Promote your new collaboration habits.

Together with Hutcheson, and Nilsen we have been sharing our experience with strategic problem solving with individuals and organizations around the world. Over the years, we have conducted workshops in 48 states and seven foreign countries. Several universities are now partnering with the Agile Lab to spread the discipline.

All in all

Strategic Doing is being applied in a wide range of industries to solve a wide range of complex challenges. Keep in mind that even if your organization is not yet ready to implement Strategic Doing as a whole or it doesn’t seem to be entirely a fit for you, there are still many opportunities where you can embrace these agile leadership skills.

If you’d like to dive deeper into Strategic Doing, check the Strategic Doing Institute or Agile Strategy Lab websites.



Ed Morrison is co-author of the book “Strategic Doing – Ten Skills for Agile Leadership”, a #1 Amazon New Release in 6 categories. Since 1993, he has been developing new, network-based models for strategy in open, loosely connected networks. These approaches emphasize the strategic value of focused collaboration and innovation in today’s global economy. He has developed a discipline called Strategic Doing to accelerate these collaborations that is now widely used across the U.S. and is now gaining attention internationally.

Ed worked for Telesis, a corporate strategy consulting firm and served on consulting teams for clients such as Ford Motor Company, Volvo and General Electric. He started his professional career in Washington, D.C., serving as a legislative assistant to an Ohio Congressman, staff attorney in the Federal Trade Commission and staff counsel in the U.S. Senate.

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