What do a post-it note and the story of the ugly duckling have in common? This is what the "Museum of Strategic Projects" at CBS offers with an exhibition on strategic projects from various companies.
In a display case, a yellow duckling sits on a stack of post-it notes as an illustration of a project in the late 1960s at the company 3M. Here they worked on producing a very strong glue for the aerospace industry. It did not succeed. The project resulted in a very weak glue that was not used. Not until an employee several years later had an idea. He was also a choir singer and needed a product to mark pages in his hymnal, and that's how 3M became the manufacturer of the note, which can be attached to anything and easily removed again, and which has therefore become one of the best-selling office products, explains Carsten Lund Pedersen, who is a postdoc at the Institute for Strategy and Innovation at CBS and one of two initiators of the museum.
"With the exhibition, we would like to discuss how projects determine a company's strategy - regardless of whether they are a success or a mistake. A project can be an ugly duckling in one context and a beautiful swan in another, and there is a lot of learning in that understanding," he says.
"Everything does not have to be planned and a success to ultimately be decisive for the strategy," adds his colleague Thomas Ritter, professor at the Department of Strategy and Innovation.
Projects clarify the strategy
"If you ask a company which projects they are working on, you get a picture of their strategy. If you simply ask about their strategy, the answer can be very airy. It is important to understand strategy as a living portfolio of projects in order to ensure the necessary resources in the organisation and to find out whether there is a fit between the projects or whether they compete with each other," says Carsten Lund Pedersen and adds :
"If you can't say which projects are part of the strategy, you don't have a real strategy, but maybe just a plan."
According to Thomas Ritter, a project focus can resolve a potential discrepancy between a management decision and the employees' perception of the company's strategy.
"An employee says: 'I don't understand why the management has announced that we are going one way, and yet you spend ten million kroner to go the other way.' But it can make good sense if you have a project vision , because then there is room for projects that point towards innovation and renewal, and at the same time the organisation can invest in future-proofing the existing. A company is more complex than one agenda can cover,
and the project portfolio makes the strategy more inclusive and practical.”
Carsten Lund Pedersen gives a suggestion on how to ensure that an organisation does not work in many different directions:
"There must be room for employees to take the initiative by experimenting with a hobby project that can develop into an essential project. The organisations that are good at getting alignment and autonomy to interact manage to stay focused 80 percent of the time, and then they open up for employees to experiment 20 percent of the time.”