initiative management at scale
We want to take a few minutes today to talk to you about why some of the most trusted brands in the world and the advisory firms that support them have chosen to trust Shibumi for Initiative and Program Management.

I think the best way to start is with an explanation of our name since its core to the foundation of almost everything we do. The name Shibumi actually comes from a Japanese word meaning effortless perfection and we learned about it from a spy novel that was written back in the 1970s where the main character tries to aspire to a state of Shibumi. For many of you who might have been teaching your kids how to ride a bike, you can see the anxiety and the fear that they have in trying to do something that many of us just view as second nature, but once they practice enough and they get the feeling for it that’s when it becomes second nature. In today’s corporate environment most transformation programs or any type of change are accompanied by that same anxiety and fear and we hope with enough practice and the right tooling that you can help your organization to make successful transformation second nature.

Initiative & Program Management

Most of the founders of Shibumi spent their career in the Business Improvement space and we saw first-hand some of the anxiety when we worked on some of the largest global strategic transformation programs. We noticed how organizations seemed to manage those incredibly important programs using hundreds of spreadsheets, leveraging external consultants, and using PowerPoint to do executive briefings. What was interesting to us is that there was a lot of technology at the time being thrown at how IT teams manage projects.  You might have for example a handful of people sitting in a single room in San Francisco working on a cloud-based software product to execute a small, agile style project, yet you have this enterprise, strategic program happening globally with 100’s of people involved and spreadsheets were being used to track the key milestones and activities, spreadsheets are being used to track all those financial benefits from the program and emails were being sent around with briefings being done through PowerPoint.  It seemed like there had to be a better way.

So, we researched at the Project Portfolio Management space (PPM) and what was interesting to us is that PPM tools were really not designed for executing strategic initiatives and business initiatives. PPM tools are really more focused on helping a CIO manage a portfolio of projects to come in on time and on budget, as well as to figure out the capacity and be able to turn to a CFO and say here are the set of projects that we can handle doing this year and here’s the work plan that we can do to peak on time and on budget. The problem with that approach is that has really nothing to do with the business outcomes that that organization is trying to achieve from that set of initiatives or projects. So this is what we set out to help our customers achieve when we founded the company, nearly 10 years ago.

Driving to measurable outcomes.

The key element that holds this all together is driving to measurable outcomes. Whether it’s intelligent automation, trying to drive efficiency, whether it’s merger integration, trying to drive synergies that were promised to Wall Street investors, whether it’s Digital Transformation trying to open up avenues to new markets. All of those things are driven by measurable outcomes that stakeholders are expecting to be delivered.

Identifying Opportunities

The first step in that process once an organization has decided that they’re going to try to drive towards a set of outcomes is to identify the ideas. What are the opportunities that are going to help us achieve those outcomes that we’re trying to achieve?  Many of the ideas are going to come from inside the organization, from people within the organization who are going to identify ways that they believe that their business can execute and achieve those outcomes. Additionally, many of our customers will lean on Advisory Firms that have great experience and best practices in their industry to identify the ideas or initiatives and opportunities that might be able to help the company execute against those objectives.

Building the Business Case

Each of those ideas will have a cost associated with them, and each idea actually has to have an ROI. In fact, it needs to have a business case that is developed, the risks need to be evaluated, the human capital the financial capital assessed. Everything that goes into actually making educated decisions and especially data-driven decisions.  in today’s corporate environment, if you’re actually going to make decisions that last and stick over the life of a project then they need to have some sort of basis and rationale.


Most organizations would love to execute on any initiative or project that has a positive ROI right? But the challenge, in reality, is that there are constraints on every organization, whether it be resource constraints or whether they be financial constraints for example.

If you have a thousand or two thousand ideas that either the company comes up with or maybe an external advisor comes up with you almost certainly can’t execute on all 2000 initiatives or projects simultaneously. So the ideas need to be prioritized, and when an organization looks at a set of initiative ideas they typically prioritize those based upon a couple of axis. The first one is almost always going to be the value that the initiative or project is going to deliver. Obviously, projects or initiatives that are going to deliver high value are of most interest when the organization is trying to achieve a set of outcomes but risk also has to be taken into account because the initiatives that may be delivering the greatest outcome for the organization if executed well may come with a significant amount of risk of failure in execution.

What our customers are typically trying to do during the prioritization process is to figure out how to find that balance between the greatest value they can achieve with the most reasonable level of risk that the organization can absorb. Once you have those plans put into place everyone in the organization is really marching towards the same measurable outcome.

Change is the only certainty 

One of the most important things we have to understand, and really the only thing that is for certain, is that your plans are going to change. If 2020 has taught us anything it’s that making long-term plans and sticking to them, regardless of what you think is going to happen, is going to be a recipe for failure.  So, having a place and having a tool where you can understand how you made decisions in the first place, what assumptions you based those decisions on, and whether those assumptions are still valid, helps you course-correct and actually make better decisions.

Course Correction & Portfolio Optimization

A lot of those course corrections that an organization will do on a specific initiative will for example be to adjust expectations around what that initiative is going to deliver and that’s great… but the bigger value for an organization by understanding changes in the assumptions is to be able to re-prioritize a portfolio of investments that the organization is making. You may find that a year ago or six months ago when a set of initiatives or projects were originally funded, they were the optimal set of initiatives or projects that could deliver the greatest value to the organization with the most reasonable risk. Like we said, in 2020 we noticed that when those assumptions changed it had a significant impact on the ROI of specific projects. Some were more adversely affected than others, some might have actually been more effective this year than they were before, but an organization needed that ability to be able to re-prioritize and not just put every single strategic project they were working on hold.

The other thing that most organizations had to do this year and often will have to do over time is to re-evaluate the timeline to value that they’re willing to accept. In most organizations, especially large stable organizations, they’re looking for initiatives that can deliver the greatest ROI even if it’s over a multi-year period. In years like 2020, an organization’s time horizon will change and it’s possible a project that had a significant cost this year and was going to deliver value two or three years from now has become a lot less critical to the organization. Conversely, there may be a different project that maybe was going to deliver a little less value but that value is going to be delivered and have a real positive ROI in the current year.

The wonderful thing about executing programs in this manner is that you’re collecting data, and data can help you drive better decisions. The more data you get, the more you’re able to optimize future programs. The more you’re able to understand unknown risks, the more you’re able to understand people and processes that tend to work and drive more successful programs or drive unsuccessful programs so that you don’t make those mistakes again in the future.

As we mentioned earlier with the spy novel Shibumi, the book talked about this aspiration of effortless perfection and that’s really what we’re all about here at Shibumi. Our aspiration is to help an organization become more and more efficient and to get to the point where executing your strategic initiatives and programs really does feel as effortless as it can. In doing so, we hope that we can help you achieve the outcomes that your initiatives and programs set out to achieve.

Thank you for taking the time today and hope you get a better understanding of how Shibumi can help your organization moving forward.

For more information or to book a demonstration of the Shibumi Initiative Management solution click here.