An easy-to-use framework for strategy
Deciding on an effective strategy can be a challenging task for even the best of management teams. Disagreements are always likely to happen, yet there are few things more infuriating than when team members are all on different pages when a strategic thinking session takes place.
Worse, given the tendency for humans to have confirmation bias once they have made their minds up about something, it can be even more difficult to trace the path back to decisions that have already been made.
Thousands of books have been written about strategy. This post does not attempt to replace them. Instead we thought it would be helpful to offer an easy-to-use framework for strategic thinking. Also you may wish to refer to our Strategic Thinking Model here.
Having a framework that clarifies everyone’s perspectives and captures them in a way that enables the team to be able to discuss the views substantively (and without prejudice!) is, we feel, useful.
The framework we recommend as being easy to apply to most strategic thinking meetings is one based on ‘the 10 S model’, as follows:
Before we can even talk about strategy, everyone at the table needs to articulate and define what exactly the Situation before them is. In planning a military operation, commanders need to have a clear understanding of the terrain. They need to agree not only on the ‘known knowns’ but also the ‘known unknowns’ and try to unearth any ‘unknown unknowns’.
‘The first responsibility of a leader,’ as Drucker wrote, ‘is to define reality.’
So before we can even discuss strategy, team members need to share their perspective of the situation, and then the team needs to weave these together as best as they can to create a macro picture of the challenge facing them.
Strategies usually unravel when teams make assumptions and then blindly stick to them in the face of reality that shows those assumptions to be flawed.
It would not be difficult to cite misreadings of the situation in the Vietnam and Korean wars (by all sides). Looking back, commanders such as Macarthur held to heart some highly optimistic suppositions, without any tactical fallback in the event these suppositions were invalidated.
Companies such as Starbucks experienced the same problem when they rolled out in Australia, with the assumption that Australians would be happy to queue for their coffee, only to be spectacularly disproved with no Plan B to hand.
Suppositions are an important part of any strategy – it’s impossible to have the Wisdom of Job about any Situation. What is important, though, is to be aware of our Suppositions and to write these down, re-testing them at every new development.
Once a team has a clear view of the Situation before it and Suppositions made, it then needs to clarify its Scope.
Over what timeframe are we working? Concerning which kinds of customers? How much of the team are we involving in the decision?
These type of questions help a team Scope the challenge before it and achieve greater focus for the Strategy it will choose.
The team can then determine which Strengths can best be leveraged in order to deliver the Strategy most effectively.
This consideration usually happens alongside the Strategy itself, may precede or may follow it, depending on the situation. But a strategy that does not clearly understand the Strengths of the people, company or situation and then leverage them, is a failure of the strategic thinking itself.
Having established the Situation, Suppositions and Scope, the team can now choose the Strategy it will use faced with the information before it.
Many teams unfortunately only start here. If it has not laid groundwork of the first three S’s, the team will often struggle as the scope is just to wide, the situation hasn’t been established and no-one can agree on the suppositions made. The attempt at strategy and maybe even the team itself may begin to unravel.
In the case that reality has been defined as above, teams can now focus on what their goal is, what their tactical objectives may be over what period of time, and most importantly clearly define what success looks like.
Next we need to create and test our strategy against a number of scenarios. This engages the creative mind and allows a team to challenge its suppositions against a range of variables and possibilities. Revise your strategy accordingly.
Typically, a team would have a shared goal early on. This needs to be articulated and defined. At this stage of the Strategy, it needs to be written down. There may be more than one success factor – so feel free to use milestones or checkpoints for this.
Next the team can then map out the Steps in which the strategy will be achieved. In the case of a project, this may include a timeline with inputs and milestones.
Steps give the strategy dimensionality and also give the team options if it needs to make tactical adjustments to its strategic plan.
It’s always help to make the Strategy as tangible and visual as possible. Therefore, using a Scoreboard with the steps and success milestones mapped out can really help the team stay clear on its goals in hand.
Last, and by no means least, a strategy needs to define its limit or ‘stop’. At what point will the strategy be changed or even abandoned?
Agreeing on a ‘stop’, a definition of failure even, is hard for teams to do, but it is absolutely necessary and avoids the risk of ‘mission creep’ or catastrophic loss when contingencies can then be used.
So to summarise:
Situation > Suppositions > Scope > Strengths > Strategy > Scenarios > Success > Steps > Scoreboard > Stop
Use the 10 S Model every time and your strategies will have a far greater chance of success!
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