Planning Stage 5: Deploying the High-Level Strategies
The breakthrough objectives and the high-level strategies developed earlier are what we call the high-level plan. The important point in deployment is the scheme you used to develop the first level strategies is simply replicated at the lower levels in the organization, the first level strategies become the objectives for the next level of strategies, meaning that the second level strategies are what must be completed to achieve the first level strategies. Similarly, the third level strategies are what be done to achieve the second level strategies and so on.
The next step is to break down the second level strategies into tactics. All plans must be developed to the point of having tactical details. The entire plan is developed by a series of meetings at successively lower levels in your organization until the tactical details are developed. Then the plans must be reviewed starting at the bottom of your organization, working up until the entire plan has been reviewed and is judged to be self-consistent.
This process is called “catchball, it gives all the participants in the process the opportunity to throw ideas back and forth at each level, about what can be done to achieve each strategy, where there might be problems in capability and capacity, and what commitments need to be made to address these problems. The intent is to get a true picture of your organization’s capability, and to focus on those areas where the biggest obstacles or opportunities lie, relative to achieving the strategic plan.
Communication of the Strategic Plan
Managers and employees who are expected to participate in the planning process need to understand the basic intent and philosophy of the process and need to be aware of the results that were achieved at the initial planning meetings. Generally, the senior management team let it be known that they are working on the high-level plan, and that other members of the organization are expected to participate, followed by forwarding the notes of the initial planning meetings to all participants.
Development of the Second-Level Strategies
The process of developing second-level strategies is conducted by each first-level strategy owner with their direct reports, and/or cross-functional teams, using a process identical to that used to develop the first-level strategies. Each strategy owner holds an initial meeting for this purpose. The meeting duration can be one or two days. Part of the meeting will be to review what has been done to date. This review is facilitated by the fact that all participants will have received the notes from the high-level planning management meetings.
Owners for the second-level strategies should be determined and tasked with committing to the metrics and goals that collectively that assure achievement of the first-level strategies. This the “catchball” process in action because it involves tossing ideas back and forth to finally arrive at mutually agreeable strategies, metrics, and goals. Your managers will need to challenge their teams with difficult goal proposals to ensure breakthrough thinking.
Frequent outcomes of “catchball” meetings in general are:
- The team might feel confident that it can meet the objective and may even suggest raising the goal.
- It may become apparent that some cross-organizational cooperation is necessary to address the main strategy, or one of your sub-strategies. The strategy owner might take responsibility to acquire the needed cooperation.
- The team will discover a major capability shortfall in their ability to meet their objective (the first-level strategy). They may have to make an agreement to accept the challenge, while making it clear that they can’t see an obvious path to success and hope that a creative solution will be found somewhere in the next level of “catchball” or during implementation.
- The team may decide that a key participant is missing and invite that participant to join them.
The team may need follow-on meetings to finalize its thinking, but ultimately, they will emerge with the second-level strategies, with metrics, goals, and owners. The next step is for the second-level strategy owners to assemble their own teams and begin the process of developing third-level strategies using the same “catchball” process.
The next step will be for the second level strategy owners to assemble their own teams and begin the process of developing third-level strategies, using the identical process.
When the deployment activities come down to a level where strategies are becoming clearly defined projects, or where the actions to achieve them are clearly defined tasks that can be accomplished without further definition, or the combination of the two, you have reached the tactics level. These tasks and project can be planned using traditional planning methods (MS Project, Critical Path Methods, etc.).
How Long Does it Take?
The deployment process may take two weeks or more to perform each strategy level. With practice and excellent planning and coordination your organization can manage about a week per level. Therefore, the entire deployment process for a plan with three strategy levels should take about two months, including development and review of the final tactical level.
A good tool to use for documenting the plan is the tree diagram. The tree diagram can be used to summarize the entire plan. It clearly shows the linkage of each strategy, project and task to achieve the final objective. It should be used as the unifying document to explain and discuss the plan.
This post contains the essence of the planning process. The most salient characteristic of this process is “catchball.” In “catchball” the manages at each level of your organization must play the role of effective team leader in helping to understand the capabilities of his or her organization, leading to two-way communication to overcome shortfalls and synthesize capabilities that did not exist before.
The manager of each team must have a good grasp of what it takes, in aggregate, to meet the objective, so that preliminary integration of strategies can be performed, that is, confirmation that the strategies with their goals, will meet the objective and its goal.
In the next post we will cover the “DO” and “CHECK” elements of the PDCA Cycle—Implementation and Final Plan Review.
Willie Carter is president of Quantum Associates, Inc., an independent process improvement consulting firm that helps organizations produce defect-free products and services with less human effort, less time, less space, less capital and at far less cost.