Planning Stage 4: Developing High-Level Strategies
In this post we will describe the methods for achieving the breakthrough objectives.
First Level Strategy Development
Your planning team must first identify the high-level strategies for meeting the breakthrough objective(s). A simple process consists of formulating an appropriate question to stimulate brainstorming among the team. For example, “What are all the things we can do to improve Y?”
The next step is to brainstorm answers to the question and record the answers on Post-its, are then grouped and titled using the Affinity Diagram process, and the titles are candidates for the first level strategies.
Your team examines the strategy candidates and forming a judgement (using data if possible) on whether each of the candidates is necessary to meet the breakthrough objective. After completion of the discussion they remove any strategies they do not have strategic impact on the objective.
For the remaining strategies, your team determines if these strategies are good enough to meet the objective, based on common sense and their specific business and technical knowledge of the situation. In some cases, more in-depth analysis may be required, and subject matter experts outside the planning team may have to be consulted.
Metrics and Goals
Like the breakthrough objective(s), the strategies need to have numerical metrics to judge how well they need to be done, at what cost, and by what completion date. The goals for these metrics may be tentative, until development of the lower level details.
Timing of Strategies
Generally, there will be some dependency among your strategies—some might need to be completed before others can start. It is useful to lay them out on a timeline. This can be easily done using Post-itsTM to see the dependencies and to arrive at logical sequencing.
Breakthrough at The Strategy Level
Breakthrough occurs when members of your organization divorce themselves from the current reality. This can be accomplished by having your planning team address three basic questions.
- If what you are trying to achieve is something your organization have never done before, has anyone else done something similar that might apply to your situation?
- Is what you are trying to do different from anything that has ever been done, to your knowledge?
- If what you are trying to achieve is a major improvement in something you are currently doing, do you fully understand why your current approach or process cannot deliver the desired performance?
Realistically, many of the most profound inventions and discoveries down through the ages have been serendipitous. It would seem that this implies that an approach to creativity could be to provide the mechanism for sorting quickly, through many events and experimental results that is applicable to the breakthrough objective, by consulting experts, web searches, focused brainstorming sessions with any and all in your organization to come up with ideas.
Another reality in seeking “breakthroughs” is that your organization will have to go beyond brainstorming. Research and profound knowledge in the subject disciplines are necessary. Benchmarking is a very good research tool.
Deliberate and Emergent Strategies
The intent of planning is to identify at the outset the objectives and the means for achieving the objectives. This is usually very difficult, because in the planning phase the problem or the challenge of the objective is not clearly understood as it will be after considerable effort has been invested.
An important feature of a vision-driven strategy process is that the process requires frequent in-depth reviews to check progress and to continually evaluate the feasibility of the strategies and objectives. Your planning team must continuously be prepared to abandon strategies and objectives that, in the light of new knowledge and insight, are seen to be impracticable. New objectives and strategies must be pursued to replace the ones abandoned. These are called emergent strategies.
Ownership of Strategies and Objectives
Responsibility and accountability for every element of your organization’s plan must be clearly assigned to an individual, or sometimes a small team of people. This includes objectives, strategies and tactics. Usually ownership is hierarchical, that is, the CEO will own the objectives, and his/her direct reports will own strategies as individuals, or as teams.
It is normal for organizations to have ongoing projects at the same time of planning, i.e. new products, improved processes, new capabilities, capacity expansion, etc. When the vision-driven objective is developed, the leaders of these efforts should look carefully for opportunities to align these activities to the objective.
The biggest temptation your top managers will have in this process is biting off more than they can chew. A simple discipline to help avoid eating the elephant is to use the three Ds—Delete, Defer, Delegate. All existing and proposed projects and activities should be evaluated for alignment with the strategic or essential operational objectives, then asking the following three questions:
- Can we delete it?
- Can we defer it?
- Should we delegate it?
In this article we have shown how the strategic planning process can be used to develop your organization’s high-level objectives. This plan now needs to be deployed throughout your organization, to the managers, and individuals who will do most of the work.
In the next post we will talk about deployment of the first-level strategies.
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.