Ten Steps to Clearer Strategy

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President, Business Innovation Partners
Jeff is a senior business and technology executive, with extensive expertise and leadership in innovation, strategy development, business architecture, and organizational transformation. He has substantial consulting and corporate experience working with senior leadership to set direction, build consensus, and translate business objectives into effective action. Jeff is an internationally recognized thought leader in business architecture, strategy execution, and organizational transformation. He frequently speaks, writes, and teaches seminars on these topics Jeff currently writes the blog, The Business Architect, chairs The Business Architect’s Roundtable, is a member of the Business Architecture Guild’s advisory board, and is the Editorial Director for the Business Architecture Institute.

The Strategy Execution Process
The strategy execution process provides a structured approach to clarifying, communicating, implementing, and managing strategy. The goal of this process is to ensure the organization focuses on developing high-value capabilities and making investments that optimize value. Most established and successful business architecture practices are deeply engaged in developing their organization’s strategy execution process though few have it completely implemented. Most are attempting to influence strategy from the bottom up. 

Implementing the strategy execution process ensures that executive intent is translated throughout the entire organization consistently and results in focused, coordinated, and synergistic action. There are six basic elements in the strategy execution value stream: strategy clarification, capability identification, capability assessment, gap identification, choosing investments, and monitoring strategic progress. The first step, strategy clarification, can be accomplished through the following ten steps. 

The Ten Steps of Strategy Clarification

Step 1: Locate “strategy” documents – The unfortunate truth is that few organizations have well-defined, rationalized, and well-articulated strategy documents. Some have none at all but most have “strategy indicators” buried in a wide variety of documents. Some places to look are: corporate annual reports, mission, vision, and goals presentations, product strategy documents, departmental planning documents, roadmap presentations, project plans, public relations documents, marketing documents, and support services strategy documents (IT, HR, Finance, etc.). Check with your Investor Relations team if you have one. They often have the public view of the company’s strategy. It is not uncommon to find hundreds of pages of strategy related documents. 

Step 2: Rationalize the data – Once you have located a reasonable set of documents, read though them identifying “directional” statements. Many will not be strategies, even some of which are labeled as such, but will help you identify and clarify unstated or poorly defined strategies. Directional statements include vision declarations, aspirations, good intentions, problem definitions, missions, goals, project descriptions, challenges, needs, and even a few real strategies. Directional statements will typically comprise only one to five percent of a document. 

Step 3: Structure the data – Find the relationships among the parts you identified in Step 2 and organize them into a cohesive model. At this point you can use short names for each element similar to the way you create short names for capabilities. It is fine to have hanging elements that don’t integrate such as a set of goals with no corresponding strategy. Most architects create a hierarchical structure such as Vision > Goals > Strategies > Objectives > Initiatives > Projects. Your structure might be different. The objective here is to create a model that helps illuminate strategic intent and identify the most glaring gaps. 

Step 4: Articulate the model – Referring back to the original documents, create a more detailed definition of each of the elements from Step 3 to create more context. Definitions might include elaborating on the name, change drivers, impacted organizations, results clarification, and document of origin. The goal of this step is to create a short document that, along with the model from Step 3, provides a clear picture of what you understand. It doesn’t have to be complete or accurate, just a well-articulated presentation of what you believe the organization’s strategic intent to be based on the information you currently have. 

Step 5: Management review #1 – Review your document with senior managers. The idea here is to play back what you have inferred from the data you have. The questions you want to ask the management team are: “Did I miss any important documents?” “Did I interpret them correctly?” “Does the model make sense?” “What did we get right and what did we get wrong?” “What should we add, delete, or change to make the document more accurately reflect your thinking?” The goal of this step is to engage the management team early in the process without challenging them – that comes later – and to clarify their strategic intent. 

Step 6: Identify conflicts, overlaps, and implications – This step is likely to be the most time consuming as it requires a significant amount of data gathering and analysis. Working with operational managers, clarify what the strategies might mean to them. Will they drive simple or radical changes? Will they require significant funding? Will they require hiring new skill sets? What current work will the new strategies conflict with? Are there significant cultural or political challenges? How often will the same set of resources be required to work on multiple strategies? Taken as a whole, how similar or different are the individual strategies and goals? What work needs to be stopped or reduced to align with the new strategies? Keep the work at a high level. You are trying to clarify intent not create an implementation plan. Use the information here to guide your clarification and elaboration of the original strategy model. 

Step 7: Clarify strategy impact – Using the data collected in the previous step, create supplemental strategy clarification models. Value maps (also called strategy canvases or focus maps) along with a five action framework can be used to clarify the implication of the stated strategy. The number one challenge in getting new strategies off the line is identifying what is not going to be done so that resources are available for the new work. The five action framework identifies what actions to create, increase, keep the same, reduce, or eliminate. Other models such as strategy maps and value streams may also be used to clarify what the strategy means to the organization.

Step 8: Assemble your strategy document – Integrating the work from the previous four steps, create a concise strategy document. The document should be short, five to ten pages, certainly no more than twenty. If it takes more than that, create an appendices with supporting data. Define each goal and strategy clearly, note enablers and hurdles, and objectively describe the challenges. If there are significant issues with the strategies as they are defined, such as major conflicts, make recommendations for how to resolve them. The goal here is to create a senior management level document that says: “This is what we heard, and this is what we think it means.” 

Step 9: Final management review – Review your final work with senior managers. The goal is to walk away with 100% agreement that your strategy document accurately reflects their strategic intent and organizes their strategies, goals, objectives, etc. into a model that they endorse. This may take more than one meeting as they tweak your work. If it does, come back with revisions quickly to keep the momentum. The questions you want to ask the management team in this step are: “Does this accurately and completely reflect your thinking?” “Did we illuminate the strategy in a way that will resonate with your peers and subordinates?” “Are you willing to promote this view of your strategy?”

Step 10 Test your results – Take your finalized document and review with a wide variety of people across and down the organization. It doesn’t have to be a large number of people, diversity matters more than quantity. The questions you are asking here are: “Do you understand what your leadership team is trying to do?” “What is your interpretation of the strategy?” “Does this document help you think about what you should change (and perhaps not change) in your own organization or activity set?” One challenge in this step is to clarify the difference between understanding and agreement. People don’t have to agree with the strategy though it is beneficial if they do, but they do need to understand it or you have more work to do. 

Strategy clarification output

The output of this stage of the strategy execution process is a clear, concise, and complete illumination of management’s strategic intent that they endorse. It clarifies WHAT the organization wants to accomplish and gets everyone on the same page. It does not provide the organization with detailed guidance on HOW to get there though it should provide some general guardrails. 

The bottom line:__________________________________________________

Strategy clarification is the essential first step of crafting a well-designed strategy execution process. It creates the platform for aligned change activity by ensuring everyone has a clear picture of the goal. Though your management team may push back in the beginning, if you do your job well, eventually they will thank you for helping get the organization on board with what they want to accomplish. 

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