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we don’t really have a strategy

June 12th, 2015 No comments

It is said a strategy has to have these components:

    • Purpose
    • Plan
    • Doable series of actions
    • Measurable goal(s)
    • A narrative

To this, I’d add that it is important as well to weight side effects as well as the validity of those goals. It could well be that a strategy could be beneficial in the short term, and disastrous in the long term, or cause a lot more damage to third parties (therefore, it is externalized and seems much less important) than the benefit it may bring.

Let me call them “risks” in a generic way. So a strategy must be iterative and open to revision at all times, if unforeseen results appear from those goals. Don’t fall for the trap of naive rationalization or the belief – wildly spread in politics today – of omniscience and infallibility.  Most often, I think we do not know how to do strategy.  And that probably we even can’t. It’s an illusion.

In both the business and the politics worlds, two elements are magnified and the important – and hard – stuff, neglected. We love simplified narratives with clear – albeit fallacious – causal relations, and we love the apparent purpose we made up in our heads – that is, we are focusing on the fairy-tale results, the dreamy end, the wishy-washy grand statements, and we want to obviate the hard part, which is designing your plan, deciding what work and efforts are needed, also to realistically assess if it’s doable at all in your context and then decide how you will measure success (or the lack thereof, in order to learn).

Assessment and measurement are to be done with metrics and numbers. These are notoriously and largely absent from political manifest and party programs for example – and nobody seems to be shocked by that glaring omission -, which are the perfect showcase of how the public at large prefers to focus on the narrative, the seduction part, and forget about the hard part (as bold as unsubstantiated slogans or mission statements as “reclaim the city for the citizens”, “build a fairer more egalitarian society”, for example), and that is probably because politics is not only the art of the possible, but is as well about deceiving and seducing in order to nudge oneself and one own’s clique into a rent-seeking position of power.

But the business world is also full of grand purposes, transformation projects and strategies (a lot of them digital, these days) that remain just that, dreams and a lot of meetings.  A strategy should inspire, yes, but before that, you need to perspire and work hard to come up with one.  One that is backed by cold hard facts, by sensible reasoning and assessment, by taking into account what worked and failed in the past as well.  It does not have to be something very complicated. Something like this is probably enough to get started.

STRATEGY
NARRATIVE Developing business CRUD applications for our clients can be very fun!
PURPOSE Position our company as a top software development boutique
PLAN Rather than rely on price-based race to the bottom competition, compete on quality and real value
ACTIONS Invest in quality training in bleeding-edge technology
Partner with great companies
and/or open source projects
position ourselves in the radar by writing blogs
speaking at conferences
publishing books or papers
MEASURABLE GOALS Are we getting more contracts?
Are we working with companies perceived to be leaders? what are your desired partners?
Have we moved into or towards thought-leader territory? if yes, how can you prove it?
Have we been able to raise fees and improve profit in projects? How much?
Are we delivering better and faster? Percentages, please?
RISKS Hard work is more prone to quitting
Complacency and relax
Harder to maintain momentum

I just came up with this in the time it takes to actually write it, so please excuse the simplicity, but I guess you have seen plenty of documents full of the three first points, and not so many of the other three, especially the last two.

Without those, a strategy is worthless.

Categories: rants, strategy Tags: ,