Illustration by Jacob Zinman-Jeanes

An approach to strategy: framework

You have a strategic goal and you’re ready to tackle it. But how do you get started?

My previous article ‘A new approach to strategy: principlesintroduced a set of strategic principles, as a new way to approach twenty-first century challenges. This essay explores this approach at greater depth by exploring the framework that underpins it.

This simple framework identifies the three questions every strategic project should use to navigate complexity.

The practice of strategy requires a range of factors to be taken into account, all of which compete for attention. These include a unique combination of constraints (time, money, knowledge, human resources) and priorities (improve our reputation, make our stakeholders happy, reduce costs).

The following process helps to manage these complexities, by identifying three questions for the strategic process to resolve:

  • What is really going on?
  • What should we move away from / towards?
  • What do we do now / next?

These questions are considered and resolved through a process of analysis, assessment and execution, each which contain two components.

Analyse by framing and scanning

Analysis establishes a strong foundation of knowledge from which sets limits around the project and originates insights that can be drawn throughout the project. The work done during this stage dives to the requisite depth to identify the ‘true’ and ‘relevant’ dynamics of an issue. Analysis provides a strong frame of reference that helps to guide the delivery of work throughout the process.

Assess by forecasting and prospecting

Assessment is used to generate and consider options. The time invested in this exploration helps to identify what is possible and what is most preferred. It is a common temptation for people to bypass this step in favour of leaping from analysis to action. The result of this is that the strategy later stumbles over unrecognised assumptions and misses key opportunities.

Execute by designing and launching

The execution of strategy has often been tightly coupled with planning. While a valid activity, to consider planning the main outcome is to limit the potential payoffs of strategy. The purpose of execution is to release the potential value developed in the work done previously. This form could be anything that achieves the desired outcome examples could include a website, an event, a community, a campaign, a new product, a decision, a service, a product, a new business model and is best achieved through prototyping and iterating.

Getting from ‘A’ to ‘B’

The key to effective strategic delivery is not only containing the questions and challenges a project inevitably raises, but knowing kind of inquiry is needed and when that inquiry is sufficiently complete. I call this ‘piloting’ and ‘pivoting’. It is essentially the ability to complete and move between the different modes demanded in an end-to-end strategic process.

Failed or ineffective strategy is often the result of execution that has not completed or transitions between the modes needed. Examples of this include endless analysis (or analysis alone), endless exploration (or exploration) or rapid (linear) strategy. Strong strategic process is capable of guiding enduring and transformative outcomes, but it requires skilful and disciplined execution.

Written by Beth Hyland, Strategy Designer and Futurist at Thick.

Read more essays from the Thick team.

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