Progressive Strategy — Why you need to up your strategy game

Some claim that strategy has „become a dirty word“. While this statement was obviously phrased with its attention-grabbing power in mind, there is truth to the notion that traditional strategy approaches haven fallen out of favour in the digital world. And — to a degree — rightly so.

The speed of digital disruption forces companies to deliver against rapidly rising customer expectations. Business models and digital service offerings need to be re-invented in ever shorter cycles pressuring almost all organisations to bring their digital innovation capabilities to the next level.

A traditional inside-out approach to strategy that extrapolates a company’s future from its current situation and abilities seems increasingly out of touch with this new reality. This (old) school of strategic thinking is best summarised by the Boston Consulting Group’s founder, Bruce Henderson: “Strategy depends on the ability to foresee future consequences of current actions.”

But future consequences are ever harder to foresee. That is why ‘agile’ and ‘lean’ approaches have taken the digital world by storm. The ability to understand the current status of any digital product or service as just an iteration to be re-shaped according to customer feedback has become the recipe for success. Relentless testing and the willingness to ‘pivot’ when needed are seen as the hallmarks of fruitful business strategies for the digital era.

Against this backdrop, strategy — both in content and process — needs to evolve. It has to balance the need for agility with the ability to provide direction beyond the next few development sprints.

Instead of looking from here to the future, strategy has to start with the future and work its way backwards. It has to become visionary and work outside-in. It needs to foresee the present consequences of a viable future. This in effect upends Henderson’s assumption and many approaches to strategy traditionally offered by consultancies.

A new take on strategy is needed. We believe that the approach we call Progressive Strategy yields the best results in terms of conciliating flexibility with foresight.

Progressive Strategy as we practice it is characterised by the following five traits:

Flexible: Defines guiding principles and manageable (digital) initiatives instead of devising grand plans for the long haul. Exhibits a pronounced readiness to question and re-visit any plan or roadmap.

Creative: Combines analytical rigour with creative problem-solving approaches. Builds on a mind set and toolkit that can handle ambiguity.

Empathetic: Understands that most business will continue to be done and run by people. Makes customer insights the centre point of analysis.

Data-Obsessed: Understands data not only as the starting point of analysis but as its continuously harvested fuel. Is driven by a desire to quickly test hypotheses that arise along the way.

Executive: Understands that it is useless without execution. Aims to prove its worth by having a direct and measurable impact along all stages of the digital innovation process. Prefers the trenches to the ivory tower.

It becomes obvious that Progressive Strategy not only requires a new set of methods that tightly interlocks with agile development and business design frameworks but also a new breed of T-shaped practitioners. While analytical prowess is still the prerequisite for such a forward-looking strategy role, it also demands the ability to synthesise seemingly disparate and ambiguous insights. The desire to get one’s hands dirty in close combat with developers, designers and data scientist is a strong plus.

This is Progressive Strategy. This is the kind of strategy (and strategist) that is truly ready for the digital realm. And it is a vision for strategy as a discipline to escape the fate of becoming obsolete in a digital world.

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