According to Wikipedia, strategy is “a high level plan to achieve one or more goals under uncertain conditions”. Something most of us need to consider on a regular basis right?
Interestingly, I read recently that only 44% of strategic initiatives are successful and that 58% of projects are not well aligned to organizational strategy [PM Network, April 2014]. To me, this suggests a lack of proper focus.
Creating an implementable and coherent strategy should be a critical front-end step in any innovative process; and by ‘innovation’ I mean any change that adds value. In product management this might be described by a roadmap for the product or product-line. In the broader business context the strategy may be described by a model (or canvas) and an accompanying time-line of critical milestones.
Regardless of the context, a common theme is that in order to enable successful implementation it is necessary to prioritise effectively. A model that can be usefully employed to guide this assessment is one associated with the innovation sweet spot. This sweet spot occurs at the intersection of desirability, feasibility and viability. If we look at each of these elements in turn we will see that they encompass lower-level considerations that should become critical drivers in the process of achieving focus.
Desirability, for example, needs to be considered both from the market perspective and the internal alignment with missions, values and goals. Desirability in the market (external or internal) may be ascertained from user behaviour, feedback, surveys, competitive analysis and similar avenues of research. The key here is to examine needs in the problem domain (ie jobs to be performed or performed better) rather than wants that are often expressed in the solution domain (and may not be the best answer). Evidence of existing coping mechanisms (workarounds) is a strong indicator of a need compared to a ‘nice-to-have’. Other drivers will include complexity (ease of use), ease of adoption, supportability etc. The key here is to determine the relative level of demand across the options and to consider the degree of alignment with the values and trajectory of the organization.
An assessment of feasibility will necessarily cover a range of key drivers extending from basic technological enablers to questions of capability and capacity. The primary question here is “can we do it?” with implicit undertones of “in time” and “with acceptable levels of risk”. In fact, risk is clearly a factor across all derived criteria. That aside, an important consideration related to feasibility is the combination of both capacity and alignment with other initiatives (either planned or already in play). I believe it is a recipe for disaster to continually chase after the next big thing if it means resource contention, collaboration-stifling siloism and compromised benefits or missed opportunities.
The viability question is obviously key but often hard to appraise without first considering the feasibility aspect and is, most likely, irrelevant if there is insufficient demand. For our purposes the idea of viability encloses the notion of commercial, legal and HSE drivers together with the more typical financial metrics of cost, cash flow and return on investment (among others). Again, risk will undoubtedly emerge as a key criteria for selection / prioritization.
For any given situation, it should be possible to derive a small number of critical factors, from these broad groupings, that can be used to inform the decision process. Thereafter, evaluation against each of the chosen criteria can be as simple as panel-based reviews assigning scores against each option and summing the results to create a prioritized list.
A more robust method is to first assign weightings to the criteria and, for each option, to sum the products of each score with its associated weighting. This approach better caters for differences in importance between the criteria. For example, overall technical complexity might be considered less important than overall cost in an organization with a strong internal capability supported by well-established alliance partners. In other cases, regulatory or compliance issues may need to be elevated in importance. The relative weightings are clearly contextual with a few occupying a similar spot every time - I have never seen ‘health & safety’ be given a low weighting.
Whichever method is adopted, it is important that the criteria chosen to influence your strategy are both measurable and actionable. This will allow progress downstream to be monitored against these ‘success criteria’ and a course correction or celebration to ensue as appropriate (don’t forget the weightings when comparing various levels of achievement).
One final note is that the breadth of domains feeding the decision process makes it essential that a properly representative group of stakeholders is engaged in the design of the strategy and commit to it. Additionally, it is also wise to inject existing initiatives into the mix to confirm their continued relevance and associated priority.
Effective strategy is not just setting ambitious KPIs, it’s about focused implementation. Make it so.