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Strategy is the most overused word in business. It is often applied in describing tactics, less so in making clear how a business intends to grow in its market.

I recently re-read “Playing to Win – how strategy really works” by A.G. Lafley (ex CEO of Proctor & Gamble) and Roger L. Martin (Academic and Strategy Consultant). Lafley and Martin have a long standing relationship working on strategy at P&G. Built off the strategic thinking of Michael Porter they paint a compelling picture of how they made strategy come alive and deliver real growth for P&G.

At a high level they describe strategy as the need to win; and to win you need to make clear choices across five key areas – a strategic choice cascade:

  1. What is our winning aspiration?
  2. Where will we play?
  3. How will we win?
  4. What capabilities must be in place?
  5. What management systems are required?

In their framework, your strategy is the choices you make across these five questions; and the core is in the answers to question 2 and 3 – the where and the how. It is also a highly iterative process with continual loop back and refinement.

The book almost solely uses their experience at P&G which, on the face of it, has been very successful in driving profit and growth well above market over the first decade of this century. The hard metrics outlined in the appendix certainly back this up. 

I wondered though how it would apply outside of P&G. Over the last six months we have used these ‘strategy choice’ questions with several clients – both in the development of strategy, but also as a challenge to their current strategic thinking. It has worked well wherever I have applied it (B2B, services and retail markets for instance) because it has forced people to decide what they do and, importantly, what they don’t do. 

In addition to the choices framework, the authors outline a number of valuable approaches in thinking about the where and how options – because there is obviously more than one set of strategic choices that can win. They have what they call a strategy logic flow. This flow enables you to understand across four dimensions (industry, customers, relative position and competition) the context, challenges and opportunities to help you develop strategic options to debate and analyse.

In analysing different strategic “where to play” and “how to win” options they take a reverse engineering approach. Rather than setting up participants to advocate from their point of view they pose a question against each scenario: what would have to be true across each of the strategy logic flow elements for us to pursue this possibility? This enables even the most ardent sceptic to engage and sets the bar as to what is critical for success. From that point, you can decide the most important factors and start to undertake a deeper analysis of those aspects that will determine what is truly worth pursuing. This reverse engineering approach not only does away a with a lot of the angst in what I would call strategic advocacy by individuals, it also enables you to not spend wasted time up front overanalyzing; you only focus on those aspects you really need to know to make strategic choices.

So despite its P&G focus there are a number of elements in Martin and Lafley’s approach that can be of real value in developing strategy. It forces you to focus on making the critical choices to define “winning” for your business. Well worth a read but also as a framework or challenge to your next strategic planning session. 

if you would like to discuss how you could use this in your business please contact me by clicking here.

by James Atkins, Vantage Strategy & Marketing

This article is linked to James' Google+ profile 

Strategy is the most overused word in business. It is often applied in describing tactics, less so in making clear how a business intends to grow in its market. ..

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How to anticipate problems and failure...carry out a Premortem

Welcome Andrew Cooke as our guest blogger from Blue Sky GPS (Growth & Profit Solutions) 

We are all familiar with post-mortems and forensic examinations from all the TV crime series. 

Post-mortems are good for telling you what went wrong, why it went wrong, and the consequences of things going wrong (death in this instance) – but it doesn’t change the fact that the individual is still dead. It is case of being wise after the event, but being wise after the event doesn’t stop or prevent things happening. 

Pre-mortems are different. Pre-mortems are a great way to assess and think through a potential strategy or a negotiation. It is about being wise before the event. 

Gather your team together and take them through the following exercise:

Andrew’s Five Steps in Carrying Out a Premortem

 Step 1: Select a prospective strategy. Make sure you have a clear description of the
strategic initiative. 
 Step 2: Set the scene. You are a year in the future after you have implemented the
strategy. Everything that could go wrong has gone wrong. To call it an
unmitigated disaster would be kind. It is a total catastrophe and it has very
serious consequences on the organization. People are not talking to each
other. It has gone beyond being embarrassing. You know what has happened,
but not why.
 Step 3: Generate reasons for failure. Give everybody in the room three minutes to
write down on post-it notes all the reasons why they think this strategic
initiative failed. Do this without talking or discussing, this allows each
individual to contribute their ideas and intuition. This allows you to capture
and utilize the unique blend of experiences, mental models and insights that
each person has
 Step 4: Share the reasons. Go round the group and get everybody, in turn, to share
and explain one reason at a time. Stick all the notes on the wall or
whiteboard. As a group get them to group any common or shared reasons.
This helps you to identify the key reasons why the strategic initiative might
 Step 5: Reassess the strategic initiative. In the light of what has been uncovered,
identify what will need to be changed about the strategy to improve it How
will this impact other strategic initiatives, and what are the consequences?
Remember, good strategy consists of strategic initiatives that interlink and
leverage each other, they do not stand alone.

Benefits of using pre-mortems include:
  • Stopping people and teams from becoming over-confident, encouraging a more realistic assessment of risk
  • Allowing people to voice their concerns and to share insights and experiences.
  • Helping teams to worry about the right things.
  • Allows you to regularly visit you strategy and anticipate problems.
  • Helps you to prepare backup plans and exit strategies.

It allows you to highlight factors that will influence success or failure, which may
increase your ability to control the results.

So look at one of your strategies and carry out a premortem – what will you find?

Andrew Cooke

Welcome Andrew Cooke as our guest blogger from Blue Sky GPS (Growth & Profit Solutions)  ..