Strategy is difficult to define precisely. On the one hand, it gets confused with analysis. This includes everything from market size to technical assessments to financial prognosis. The result is often reports that fill up dozens of pages.
On the other hand, strategy gets conflated with planning. You’ve probably witnessed annual strategy retreats in your organization, where leaders spend several days forging plans for the upcoming year. They then emerge from seclusion with detailed roadmaps and financial plans that become quickly obsolete.
Analysis and planning, while necessary inputs and outputs in the strategy creation process, are not the core of strategy. You can’t analyze your way to strategy: the answers don’t magically emerge from data. And detailed roadmaps don’t provide the rationale for the activity they organize. Strategy does.
Strategy is about devising a way you believe you’ll best overcome challenges to reach a desired position. It is a creative endeavor, not based on analysis and planning alone. Strategy represents the logic that connects analysis and planning. Ultimately, it’s how your organization makes sense of its actions and decisions over time.
I developed the strategy blueprint as a tool to visualize this central strategic rationale.* It uses a canvas format to help visualize the relationships between elements of the strategy. The image below shows the template for the strategy blueprint.
Strategy Blueprint by Jim Kalbach, CC BY-NC-SA 4.0
The elements in the strategy blueprint are based on research in the field. First, it borrows from Henry Mintzberg’s five Ps of strategy from his book Strategy Safari. These are combined with Roger Martin and A.G. Lafley’s five questions of strategy in their recent book Playing To Win. (Both books are highly recommended).
The table bleow summarizes and aligns these two existing frameworks. The last column reveals their thematic intersection, yielding six common elements of strategy.
|LAFLEY & MARTIN||MINTZBERG||ELEMENTS OF STRATEGY|
|–||Pattern||What challenges motivate you?|
|What is you winning aspiration?||Position||What are your aspirations?|
|Where will you play?||Perspective||What will you focus on?|
|How will you win?||Ploy||What are your guiding principles?|
|What capabilities are needed?||Plan||What types of activities are needed?|
|How will you manage strategy?||–||How will you measure success?|
Each element (from the column on the right) is given a box in the blueprint.
- Challenges. Strategy implies the need for change, a desire to move from point A to point B. What are the hurdles to doing so? What opposing forces must you overcome to be able to reach your goals?
- Aspirations. What kind of organization do you aspire to be? What do you aspire for customers and for society? Alignment diagrams offer information that can inform creating a strategic aspiration.
- Focus areas. Setting a scope to your strategy helps you concentrate effort on the things that matter most. Who will you serve? What regions will you play in? Which jobs to be done will you target?
- Guiding principles. These are the pillars of your strategy you believe will overcome the challenges you face. What mantras will unite teams and unify decision making?
- Activities. What types of activities are needed to implement the strategy and achieve your aspirations? Note that this is not about making a roadmap or plans, rather looking at the skills and capabilities you’ll ultimately need
- Outcomes. How will you know your strategy is on track? How can you measure progress and success?
Building strategy is a creative endeavor. The strategy blueprint allows you to explore options with no initial risk. Try alternatives, cross items off, rework ideas, and start over again. Strategy is designed.
Use the blueprint in briefings, workshop, or as a reference document.There is no prescribed order to completing the blueprint. Typically, it’s best to start with the challenges and aspirations. After that you may find yourself moving freely between the boxes. The blueprint allows you see all the moving parts of strategy at once, making it tangible and inclusive to others.
* Note that the strategy blueprint as presented here is a modified version of my UX Strategy Blueprint described in a previous post. The two are effectively the same tool with the qualification of “UX.”