Putting the ‘D’ in Strategy

Over many years academic texts have portrayed strategic planning as an almost purely logical process of identifying strategic problems, analysing company strategy, formulating strategy, implementing strategy, and monitoring it.There are elements of truth in this portrayal, but the practice of strategic leadership and some recent influential thinking in the strategy space demonstrates that good strategy isn’t just about data analysis; great strategy has to be creative too.

Transformational strategy has to be designed.

The Harvard Convention

For years the standard approach to developing strategy was the paradoxically titled Harvard Design School model beloved (and still beloved) of many an MBA curriculum. I taught it for a little over 12 years. It didn’t have much to do with design in its true meaning, and the model is all about analysis … there’s little creativity

Bring on the Design Thinkers

Three books changed my approach. In 2005 Chan Kim and Renee Mauborgne published Blue Ocean Strategy. In 2009 Tim Brown published Change By Design. And in 2010 Alex Osterwalder and Yves Pigneur published Business Model Generation.

Now elements of the Harvard model are still relevant, but for me, they’re now part of a much richer, broader way of thinking.

The Harvard approach still dominates inputs into how we determine strategy: reviewing strategic position; Developing possibilities; Looking at people; Identifying conditions for success, as well as barriers, and making decisions. But what Blue Ocean Strategy, Change By Design and Business Model Generation did for me was to introduce the principles of creative design into strategy development.

Strategy as a Creative Contact Sport

The development of strategy can’t be a ‘sterile’ process. Instead, as we determine strategy, evaluate options, attempt to understand growth potential and frameworks for strategy, we need to understand it as a creative process, and that means it almost becomes a ‘contact sport’

Strategy By Design

Leading strategy design means we need to:

  1. Engage with our stakeholder community – the C-suite aren’t the only ones facing a strategic opportunity or challenge – any solution we build needs to address the desires and pain points of our stakeholders.

  2. Gather information on the current reality; that’s where the Harvard model comes in

  3. Create breakthrough ideas by pushing past incremental or obvious solutions, which is often a problem we get in strategising because the decision-making team is usually far too narrow.

  4. Select a promising strategy.

  5. Refine that strategy through prototyping.

  6. Execute it.

  7. And communicate it.

UberEats: a Case in Point

UberEats engage with communities and gather information through three principal means:

  1. First, once a quarter in their ‘Walkabout programme’ they visit an UberEats city and take a deep dive into its food culture, developing a deep understanding of the city and the customers that comprise it.

  2. Second, in ‘order shadowing’ they follow partners on deliveries – moving from kitchen to the consumer.

  3. Third, they hold ‘fireside chats’ with delivery partners, restaurant workers and consumers to find out more about the delivery experience.

All of the data developed in these experiences feeds into innovation workshops, enabling the development of breakthroughs. Ideas are selected and options tested in the field, enabling refinement. Final designs are rapidly executed and communicated.

This is live strategy design. It develops a clear view of strategic position, rapidly develops possibilities, looks carefully at people, identifies conditions for success, as well as barriers, and makes decisions. Most importantly, a wide range of people is included.

For all of its many reported faults, UberEats is generally held up to be successful. I don’t think it would have got to where it is by following what used to be a conventional strategic planning approach; its ongoing strategic transformation is deliberately designed.

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