Managing Multi-Thread Strategic Complexity

Posted by Matthew Thomas

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matthew-thomas-2.jpgThe inventor of the microscope, Anton Van Leeuwenhoek, was amazed at the complexity of organisms he discovered upon a closer look at pond water. What looked more or less clear to the naked eye displayed high complexity once subjected to even the most basic magnification. 

A strategy's complexity increases as the process moves from high-level vision, mission, values, and principles through strategic themes and into the overall strategic map of what goes where, when, and by whom. The same questions we ask when we first enter in to a strategic process (why, who, what, how, when, where) now move deeper into the organization as the core leadership hands off the strategy to the leaders and teams who support them. This pivot from the Thinking phase of a strategy to the Act phase of a strategy often trips us up.

Like what you're reading? Subscribe Now!We often perceive strategic planning to be somehow linear - "ever onward and upward." We all know it to be more complex than that. Tying projects to strategic themes, getting the right teams assembled, making sure timing is correct - all of these things add complexity that itself has to be managed.

A strategic mapping process helps to visualize multiple themes, threads, projects, teams, and so on as they all move through the strategy. This map helps keep the whole project moving as a whole.

Some strategic plans build timing into their plans at a granular level - much like a football timing play: "Get to the 20 yard line, count 5-Mississippi, and then cut left, and the ball will be in your hands." Some organizations have both the data (to know how long something takes) and the leadership (to keep everyone moving together) to be able to set up projects with timing like that. Others look a bit more like a Rube Goldberg machine - it gets the job done, but my, oh, my, did it need to go like that? Still others look like a spider's web - and not one of those symmetrical orb weaver jobs, mind you, but more like arachnid trip-wires running every which-way.

(Related: Strategic Flexibility)

Whatever an organization's preferred mode of operating, keeping the timing right is often the biggest challenge to project success at this stage of the strategy process. TAD is a tool that can increase an organization's capacity to manage the complexities of the timing of the different themes and initiatives in a strategic plan. For instance, the 1-Year Road Map shows initiatives (projects) grouped by theme, with the planned schedule, the current date, and the current progress for each initiative. For each, it's possible to drill down in and see what is actually going on for each initiative and manage it from there.


Adjusting to the changes brought about by pieces of a strategy moving at different speeds, some with different success or failure rates often causes strategic plans to get thrown out or shelved. Things evolve differently than planned more often than not. Keeping the timing right helps to increase the success rate - and visualizing the process helps when the inevitable adjustments must be made to keep the overall strategy on track.

How can I find out more?

As a TAD-Certified Consultant and member of the TAD Partner program, I can walk you through a demonstration of the software and work with you to see if TAD would be a good fit for your organization or project. Feel free to call 1.877.771.3330 x20 or e-mail me. If you would like to see more about the software directly from adaQuest, visit



Topics: Matthew Thomas, strategic planning, organizational strategy