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.

Tad1YearRoadMap.png

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 http://www.adaquest.com/services/vision-realization/

 

 
 
 
 
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Topics: Matthew Thomas, strategic planning, strategy, organizational strategy, Act, TAD, Think, Deliver

Strategic Flexibility

Posted by Matthew Thomas

 
 
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matthew-thomas-2.jpgIn my part of the world, wind gusts are the stuff of legend - and reality. Fully loaded semitrailers have been known to blow off the highway onto their sides from them. Tall buildings are designed to sway or flex with the wind. We have mile after mile of ghostly gray-white windmills silently generating electricity. These winds are known to break rigid structures, while flexible ones survive the buffeting.

One of the reasons strategic plans get shelved before their time boils down to the plan's ability to flex with changing conditions - internal successes and failures, of course, but more often changes in the organization's external environment. Plans with incredible precision but without flexibility are often the first casualty of early success.

Photo Credit: News-Gazette. Highway sign on I-74 in East Central IllinoisOn-the-fly adjustments will always be necessary. Nevertheless, many organizations find building those adjustments into plans to be a considerable challenge. As is human tendency, we end up in a polarity of excessively detailed, layered, branched flowcharts; or making it up as we go, knowing it will all work out in the end.

Two approaches, working in tandem, help to keep plans clear and on track, even while navigating through windy conditions.

  1. Clear Communication plans. This sounds like a no-brainer. It is, but. Communication plans often struggle when purpose isn't clear, when lack of trust is (or even appears to be) the driver, and when plans don't display mutual benefit to all parties involved. Those things quickly change communication plans into dreaded paperwork. Clear communication plans keep information flowing where it needs to in ways that improve everyone's capacity to complete their work.Like what you're reading? Subscribe Now!
  2. Strategic Triggers. These are aspects of solid strategic plans developed by leadership teams that posit a variety of situations across major sectors of the organizational environment to which the leaders will need to respond. Perhaps the stock market rises (or drops) 40% in a month. Perhaps new regulations that affect core business come into effect, or old ones expire. Most industries have specific things they watch. This just puts them in place and creates a series of "first thoughts" about what might be done under those new circumstances: whether the plan has to be reworked from first principles, or whether minor adjustments can be made, or more typically, somewhere in between.

(Related: Prioritization and Strategy Implemenatation)

The TAD process we have described over the last two weeks brings both of those approaches together in the Think phase. As a leadership team strategizes and prioritizes strategic themes, communication plans and strategic triggers get baked right in to the overall plan. This allows for the flexibility needed to adjust - so all the time, energy, money, and frustration of planning is not wasted the first time something unexpected blows in. In most cases, this starts from the first actual meeting to begin the TAD process.

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  at matthewmthomas [at] designgroupintl [dot] com. If you would like to see more about the software directly from adaQuest, visit http://www.adaquest.com/services/vision-realization/

 
 
 
 
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Topics: Matthew Thomas, strategic planning, strategy, organizational strategy, Act, TAD, Think, Deliver

Introducing TAD: Software-supported strategy and implementation

Posted by Matthew Thomas

 
 
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matthew-thomas-2.jpgI spent a good chunk of last week in Washington State training on software that helps organizations move smoothly from strategic planning through to specific projects that support strategic initiatives. It's called TAD, and produced by a company called adaQuest. TAD stands for Think, Act, Deliver. This is representative of a process orientation to planning and management.

 

Why use TAD?

 

Like what you're reading? Subscribe Now!Let's face it: it's hard to work from a pre-planning, strategic development position all the way through to the specific projects the strategy requires, and be able to flexibly adjust and iterate the plan along the way. Many strategic plans end up shelved for a lack of ability to adjust to changing conditions, or a lack of process orientation through the plan's creation.

(Related: Business Modeling and Sales Development)

 

TAD provides a software framework to assess current organizational state, support strategic planning, and then implement the plan through high-level initiatives and specific projects. TAD strengthens the consultative process by giving the organization the means to carry projects forward without having to embed consultants quite so deeply in day-to-day operations.

 

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 at matthewmthomas [at] designgroupintl [dot] com. If you would like to see more about the software directly from adaQuest, visit http://www.adaquest.com/services/vision-realization/

 

I'm really excited about this new tool! Check it out!

 

 
 
 
 
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Topics: Matthew Thomas, strategic planning, strategy, adaQuest, TAD

The Intersection of Organizational Strategy and Implementation

Posted by Matthew Thomas

matthew-thomas-2As I work with organizational leaders, I often hear of the disconnection that occurs between the visionary, "big picture" people and the folks that have to work with all the details, get them right, and double-check them. The "big picture" leaders don't want to be dragged down into the "who's going to provide the soft drinks for the company picnic" kinds of conversations; the folks responsible for day-to-day details often perceive that the "big picture" leader doesn't really have any idea what it takes to actually implement the big idea they proposed. 

This disconnection leads to much of the systematic dysfunction in enterprises of various shapes and sizes. Different work styles, different positional needs, different personality types required to perform specific roles within the organization all conspire to break down organizational communication and breed resentment. Many organizations institutionalize the mistrust that then takes root through a raft of policies flowing one direction and a raft of "if I were the boss for a day, I would..." conversations swirling in another. This reinforces the resentment and dysfunctions, and, in some industries, gives way to truly institutionalized mistrust, overlaid with anger, in a union-management dynamic. 

It doesn't have to go that far, though. In many organizations, leaders are conscious of at least part of what they do not know, and do their best to invite feedback and input from those affected - at least as far as they can see it. Nevertheless, when taking on certain projects outside the leader's core expertise, implementation of changes, new initiatives, products, or services can be tricky, since the leader may not have the experience to know (or intuit) what a specific project will take. 

Intersection_Strategy_ImplementationThis intersection of strategy and implementation is often the most complex part of an enterprise - whether it is a board-driven, executive-driven, or management-driven organization. Whoever strikes a visionary path must maintain enough perspective not to get too entangled in the underbrush of details. Nevertheless, for a significant portion of the organization, those details are what makes the products or services actually work, maintains their quality, and allows the enterprise to walk toward the visionary's goal. It is essential, then, that both aspects - the strategy and the implementation - receive due attention.

I find that I do some of my most exciting work at this intersection of strategy and implementation. Helping a leader find ways to achieve his or her goals, and helping those in the organization tasked with implementing to see the value they have and the role they play in achieving those goals as they learn new skills or re-design procedures - these things together build strong, healthy organizations that can achieve their goals and positively impact their workers, customers, shareholders, stakeholders and communities. 

When an enterprise has clear goals, it is able to map out a strategy that involves multiple threads at once, all leading toward the stated goals and purpose. This may be part of a larger strategy, as when a new initiative is launched within a set of products or services, or it may be the overarching strategy for the whole organization. 

Developing a strategy often involves idea generation at a high level, while implementation involves actually getting the strategy moving. When we work at the intersection of strategy and implementation, we find that the idea generation for what needs to be done to accomplish goals must give way quickly to the specifics of taking action. In terms of how we typically work, this moves from "what are the goals and objectives?" to "what outcomes and deliverables will get us there?" and from that to "what do we need to do, specifically, to accomplish the outcomes and deliverables, and therefore the goals and objectives?"

In many scenarios, we discover that leaders are working without adequate information - that key items they need for making decisions aren't available to them. Straddling the line between strategy and implementation helps leaders determine which items are data-gathering problems and which are emergent - that is, which information will only come to light as things move forward (emergent), versus the information that already exists that may not be either collected or reported in a manner that is helpful for decisions (data-gathering).

Consultants often work in this space - this intersection between strategy and implementation. We often serve as those bridging organizational gaps as we help leaders wrestle with how to achieve their goals. Consultants even help organizations build in structures for internal consultation around strategy and implementation - so they don't need outside consultants in the long term. In any case, the dynamics of this intersection are often complex, and getting them right often leads to greater organizational health and greater capacity to achieve the organization's goals. Whether using consultants or not, enterprises are well served to get this intersection right. What are your intentions for work at that intersection of strategy and implementation?


 

Does this kind of work excite you? Then let's discuss how we could work together. Is this the kind of work you realize your organization needs? We'd be glad to discuss how we might help you in your intersection of strategy and implementation. 

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Topics: conflict, Matthew Thomas, consulting, organizational systems, strategy, implementation