How to Know If a New Strategy Will Work
The hard, cold reality is that many strategic projects fail.
A previous column discussed key issues about team composition, talent, and leadership. Here I’ll examine what for many managers is often the harder risk to assess: is the strategy sound in the first place?
No matter how good your team is, a flawed strategy is hard to implement well. Yes, you can make some adjustments as obstacles arise and engage in tactical corrections midway. But it is far better to assess upfront if the initiative is doomed from the start. Here are the main risk factors to consider:
To what extent does your strategic initiative or key project plan actually:
1. Help your organization serve customers better (internally or externally)?
2. Integrate important activities across organizational boundaries?
3. Align properly with the organization’s broader goals and values?
4. Helps hone core capabilities deemed critical to overall success?
5. Identify explicitly critical assumptions underlying the approach?
6. Monitor early indicators of the project faltering or derailing?
7. Allow for reviews and mid-stream corrections in case needed?
8. Coordinate well with other projects under way, in support?
9. Has the necessary senior support and priory of your leader(s)?
10. Consider impact on other stakeholders and partners needed for success
11. Reflect the role of competitors in case this project concerns them?
12. Offer a good return on time and investment for all concerned?
Gather your team and run through these questions one by one in terms of relevance. Modify them if they don’t apply to your strategic initiative and add new ones if necessary to reflect your unique situation. Then start to score the revised list on a scale from 1 (=fatal flaw) to 7 (=very favorable) and see if the total exceeds 60% of the maximum possible. Ideally, you want a score of 80% or better; anything below 30%; may be unduly risky or even mission impossible (since your scores may be too optimistic). Once you understand the project’s strategic weaknesses, try to work the system to get better support, additional resources, more realistic targets or whatever it takes to end up a winner.
The first rule of strategy is only to fight battles you can win. The second is to be thought out enough to see trouble coming before it knocks you off your feet. The third is to have enough courage and flexibility to adjust midstream. As they say in the military: no plan survives contact with the enemy. Or as boxer Mike Tyson put it: Everybody has a plan until they getpunched in the face. Being strategic means not getting too many of those hits, especially from opponents like Mike Tyson.
PAUL SCHOEMAKER | Research Director, Wharton School
Paul J. H. Schoemaker is the founder and chairman of Decision Strategies International. A speaker, professor, and entrepreneur, Schoemaker is research director at the Mack Institute for Innovation Management at Wharton, where he teaches strategic decision making. His latest book is Winning the Long Game: How Strategic Leaders Shape the Future.