Strategy Formulation 101

strategy formulationAt the far side of any endeavor is an outcome, and every outcome will be measured somewhere on the continuum between success and failure.  The goal of forming and executing a strategy is to maximize the odds that the outcome of your endeavors will be success.  Knowing how to properly create a strategy is an invaluable resource, no matter what you are endeavoring to accomplish.  This is a brief introduction to the purpose and steps of strategy formulation, but there are also resources available for in-depth strategy training, such as this class from former General Electric CEO Jack Welch: Creating Winning Strategy.

To effectively implement strategy, no matter what the endeavor is, it is essential to understand the basics.  The purpose of strategy is to:

–          Identify and clarify your objectives

–          Analyze the situation as it relates to your objectives

–          Recognize possible plans to attain objectives and decide on the best one

–          Execute the plan, track your progress and modify the plan as the situation and objectives shift

Without a clear understanding of your objectives there is little hope of attaining them, so clarifying objectives is always the first step.  The more specific they are the more effectively you can create a strategy to achieve them.  However, in most situations we don’t have the luxury of a single, easily defined goal, and so we have to not only figure out what the range of outcomes between mildly successful and wildly successful is, but also prioritize among various goals all being pursued at once.  This is no simple task, and it is an essential first step to any strategy.  If this is a going to be a challenge then check out some of the techniques and tools in Goal Setting 101.

The importance of analyzing the situation becomes clear when you consider that your objectives do not exist separately from yourself, your organization or the world around you.  In order to create a successful strategy you need a solid understanding of the situation, including your strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, resources, and competitors.  It is also important to analyze the variability of the situation, understanding the recent changes in your situation and using them to predict the likelihood of change in the future.  If you are developing a strategy for improving your health this may only require some simple self-reflection on your good and bad habits, but if you are trying to gain insight into a complex situation such as business or marketing strategy then you may benefit from more advanced methods of situational analysis such as locating relevant data, interpreting it and utilizing visualizations to clarify it, so that you can communicate your insights with your team.  This sort of data analysis is a world unto itself, essential to success in situations involving great complexity.  For more on this check out Data Analytics for Beginners.

Once you understand your objectives and the situation around you it is time to develop a plan.  This is the essence of strategy: applying the knowledge of the first two steps in order to recognize the best methods for success going forward.  This is also a very difficult step as we are no longer dealing with the situation as it is today but deciding on plans for what must happen in the future.  While this can be challenging, it is also where hard work in objective-definition and situational-analysis pays off.  The more clearly defined your goals, and the better you understand the situation, the easier it is to recognize and justify the plans going forward.  When it comes to developing a plan for personal fitness it will be easier to create an effective and reasonable regimen the better you have considered your habits, learned about proper training and timeframes, and identified your resources.  When it comes to more complicated strategies necessary for organizational success, it is essential that you have put in the leg work on the first two steps so that you can effectively communicate, and support the validity of, your plan.  Organizational success is dependent on the people involved understanding and trusting in the strength of the strategy.  The more complicated the goals and situation, the more difficult it can be to both formulate and communicate a plan, but it is so essential to success that countless techniques have been developed to assist you.  To jump right into the deep end of strategy formulation check out this overview class, Strategy at Speed.

The final aspect of strategy is implementing your plan and tracking your progress.  No matter how carefully crafted your strategy is, everyone has to deal with unforeseen difficulties and unexpected changes that disrupt your plans.  Adapting to these situations is essential to successful implementation of any strategy, but without monitoring your progress you cannot evaluate what needs to be adapted and why.  Remember that the goal of strategy is to be successful, and success is defined by having your outcome match your objective, not by scrupulously following a plan.  The plan is just the medium, and disruptions to the plan are not the same as failure.  If you have carefully defined your objectives and analyzed the situation relating to your objectives in order to make you plan, then whatever aspect of your plan is not working should point back to situation that it is affected by, allowing for analysis and adjustment of your strategy instead of abandonment.  At this point you have to figure out what is the source of the strategy malfunction and decide what to fix.  Is the situation the same and the plan merely miscalculated, requiring a minor modification of strategy, or is the situation different than was understood when the plan was made, requiring new situational analysis in order to correct the plan?  It is possible even that adjusting your objectives and their prioritization is the solution, but having put the first strategy together is what led you to recognize this requirement, and ultimately this too contributes to the likelihood of success.