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Putting the Sustainable Strategy Model into operation

Because, no matter how well prepared we may think we are for all contingencies, there will always be something that appears out of nowhere to surprise us.

Such are the joys of living in the real world, where the combined lessons of experience and history show us that our personal and business lives are most unlikely to follow a strictly linear path, where each step follows neatly forward from the last.

At times the perversity and frequency of unexpected change may make us feel that we are all caught up in some fanciful experiment, investigating the effects of random events upon our physical and financial wellbeing.

This is when we seriously doubt whether we will ever be able to plan our own future beyond the next few hours, or weeks, let alone devise a credible business plan for the next five years with any confidence.

We may feel trapped by the Wheel of Fortune and that our lot in life will be governed largely by chance, rather than choice.

There may well be some elements of truth in this chaos theory but I do believe that we are not merely helpless pawns, to be cast hither and thither on the whims of serendipity and fate - we can all do something to redress the imbalance between chance and choice.

With a bit of careful forethought and planning, we can have more influence over our future direction - by shortening the odds against us.

Forgive me if this sounds like gambling with the future - but in reality that is the whole essence of strategy management.

Nobody knows for certain exactly what will happen in the future - so every strategy manager must resort to making a series of calculated bets about possible future scenarios and their impact on the business.

However, regardless of the rigour of the risk assessment applied to our scenario planning processes, the truth remains that the best we can hope for is that a high proportion of our strategy bets will pay off, on a regular basis.

We could try to facilitate this by following the example of some serial gamblers, who endeavour to eliminate as much chance as possible from their wagers by only betting on 'certainties', or perhaps we could put our faith in a betting 'system' that will guarantee results.

Of course, despite their attractions, if either of these approaches were at all successful, the world would not have quite so many casinos and bookmakers - they would have fallen victim to their cunning punters long ago.

Nevertheless, if we accept that effective strategy management depends very much on our own ability to speculate accurately, we do need some sort of framework to guide our predictions.

Which is where the Sustainable Strategy Model comes in.

It's all about the future

Over the past few months, in this series of GambIT articles, we have focused largely on the nature and structure of the model; now we will consider how it fits into the real world and how we can use such a model to try and make some sense of the future.

Strategy Management is all about the future, rather than the past, or even the present for that matter. And yet, so far, in our efforts to create a tangible framework, we haven't added that most obviously vital ingredient to our Sustainable Strategy Model - the principle of timeliness.

From the outset of this series, I have emphasised the three-dimensional nature of the Sustainable Strategy Model, using the Rubik's Cube as a metaphor to represent such a model within the constraints of the two-dimensional printed page.

Now, with the introduction of Time, our strategic thinking must adopt a fourth dimension.

How can we harness such an ephemeral and abstract concept into a tangible framework, such as our strategy model?

Fairly easily, I'm glad to say. We can apply the principles of time and timeliness to our model through the use of two very familiar tools - the calendar and the schedule.

The first of these tools, the calendar, is universally accepted and completely understood by everyone - this is how we break down the passage of time into days, weeks, months and years; thereby providing each of us with a common reference mechanism for the abstract concept of time.

The calendar ensures that any given date is an absolutely unequivocal reference point to a particular day - everybody understands that October 9th will follow October 8th and precede October 10th. The calendar is one of the very few things in life that is completely non-negotiable - time waits for nobody.

Whereas, a schedule of events is within our control - we build our schedules by making connections between significant events and the calendar.

So the best way of applying Time to the Sustainable Strategy Model is to introduce a calendar and schedule - for each major component within the three layers of the model.

For example, the Strategic Influences layer has six major components:

  • Legislation
  • Regulation
  • Business Strategy
  • Customer Strategy
  • Vendor Strategy
  • Technology.

Each of these components, and the components of the other layers, needs a dedicated calendar and schedule to provide the most effective level of strategic planning granularity.

This is most important because, if we tried to consolidate the whole Strategic Influences layer, or the whole model, into a single timeline, we would very quickly lose sight of the overall picture. We simply wouldn't be able to see the forest for the trees.

At first glance this might appear to be complicated - having so many calendars and schedules. In practice, however, the approach does give us a realistic way of managing the problem of time-based thinking.

And a lot of the complexity of parallel scheduling can be overcome through fairly simple technology, albeit applied in a slightly innovative manner.

In fact most of us already have the necessary tools installed on our personal computers. We can create a number of parallel schedules simply by creating multiple calendar/ schedule folders - preferably one schedule per component of the Sustainable Strategy Model.

Potential benefits

There are many benefits from using this approach. By combining the components of the model with dedicated calendars and schedules, we will be able to:

  • Be better organised.
  • Have better visibility of objects within our horizons.
  • Structure events into a time-based context, i.e. now, sooner, later etc.
  • Create a very powerful framework for planning, discussion and communication - within and beyond our organisation.
  • Improve our chances of making truly strategic forecasts, rather than purely speculative gambles.

Figure 1: Sustainable Strategy Model

Good management is all about striking the right balance between chance and choice, to achieve the best outcome in the given circumstances with the resources available.

Vision and awareness of context are such essential attributes for good management and I honestly believe therefore that the Sustainable Strategy Model really will prove to be a vital contributor to our success in the future.

The Sustainable Strategy Model enables us to map our strategy onto the real world, in a structured manner, within a prioritised timeline. It gives us the opportunity to recognise the touch-points between circumstances and events - and to plan accordingly.

After all, no matter what we do, life is non-linear and complicated enough.

We each have so many choices facing us every day of our lives and most of these are time-based; i.e. an opportunity, or obligation, usually has a deadline attached to it.

If we analyse these choices properly, we will have a far better idea of how to react to the wilful influence of 'chance' when it pops out of the background to frighten us.

Remember that even the fairground Wheel of Fortune sets out the options available to us - at the end of each cycle we have clear visibility and awareness of the current outcome.

Why can't strategy management be that simple?

The Author

Colin Beveridge is an independent consultant, writer and leading commentator on technology management issues. Colin's background covers both the private and public sectors, with top-level responsibility for development, strategy and services.

He has very strong opinions and insight, based on genuinely substantive experience - gained through working with a growing list of leading organisations. His pragmatic views on IT management and strategy have been widely respected and well received.

Colin is a Fellow of the Institute for the Management of Information Systems, a member of Elite (the IT Directors' Forum of the BCS) and a very active member of many other professional groups.



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