Strategy, almost by definition is about the big picture. It’s about being comprehensive, across the whole landscape of issues and opportunities, trends and events. So why are so many organisations are locked into the past or present, rather than taking full account of the future?
When doing strategy, it pays to consider all its various parts. A good reference point is Mintzberg’s seminal article in the Harvard Business Review, which distinguished between strategic planning, strategy development, and strategic thinking.
- Strategic thinking is about synthesis. It explores options, based on limited information. Its outcome is “an integrated perspective of the enterprise”. Its approach is more intuitive, creative and inductive.
- Strategic planning is about analysis. It programs already articulated strategies. Its outcome is a plan which can then be implemented. Its approach is logical and deductive.
- Between these sits strategy development, which can be somewhat mysterious. It focuses on assessing options, examining choices, making a decision, and/or setting a destination.
The Technology of Participation™ strategic thinking and planning framework has four stages: practical vision, underlying reality, strategic directions and action planning. It is scaleable and can be applied in sessions running from hours to days. While the process is rather linear, the work is holistic.
Each stage builds on, and responds to, all of what has gone before. For example, the underlying reality stage articulates the whole set of helping/hindering forces with respect to the whole set of vision elements previously identified. Integration of insight, effort, product and benefits is therefore built in from the very beginning, rather than being bolted on at the end.
The different focuses, types of thinking, data/responses, and experiences of each stage are summarised below.
- Focus is on: practical hopes & dreams.
- Visionary thinking: WHAT we want.
- Concrete, tangible responses. Claims made on the future.
- Experience is that of articulating a preferred future reality.
- Focus is on: forces that both help and hinder achieving the vision.
- Analytical thinking: WHY we are not there yet.
- Objective responses around forces to harness and/or address.
- Experience is “released to get going.”
- Focus is on: broad ways to move.
- Strategic thinking: HOW to move forward.
- Directional responses: clear directions for action.
- Experience is that of building focussed momentum.
- Focus is on: who, what, when, where, how.
- Practical thinking: HOW to implement.
- Action/project type responses: activities, timelining, resources, interdependencies.
- Experience is: “rubber hits the road.”
So, where have you used strategic thinking and planning to help your project team open up a new future? What went well/not so well? What did you learn for next time?