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This time: Two, deceptively simple ways to look at your strategy, to ensure you are explaining it effectively…. and two tests you can easily apply to your strategy document.  

(for a very quick read, skip down to the “deceptively simple tests 1 and 2)

Examining and testing the arguments in your strategy documents

In a previous article, I explained how strategy requires two arguments.  The two different arguments are:

1)      Within the team, so the issues and options are explored (The disagreements/argument)

2)      Making the underlying logic for the strategy clear (Explaining the logic/argument)

I assume, by now, you have had the first type of arguments (the disagreements) in your strategy process.  By now, you are probably into the second type of argument, that is, explaining the logic of your strategy to others.  In this article, I provide you two methods that I use, and that clients like and find effective, to check the logic and depth of their argument, and to explain it. These two approaches are:

1)      The Four-Pen Test. Checking that you do not have ‘strategy by hope and magic’.

2)      The Strategy Tablet. A way to develop your strategy’s logic and argument

The Four-Pen test: avoiding ‘Strategy by hope and magic’

The four-pen test is a very quick, and colourful, way to check a strategy document to see if it genuinely describes a strategy that includes how the stated changes will be brought about.  When I first applied it to a client’s strategy document, I also coined the phrase “Strategy by hope and magic” because of all the improvements they stated, there were almost no explanations of how these improvements would come about.   Basically, the approach is asking: how do we (1) learn and grow; to change our (2) processes; to improve things for our (3) customers; and improve the (4) finances.  You will have recognised this as the logic of the Strategy Map.  The test…


Deceptively simple test No 1:
Take four, different coloured, fluorescent pens, and work through your document highlighting sentences that refer to each aspect, (1), (2), (3), (4). 


It will quickly become apparent if parts of the story are missing.  (Expect a few “oh-err!” moments, if you realise the strategy document has some gaps.)  Nowadays, I would use at a fifth pen: for social, environmental and cultural impact.  There is a paper explaining how to do the four-pen version of this test on my website.  This test does not take long: 20-30 mins at most.  Try it, with five pens, on your strategy document. 

The Strategy Tablet: Explaining the argument and logic in your strategy

It is better to sort out the logic, the argument, of the strategy before you write the strategy document.  I use an approach when helping clients to develop their strategy, to ensure their thinking has an innate logic (argument) to it.  The structure of this logical argument is very simple:

1)      Scope: What is the scope of the topic?

2)      Situation: What is going on?  And the underlying causes?

3)      Diagnosis: What is our diagnosis/framing of the problem? (Possibly the most critical piece)

4)      Chosen strategy/policy: Given this, what is our chosen policy/strategy/approach?

5)      Actions: What are the coherent actions that support this strategy and address the underlying issues?

6)      Learning: How do we govern and manage this, so we learn from it.

This logical structure is based on the excellent book, by Richard Rumelt, “Good Strategy, Bad Strategy”.  (McKinsey call him “Strategy’s strategist”).  Rumelt’s original version has only three pieces 1) Situation/diagnosis, 2) Policy and 3) Coherent actions.  I have expanded these because it makes working on them easier. In the book he argues that a strategy is only complete (Good) when all these components are there, and working together, as a set.

Deceptively simple test No 2: Does your strategy document explain each aspect of your strategy in this simple, six part, logical manner? 1) Scope, 2) Situation, 3) Diagnosis, 4) Policy/Strategy, 5) Coherent actions and 6) How we will learn?

When working with clients, I encourage them to develop this (six piece) logic in a two-page document that I call “The Strategy Tablet”. (My full Strategy Tablet version is slightly more sophisticated).  Often there are separate themes to the strategy, (separate scopes), so we identify these and develop a separate strategy tablet for each theme, eventually combining them in the overall story.  

Using this approach to strategy thinking, development and documentation, means that the logic of the 4-pen test (and much more) is developed well before the strategy document is written. 

Have a look at your strategy documents and see if you can see the same logic in your story, or argument.   (If you want a full two-page strategy tablet framework, drop me a line)

The Strategy Tablet in action: Three vastly contrasting examples

Here are three quite different clients where the strategy tablet approach has helped them bring clarity, structure and a clear story to their strategy.

Example 1: Creating a strategy that is clear, well structured, and easy to manage

This small, but innovative £22m client created a strategy document with nine two-page strategy tablets.  Each having the same structure.  The total strategy document was only 19 pages: A contents list and the nine strategy tablets.  The topics and outline of the strategy tablets were created in a series of workshops.  Once started, the client refined developed the tablets themselves.  They then adopted a rolling monthly and annual review of their strategy, using the strategy tablets to focus the discussions.

Example 2: Working through complexity, to get to simple and clear

This organisation is at the centre of a federation of technology providers and research organisation, that deliver advanced computing services to scientists and researchers.   In a highly diverse and complex social system, we used the strategy tablet approach to get to grip with vast array of issues, exceptions and complexities. The radical approach was to define a complete scope of forty-two strategy tablets (I know, a 6×7 matrix: it sounds daft, but it worked).  These were quickly boiled down to ten major themes and strategic objectives (each with a strategy tablet).  These were successfully presented to, explored and agreed, with the highly diverse international board of around 36 people.

Example 3: Telling the story of a rich strategy using the strategy tablet logic

For the Asset Management strategy of a major UK water company, I used the ideas of the strategy tablet to understand and then structure the argument and story in their strategy document.  There were no “Strategy tablets” as such, but each section of the document that described the themes of their strategy, followed the strategy tablet structure.  The logic of the model was used to tease out and explain the thinking.  Despite being around 60 pages long, the strategy document received widespread acclaim for being easy to read, the clarity of its message and overall positioning of the strategy as a basis for subsequent detailed planning and implementation.

Conclusions on testing your strategy

A good strategy requires a clear, well thought through argument: one you can explain to others.  Of course, there is an emotional as well as rational component to any strategy and story of change.  However you have to start with a clear and complete story, and explain that well.  That is what these tests and approaches are about.  Getting the strategy story right so you can socialise the strategy effectively.

Happy strategy analysis…