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Strategy Diagnostic: The 4-pen Test

The 4-pen test: A simple, quick and powerful, strategy diagnostic tool.

This white paper is a really simple, but insightful, strategy diagnostic tool.  If you have a strategy and:

  • Want to make sure your strategy will create change,
  • Plan to design a modern balanced scorecard to support it,
  • Want to make sure you don’t have strategy by hope and magic,
  • Simply want to ensure you are telling a story that supports your strategy,

then this 20 minutes strategy diagnostic test will help you.

This white paper provides a useful strategy diagnostic test that I run with my clients on their strategy or plans:  I call it the 4-pen test or the “Strategy by hope and magic” test.

How did it originate?

It arose during a strategic balanced scorecard engagement, from the  simple exercise of looking through a client’s strategy and trying to identify which statements would fit into each perspective of their strategy map.  A first cut  that helps you develop the frame of the strategy map and checks how extensively the strategy actually explains what will change and how the strategy will come about.

What will it reveal?

Doing the exercise revealed that there were lots of statements about the results of the strategy, about improvements in performance, cost savings and outcomes for their customers and community that they wanted to happen. However, there were practically no statements about how the strategy would bring these changes about.  You can see why I coined the  phrase “Strategy by Hope and magic”.

How does the test work?

The test is based on the fundamental model within the strategy map and balanced scorecard. This is the balanced scorecard’s cause and effect model that runs across the perspectives and captures the essence of the drivers of strategy and strategic change in organisations.

“If we developed and delivered these skills, knowledge, capabilities and changes in capacity and culture in our organisation…we would improve our processes …so that our customers would get more of what they want…and we will deliver our financial results.”

This simple model goes to the heart of strategy: What capabilities do we need to learn and grow as an organisation to be competitive, deliver our services, and do so economically and sustainably?

How to do the test – it is really simple


This test is really simple.  Download the white paper, find four different coloured highlighters, get out your strategy document and set yourself 20 minutes to work through it.

I guarantee that you will either feel smug or horrified by the end. Download “The Four Pen Pest” of your strategy.

PS. This Strategy diagnostic will also work in the public sector or a Not for Profit organisation. The instructions for using it in are included in this document. The difference is that you need five pens, not just four.