“Where do I start and how do I know you are the right one?”
Believe it or not, this isn’t the only version of this question that I’ve received. And although the obvious way to answer it would be to talk about how exactly to get started on your plan, I prefer a different route that perhaps may serve to highlight a slightly more important issue.
Asking where to start with a strategy implies that there is, in fact, a beginning and an end to the strategic process; and I think that’s where many companies go wrong. It is not uncommon for companies to have annual strategic planning processes that involve product managers and business unit leaders presenting their plans to their respective executive teams. The problem is, many times these sessions become more about impressing the CEO than simply providing an update of successful strategies in progress. In fact, I have seen more than a few companies taking anywhere from 2 to 3 months to prepare for their planning sessions, which, of course, implies, that there was no “in-progress strategy” to update anyone on!
I suppose, technically, speaking, a strategy starts with a need of some type – or, perhaps more accurately, with a problem that needs to be solved. But once that problem has been identified, you enter into a mode of constant input gathering with respect to customers, competitors, and industry/market trends. That leads to refining your goals, developing a plan, and taking action to implement that plan. And that process never stops. So even if there is a finite point in time when any given strategy is born, most product managers will be dealing with strategies that are already in-progress. Which makes asking where to start equivalent to asking, “When do I grow up?” There is no singular “point-in-time” answer to that question. Instead, it is an ongoing and continuous process – or at least it should be for most of us!
As to the second part of the question regarding knowing if a strategy is the right one – that’s a bit more straightforward. Remember that problem we talked about that needed solving? Well, if your strategy solves your original problem (i.e. if you achieved your strategic objective), then it was the right one. And, in solving that problem, you will have identified several more problems that need solving. And then you really know it was the right one.
No beginning. No end. Just a continuous cycle. Now don’t you wish everything in life was that simple?
Listen to the podcast episode
Dear Strategy: Episode 005