Organizations have goals – some are questionable – but are goals nonetheless. Once goals have been identified, a strategy (or some would say a plan) for reaching the goals is established and put in place. Most goals are not met accidentally.
Goals tend to have permanency associated with them. Goals generally do not change till the goal itself is met. When an organization changes it goals, it’s changing its purpose for existing. This may be a good thing, but I have not seen this occur a lot. This is not to say that goals never change, its to say that goals generally remain static.
Strategy for meeting goals is defined based on current context. It’s highly dependent on the information available to the strategist at the time of strategy definition. While history can be taken into consideration, the future is unknown and any information based on the future is speculation at best.
A simple example for this is this: If I want to have a goal to visit a friend that lives on the other side of town, figuring out how I will get to his place, is defining the strategy. I can check the weather, get on Google maps and look at traffic, call him to find out if he’s at home, review the traffic incident rate on the route, see how much gas is in my car etc etc. These pieces of discrete information are the variables that help me define a strategy for driving across the metro to see my friend.
Interestingly enough, unlike goals, even the best of strategies exhibit big time volatility. This is because the variables that influenced the strategy are volatile. These parameters that influence strategy are subject to change due to external change agents. New information invalidates old information all the time. Strategy does not live in a vacuum, it is influenced by changes happening all around. But this is not new to anyone, in our daily lives, we see this all the time. We plan for something based on information we had but as things play out, we see that the information changes. As a friend of mine once said, no wedding goes as originally planned.
In spite of this reoccurring phenomenon, we still find organizations wedded to a particular strategy and the one-time snapshot of information that influenced such strategy. Dare I say, that the field of “project management” as practiced by many is focused on keeping to the original plan regardless of what changes are going on around us. (Sorry my PM friends).
For some spaces, this approach may be legitimate – and I’d love to know which areas you’ve seen this make sense. But for many organizations something more dynamic is needed. Instead of project management (or governance as some organizations refer to it) and the insistence on conforming to a plan, strategy management (I don’t like the word management in of itself and need to find a better word) is needed. Strategy management focuses on reviewing the new information an organization has and determining how this new information impacts the defined strategy (plan) and ultimately the goal.
Strategy management accepts that fact that our environments are complex and hence are full of uncertainty. Based on this, we need to focus less on long-term plans and focus more on frequent planning. To quote President Eisenhower:
In preparing for battle, I have always found that plans are useless but planning is indispensable
This becomes quite interesting when applied to the use of technology as a business accelerator within an organization. It’s unfortunate that many organizations have no way of quantifying how technological innovations impact organizational goals. The technology strategy of an organization needs to be reviewed often to ensure that it is still in line to aid in meeting the outlined goals and that the best investments are being made. A system-wide view needs to be taken to ensure that everything that needs to be considered is serving as input into determining what needs to be developed. Kanban has a practice referred to “Operations Review” – maybe that is something your organization should consider implementing as a means of reviewing the overall strategy.
Here is the summation of the matter, define your goals and develop a strategy based on what you know. Continually review the strategy and develop new strategies as changes occur because they will.