Strategic Planning vs. Strategic Plans

Spent last week in my first Enterprise Leadership Team strategic planning onsite meeting.  It was one of the better if not best strategic planning sessions I’ve participated in.  Rather than focusing on the two extremes –what can be do now to address some mess — or — pie in the sky dreams that have no basis in reality or likely to be realized– the session focused on reviewing where they were, why and what the vision of the business is to be.  As we covered what others may mistakenly consider trivial issues in sequence, you could see how these decisions narrowed down options to a laser focus as we at the end of this sequenced redefined or rather clarified what inherently knew was the business design’s skeleton.  While there is still much work to be accomplished on this, the skeleton provides the supporting scaffolding to successfully build out.

Strategic Planning and Strategic Plans are all well and good until the touch the reality of engagement.  What made the past weeks activities worth the effort were the last two days of the onsite.  With knowledge of where we want to be and where we are, we started deployment planning.  This is appears to be the fatal flaw in almost all the strategic planning sessions I’ve attended in the US.  Without planning how to deploy the plan, strategic planning results in pounds of paper and dilutions.  This seems obvious but somehow often gets overlooked.

One could say that’s because the strategic planning activity is designed that way. Or because there are no tools to translate strategic plans into actions.  However, both assertions are false.  Whether its because strategic planners don’t wish to get involved in deployment or as software designers often say small matter of programming 😉 or they are unaware of intellectual tools to assist, I find it more attitude that capability.  If I was to draw a parallel.  Design Engineering is often viewed as more glamorous and desirable that manufacturing Engineering, though its the later that can make or break a company.

With that said I’ll point to several approaches I’ve used, when I’ve been able to make the case to actually plan out implementing a strategic plan:  Hoshin Planning, Results Chain (DMR Consulting), Benefits Dependency Network (Cranfield), Strategic Capabilities Network (IBM), and Elyon Strategies own planning methodology.   My preferred methods are Hoshin Planning and Elyon’s as both focus on alignment to the strategic goals and a sequence of activities that logically contribute to achievement of the goal.  As I write this post I’m thinking of how-to merge Hoshin, Results Chain, and Elyon’s methodology as each as a strong point but a small gap that the other methods address well.

 

Philip K. Dick was right but may be wrong also

For those who are not Science Fiction fans, Philip K. Dick was a writer of notable insight to cultural trends.  His books have later been turned into blockbuster movies: BladeRunner, Minority  Report, Total Recall,  and Next to name a few.  His books had a dystopian perspective to these, where governments and social agents become tyrannical.   I will not dwell on that forecast of the future of society is this post.  One interest concept I thought interesting was his focus on media.  More specifically how the media would change.  Though the movie adaptations only hinted at it media, print for example, changed from a primarily word based format to more of a graphical based one.  Well the saying goes “One Picture…”

When moveable type was created it did two things. First it made production of information cheaper.  Thus distribution of information increased and was made available to lower income people. Second, it changed the cost ratio between text and graphics.  When books were hand drawn, the cost of graphics was on a par with text.  This ratio changed only slightly over the years until the application of computer technology.

What is interesting about this was that prior to the movable type revolution much communication was through pictures and other symbols.  Dick’s prediction of the future was a return to graphical communication and a reduction in text.  This inferred a lowering of grammatical literacy within society as a whole.  Having just complete several Government RFP response marathons where reply instructions were specific about writing to an 8th Grade level that would seem to prove Dick’s point.  However, I took a few steps back in considering such.

What came to mind were presentations and proposals I’ve seen and participated in over the years.  Many times I was privy to executive decision-maker sessions.  What struck me over the years was how these sessions have changed.  Initially presentations and proposals were fully of textual information.  A slide or page was filled with paragraphs of descriptions and opinions.  A little later after spreadsheets had become the go-to business tool, these became filled with tables of data and charts.

Then as graphic software became more capable presentations in many companies became more simple and focused.  A term which was not originally meant to be complimentary became popular code for these presentations to executives: “Big Animal Charts”  I suppose this was because someone thought reducing issues down to the simplest concept was similar to old children’s books; “See Spot Run, See Tiger run…”   A sort of arrogance was hidden in this comment lay just below the surface.  That is “I’m the expert and you’re not.  I have fancy jargon”  While jargon is useful to shortcut the communications process, its also an inhibitor for those that are not dedicated to a particular discipline or domain.  What many proposers and presenters forget, myself included, is that the presentations and proposals are not about me but about the audience.  So any means to make understanding easier for the audience is good.

Now I get back to my most recent RFP and presentation efforts.  After writing my technical responses I ran a reading level analyzer.  The results didn’t shock me.  The text was rated at Ph.D or beyond.  A far cry from the 8th grade level requested.  After significant effort I managed to reduce it down to 12th grade reading level. There I was stuck and required assistance from team mates, who thankfully jumped in.  What I found interesting beyond the reading level issue was that when I presented similar or more complex material I used very little text, choosing to use pictures, diagrams, and charts.  When I asked several audience members if the material was too complex and I should simplify it, thinking the words needed to be “dumbed down” I got a surprise.  They hadn’t even read the words, instead they got all they needed from the charts and spoken words, even though I used very technical jargon.

Which brings me back to Mr. Dick’s forecast of the future of media.  That graphics would dominate communications in the future.  Interesting points to consider: Look at Steve Jobs presentations, Nancy Duarte’s books Slid:eology & Resonate or books on Storyboarding –Hollywood’s go-to method to organize and present complex information.  All of which rely on graphics.  May be Philip was right in his forecast of the rise of graphics but others were wrong in thinking that graphics is dumbing down the communications.

Portfolio Management Insights: Opportunity Gap

This morning’s R&D had me reviewing some previous work on Expected Commercial Value calculations.  One of the flaws or should I say weaknesses at lower levels of Portfolio Management Maturity is a the assumption that delaying a project only shifts to the right when a project yields value.  This however is most often not the case.  When evaluating each project’s value for a Portfolio one needs to account for both NPV of funds expected, NPV of funds received, AND also a potential reduction is value received as a result of a short recovery period and project lifecycle.

Consider this first scenario: Buying a new automobile.  While the utility may not change on a new vehicle purchased towards the end of the year its market value certainly drops as one gets closer to the next model year.  Another scenario: The utility value is sensitive to when in the lifecycle a initiative is executed (e.g., having a large shipment of ice cream available for summer in New York vs. fall).

As such Enterprises with more mature Portfolio Management capabilities will consider this factor in portfolio decisions.

Opportunity Gap

 

 

Enterprise Portfolio Management insights

This weekend’s brainstorming and reading brought up some interesting insights.  So much so I couldn’t sleep and woke up around 2am with the following visuals in my head.

First of was a refinement? on Govindarajan and Trimble’s concepts about two competing engines within an enterprise in their book Beyond the Idea.  Their proposed model theorizes whay its so hard to get innovations deployed and adopted in existing concerns while startups do not seem to have this internal conflict issue.

Gravity Centers in Enteprise

Second was an idea I’ve been refining over the years; that portfolio selection is not just a single event but a series of filters applied to narrow down the pool to the portfolio member to actively work on.  There are lots of models on sections methods (BCG Matrix) Balanced Scorecard, etc.  What is common to all is a concept of sorting and filtering members into groups, which creates a group of members to actively work on.

 

Portfolio selection is a filtering process

While these are not likely the final visualizations of the presentation I’ve proposed for an internal conference in February.  The metaphors speak clearly to me; I wonder if they do the same to others?

 

Modern Enterprise Portfolio Management

Portfolio Management capabilities roadmap (initial) from last night’s brainstorming.  Planning (aspirational) to have Modern Enterprise Portfolio Management materials ready by February for a possible seminar at my home office over a holiday weekend.  The big question(s) will be if any of my colleagues and followers will be: 1) interested in attending a focused seminar, 2) willing to take the trek ~60 miles south of Seattle for a 1 to 2 day seminar.

 

 

Enterprise Portfolio Management CMM Roadmap

The nice thing about this research is I can leverage it as source materials for current projects I’m doing at work and for internal technical conferences.

IT Planning Methdology

Started putting together a tutorial deck this morning for an Enterprise Architecture Methodology which is more business based than IT.  Having watched IT over the years get lost in the technology details I though it was about time to create an approach towards really designing Enterprises; the thoughts I had years ago when I presented at the IBM Application Institute and AIAA Operations conferences.  Why couldn’t you design an Enterprise (not just the IT) the way you design any other product.  Years later, several “internships :-)” in other roles within the corporations, and researching various methods from multiple disciplines I’ve started to integrate these into a design methodology:

IT Planning

The above approach has business model as the root where other aspects are details to that end.  That is IT Planning is based upon enablement of the business model, Market Planning, etc. all come from that common root.

Project Trajectory Analysis and Risk Assessment

Spent part of yesterday reviewing one of the projects I’m on to analyze the risks and trajectory its on.  Part of this analysis brought up adapting an old technique my father taught me when he was managing large defense projects. It relied upon the law of large numbers but still seems valid today given all the interdependencies.  Instead of tracking expenses which are shown in the example, I substituted level of effort (LOE) in mhrs.  Along with the trend line function in Excel I was able to project likely outcomes.  Added to this was the interdependence risk DSM(s) I has previously started using which indicated where the highest risk elements in the project would occur.  I’ve yet to add a social or influence analysis to the tool kit but expect to have that as another DSM.

Lite Weight Project Management Dashboard   Component Risk from interface type DSM

The one significant issue using techniques like such is bringing the team along with the insights: As some people will not get it at first, Others will think you’re being a negative person, and still others will want to argue the validity of the analysis or its inferences.  Presented in the light of discovery rather than blame helps (i.e., mapping out my understanding yields this….is this right?  If so what should we do about it?).  This only works however, if you’re in a ego”less” culture and those you bring up have a vested interest in the successful outcomes.  That is if they don’t see the issue you bring up as core to their success, they are unlikely to care to address the situation, even if its for the greater good of the company (Ref: Tragedy of the Commons Systems Dynamics Archetype).