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Strategic Context

September 21, 2015

I’ve used Balanced Score Card (BSC)  and similar approaches for a number of years to organize the elements of and facilitate teams in creating a Strategic Plan. Recently, a CEO suggested he preferred Objectives, goals, strategies and measures (OGSM). No worries, the terms are a little different, but the pieces are similar. I went about mapping the results we had gotten from our BSC facilitation to the OGSM model:


This exercise got me a little concerned since the result was missing much of the context in the strategic plan. We have objectives, but why do we have them and how do they tie to our mission? What customers will we target? How will we win in the market? How do we differentiate? What strategic themes do initiatives support? Have we covered all the business perspectives needed for long-term success?

To me, being able to communicate why we have the pieces of our strategy and strategic plan is as important as the pieces themselves. OGSM strips away the structure for this shared understanding. A recent article in HBR makes the resulting problem clear.  In Stop Distinguishing Between Execution and Strategy, Roger Martin makes a simple, but powerful observation. Strategy, he says, is about “making choices under uncertainty and competition.” Given this, we need to arm the entire organization with the ability to make the best choices at all levels. When we start taking pieces of the plan out of context, he reasons, we dangerously separate doing from making choices and therefore, from the strategy.

In the military, we were similarly fond of restating Field Marshall Helmuth von Moltke who famously said, “No plan survives first enemy contact.” To counter this, we made sure all operational orders communicated context by starting with a Situation Report, including a clear Mission Statement, which is always given twice, and communicating Intent and Concept of the Operation. This context is given before the more specific Maneuver Instructions. To maximize any unit’s chances of success, everyone, down to the lowest private, needs to know the context so they can make the right choices as unanticipated events unfold in the heat of battle.

OGSM’s short coming is that it starts with maneuver instructions. It stops short of asking and answering “Why?” I suggest keeping contextual elements from BCS (or a similar organizing structure) to add intent to strategic planning so that everyone, at all levels in the organization, can best accomplish the mission.


Different Metric Types Meet Different Needs

May 27, 2014

Enterprises should differentiate between different types of metrics and how they are used. Lagging, Leading and Diagnostic measures should be combined to ensure they are supporting long-term objectives while focusing on intermediate and daily activities that make a difference. As a quick reference consider the following table for getting the right mix:

Type Definition Review Freq Examples Baseball analogy
Lagging Show results and attainment of goals. Typically take time to get outcome. Quarterly, Yearly to Multi- Year

• Revenue

• Profit

• Final Game Score

• Win/Loss Record

Leading Give early indication into trends. Weekly to Monthly

• Average price

• New Sales Booked

• Runs

• Outs

Diagnostic Show why results were achieved and how improvements can be made. Real-time to Daily or Weekly

• Bookings by type, time, customer, region

• Cohort conversion metrics

• Pitches thrown

• Errors

Centers of Excellence Revisited

April 1, 2014

I first wrote about Centers of Excellence about 5 years ago and it remains one of the most popular topics here. This post summarizes and updates thoughts on Centers of Excellence (CoE) as a way to build a capability to deliver value when specialty skills are needed. It covers:

  • The rationale for creation
  • The qualities of a good CoE
  • How to grow a CoE
  • Getting started

Read more…

What is Strategy?

March 4, 2014

I recently re-read Michael Porter’s excellent article from HBR by this title. His insights remain as relevant today as when they were penned 18 years ago. He explains strategy in a way that supports how I like to challenge customers to think about it. In this article, Porter eloquently address how a company can stake out competitive differentiation and align all it’s processes to deliver that differentiation.

Porter makes a clear distinction between

  • Operational effectiveness: performing similar activities better than rivals, and
  • Strategic positioning: performing different activities from a rivals’ or performing similar activities in different ways.

To me, strategy is about differentiating between these to allow focus on strategic positioning. As Porter states, operational effectiveness can be quickly copied through benchmarking and sharing of best practices. This encourages the opposite of differentiation and leads to hyper competition. Through strategic positioning however, an enterprise can stake out differences that, when implemented, are difficult for rivals to copy.

Strategy then must:

  1. Identify and make explicit what will be different
  2. Document and communicate those differences in a way that aligns the performance of all enterprise activities
  3. Ensure progress toward implementing, sustaining and improving the strategy, and to ensure it is delivering results

Let’s look at each of these in a little more detail.

Read more…

Driving Value with Time & Repeatability

October 18, 2013

Flash back: I wrote this white paper about 9 years ago when I was working in a start-up that was building a business activity management software. The company was later purchased by webMethods which became SoftwareAG. I recently met with an old colleague who tells me the software is still in use. Outdated acronyms aside, it is still a good explanation of Lean Six Sigma and an interesting look back in my business life.

Today’s best competitive weapon is time. A loan company demonstrated that rapid turnaround of auto dealer loan applications, doubled win rate while reducing costs by 20%. Dealer sales representatives almost always referred the first approval to their customers. An insurance company found that the best way to grow their customer base was by ensuring their broker representatives were paid commission checks on time. These brokers referred more business to the company that paid them quickly and accurately.

What do these two examples have in common? Both started with measuring the performance of their business processes in real time. Whether your goals are to produce top line growth or bottom line revenue savings, smart business executives are starting with real-time measurement. Called Business Process Optimization (BPO) this approach uses a new class of application called Business Activity Monitoring (BAM) to gain the visibility and analysis to measure, understand and control the variables that affect your business performance. The result is sustainable improved competitiveness. BPO delivers value by:

  • Showing in real time how consistently your process is performing, and whether it needs adjustments.
  • Identifying where to take action to ensure you meet your customer’s requirements and providing an ongoing, accurate direction for improvement.
  • Quickly evaluating results from improvement and creating historical data for on-going improvements.

An Example

An insurance company has promised payment terms on commissions to independent brokers within 14 days after they submit a policy. Through sampling, they find that their average payment time is 10 days. While this seems good on the surface, further analysis found that, due largely to exceptions and delays, a full 25% of the commissions were paid after the 14 day terms. In extreme cases, took more than 35 days for payment to be mailed. A graph makes the case understandable.

Days to Pay at start

In order to fully meet the terms of payment, the company focused on understanding and removing the causes of variation. After applying improvements from a Business Process

Read more…

BPM Studies

February 13, 2013

imageThanks to the BPM course students at University of Colorado for an engaging class discussion this week. It is good to know that treating business processes as strategic assets and building agility into them will be ideas driving our future business  leaders. A link to my class materials is below. Let me know how else I can help.

It’s Time to Include Mobile in Process Improvement

January 17, 2013

MobileThe ability to take work on the go is becoming increasingly popular for big and small businesses. And for good reason. Employees are demanding it while at the same time businesses are seeing benefit. With mobile enterprise solutions, workers can speed up daily operations and boost workplace productivity, regardless of their locations. Mobile applications help business promote efficiency to employees around the world. Some recent reports indicate the trend is hear to stay and growing:

“The consumer mobile experience has taught mobile workers to expect, even demand, access to information and applications from anywhere using mobile devices,” Strategy Analytics spokesperson Mark Levitt said. “Mobile workers have moved beyond just mobile email and messaging to include other collaboration apps such as conferencing, productivity apps such as content authoring and business process apps.”

Mobile solutions are changing the way business operates. The trends clearly indicate it is more important than ever to add a mobile component to most business processes.