Wednesday, April 20, 2016

Seven Steps to Strategy and bike trail development

One might use the Bringing Science to the Art of Strategy (Lafley, Martin, Fivkin, & Siggelkow, 2012) article to help non-profits develop programming and development strategies.  One example I’ll use to think about this is a non-profit I previously worked for, the Allegheny Trail Alliance (the group that oversees the Great Allegheny Passage [GAP] bike trail). I was not part of the organization during the creation of the trail, however thinking back to the years when the trail was being built, I imagine that the trail leaders could have used this process to devise a strategy for trail development. This post will go through the Seven Steps to Strategy Making to think about the steps that the GAP trail leaders might have gone through when initially developing the trail.

As the GAP was built piece by piece, it was initially used locally and regionally. If we use the Seven Steps to Strategy Making, Step 1 would involve identifying choices for how the trail would continue to develop.  Choice 1 – It could continue to develop as a regional trail serving the local Western Pennsylvania and Western Maryland trail riders. Choice 2 – The Great Allegheny Passage could be a world-renowned trail that attracted bikers from everywhere.

Moving on to Step 2, if we are just thinking about these two possibilities (of course there are many more options in between these two extremes), the trail leaders would have needed to identify the advantages, scope, and activities of each choice. For choice 1, the advantage is that a regional use trail would be a much smaller-scale project which would take much less time and fewer resources to achieve. The trail would benefit local trail enthusiasts and the small towns that the trail goes through. The scope would be to focus the trail on local and regional riders, and the activities would include finishing the trail, local marketing, and ongoing trail maintenance.  For choice 2, the advantage would be that by making the trail a global destination, many more people would travel to the area to experience the natural beauty of the area, and these tourists would bring economic development to rural trail towns. The scope would be global and would involve many of the same activities as Choice 1, but with more widespread marketing and more intensive trail maintenance.

When thinking about the conditions (step 3) for Choice 2 (the non-status quo option)– developing a world renowned trail used by individuals around the world would require a number of conditions to be met. First, resources would need to be available to: 1. Fund further development of the trail, 2. Sustain ongoing maintenance that would be needed much more frequently since there would potentially be hundreds of thousands of trail users compared to a much smaller local user base. Second, the towns along the trail would need to be equipped to handle a large number of tourists. 
Third, there would need to be outlets to spread the word about the trail to bikers worldwide.

When considering barriers (Step 4) – trail leaders might have imagined that assisting the development of the trail towns to be able to absorb a large number of tourists would be one of the biggest barriers. These small towns were (are) economically depressed, have minimal lodging and food options, and have never had to cater to the needs of travelers from across the world.

Steps 5 and 6, which involve designing and conducting tests for the key barriers, might have included researching other trails that attract a global audience to determine the extent to which trail towns proved to be a barrier to development/success. The tests could also include feasibility studies on improving key tourist aspects of the towns (feasibility studies for hotel development for instance).

Finally on to making the choice (step 7). The trail is already built and is currently attracting bikers from across the world, with average trail use numbers around 600,000 rides per year. Therefore if trail leaders did go through these seven steps when initially developing the trail, they would have made Choice 2, to develop the trail into a world-renowned tourist destination for trail users. This took a great deal of investment into trail infrastructure, ongoing work of trail volunteers to maintain the trail (and funds to pay for maintenance activities), and groups dedicated to working with the trail towns to ensure that all necessary tourist amenities were available for trail users (this is still ongoing!).


Lafley, A. G., Martin, R. L., Rivkin, J. W., & Siggelkow, N. (2012). Bringing science to the art of strategy. Harvard business review, 90(9), 3-12.

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