Monday, May 23, 2016

Participative Strategy Planning

Participative Strategy Planning

Early on in my career I was part of a startup organization. The company had a clear vision – A buyout driven exit plan. Timeline was three years from the date of shipping the product to their first paying customer. Every strategy conceived revolved around this vision. The annual strategy exercise was focused on adding more partnerships, developing product lines where there was no or little competition, and building service offerings to attract for prospects. The leadership believed that if there is an agreement at the top, the rest of the plumbing will fall in line. The response from the middle management was always pushback and questioning of tactical deployment. The strategic initiatives were much like myths of the software world “A general statement of objectives is sufficient to being writing programs – we can fill in the details later”[1].

My key takeaways in terms of sequence of events, challenges and possible recourse are discussed here. I strongly believe in one thing ‘Strategy statements need to be set by the executive leadership’. This should broadly define the direction in which the company is heading. The change I like to see is that this direction setting should include the next set of activities. These must be mapped to each of business units, departments, teams and all the way to the individual contributors. The successful outcome of any strategy is in its execution. This breakdown translates strategy into execution.

Often times, operational teams perceive a new strategy implementation as yet another dictum to follow from leadership. For the most part, teams believe their lack of input into the decision making process makes this impractical and futile. A simple analogy I can think of is ‘We need to get from Point A to Point B in a year’. As an operational resource, this statement does not layout the specifics if it is a journey or a transformation. The vehicle / process model to be used, speed of travel / development mode, available detours / fallback or failsafe, how much load – passengers or goods / products or services need to be transported / transformed. If strategy execution is not viewed as an ongoing transformation, then there is a strong likelihood of failure. One alternative or recourse in this area is ‘participative strategy planning’.

Participative strategy begins from the ground up. This evolves into something the leadership takes into account during their strategic planning process. This may or may not be a SWOT but is provided by the operational teams. The participative strategy is about the ‘skin in the game’ – understanding what gets delivered best within the operating confines of the organization from the folks who run it.

Surveys are a quick toolkit for application of ‘Participative Strategy Planning’. Additionally, these serve as indicators on the level of change appetite, measure of team morale and many other indicators. This needs to be an ongoing exercise to get the level of launch at the grass root levels. Much like the quarterly business reviews, the reviews on strategy effectiveness via surveys provides timely inputs to decision makers to undertake course correction.

To summarize, ‘Participative Strategy Planning’ is about employee empowerment and not executive management abdicating their responsibilities on leading the organizations to grow.


[1] Sec 2.4, Software Development Myths, Page 22-26,Ch 2 - Software Engineering – A practitioner’s approach 8th Ed - Pressman , Maxim

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