Get to the core of your strategy quicker with the Strategy Blueprint
October 25, 2016
Strategy is a fuzzy terms that means different things to different people. Sometimes it gets confused with analysis. This includes everything from market size to technical assessments to financial prognosis.
On the other hand, strategy gets conflated with planning. You’ve probably witnessed annual strategy retreats in your organization, where leaders spend days forging plans that become quickly obsolete.
Analysis and planning, while necessary inputs and outputs to strategy, are not the core of strategy. You can’t analyze your way to strategy. And detailed roadmaps don’t provide the rationale for the activity they organize. Strategy does.
The core of strategy, then, lies between the two. It’s about devising a way you believe you’ll best overcome challenges to reach a desired position.
I developed the strategy blueprint as a tool to visualize the central logic of strategy. It’s now available right inside of MURAL from the Frameworks tab.
THE ELEMENTS OF THE STRATEGY BLUEPRINT
The elements in the strategy blueprint are inspired from Henry Mintzberg’s five Ps of strategy from his book Strategy Safari, combined with Roger Martin and A.G. Lafley’s five questions of strategy in their recent book Playing To Win.
Each element (from the column on the right) is given a box in the blueprint.
Challenges: Strategy implies some change, a desire to move from point A to point B. What are the hurdles to doing so? What opposing forces must you overcome to be able to reach your goals?
Aspirations: What kind of organization do you aspire to be? What do you aspire for customers and for society?
Focus areas: Setting a scope to your strategy helps you concentrate effort on the things that matter most. Who will you serve? What regions will you play in? Which jobs to be done will you target?
Guiding principles: What is your philosophy for winning? What mantras will unite teams and unify decision making?
Activities: What types of activities are needed to implement the strategy and achieve your aspirations? Note that this is not about making a roadmap or plans, rather looking at the skills and capabilities you’ll ultimately need
Outcomes: How will you know your strategy is on track? How can you measure progress and success?
Note that building strategy is a creative endeavor and a group activity. The strategy blueprint allows you to explore options as a team. Try alternatives, cross items off, rework ideas, and start over again. Design your strategy and get agreement on it.
STRATEGY BLUEPRINT ONLINE
Taking a team through the Strategy Blueprinting exercise is a great activity to do digitally in MURAL.
1. SCHEDULE A WORKING SESSION
Set up a conference call and invite your team to a meeting. You can typically go through the strategy canvas in about 2-3 hours. A team of about 3-8 is best. It’s possible to hold a session with more than 8 people, but harder to let everyone be heard. You might be best splitting a large group into smaller, independent sessions.
2. CREATE A MURAL TEMPLATE
Place the strategy blueprint in the center of a mural. The default size allows for about 6-10 sticky notes per area. If you have a large group, you might want to make the framework larger. (Do this in advance to avoid re-sizing sticky notes on the framework later). Then lock the framework down.
3. GUIDE THE TEAM THROUGH EXERCISES
For each of the six areas of the Blueprint, create an area for creative brainstorming to generate ideas and team exercises to help understand and prioritize the best ideas. These areas will circle the Blueprint in the middle. Below are my recommendations:
This exercise quickly gets insight from your team about the challenges and opportunities you face. It’s based on the metaphor of a sailboat: if your initiative were a sailboat, what’s holding it back (anchors)? What would make it go faster (wind)? You’ll need between 30-60 minutes for this exercise.
Add anchors: Imagine your initiative is a sailboat. What anchors are holding it back? Individually, add sticky notes for each "anchor" below the sailboat.
Discuss anchors and group them into themes. These themes feed into the “Challenges” of the strategy blueprint.
Add “wind”: What will make you go faster? Consider the factors that move the team and effort forward
Discuss “wind” factors and group them into themes. These groups can be translated into “Guiding Principles” in the strategy blueprint.
The Sailboat exercise is based on the Speedboat game in Luke Hohmann’s book, Innovation Games. Read more about it online here.
2. What’s On Your Radar
This exercise helps the team reflect on what’s truly important. You’ll need about 30-60 minutes to complete.
Label the three concentric rings primary, secondary and tertiary from inside to outside. Divide the bull’s eye into sections for different categories of factors within the strategy. These usually include user and customers, geographic regions, service types, use cases, aspects of product or service design, and technology or platforms.
Brainstorm items within each category. For instance, for the category of “customers,” list all customer types.
Prioritize the items be moving them closer to the center or further out. The items closest to the center are your focus areas on the strategy blueprint.
3. Method Cards
The principle of method cards is simple: many projects and efforts have recurring steps. Don’t recreate them each time. Instead, use cards to focus the discussion on the project and be confident you won’t leave anything out. This exercise takes about 30 minutes to complete.
Collect as many activities related to the strategy as you can and list them on individual cards. Leave some blank cards for the team to fill out during the session.
Invite the team to review the cards and ask questions. If there is a step or activity needed to achieve the strategy that’s missing, add a new card.
As a group, duplicate the cards for activities needed to achieve the strategy, and add them to the area below the methods. Cluster them by topics. The headers of each cluster feed into the activities section of the blueprint.
4. Pirate Metrics
Dave Clure proposed a simple framework for grouping business metrics into 5 categories:
Acquisition - Metrics around winning new customers
Activation - How you’ll track the onboarding and first experience
Retention - Measurements around customer loyalty and churn
Referral - How you’ll measure satisfaction and the likelihood to recommend
Revenue - How much customers spend and profit you’ll make
The acronym for these categories is AARRR, hence “pirate” metrics. It will take about 30 minutes to complete this exercise. The steps are very simple:
Create a large table with the pirate metrics as column headers
Give everyone 5-10 minutes to brainstorm as many relevant metrics as you can for each category individually
Discuss all of the relevant metrics as a group and decide on the ones that are most salient.
Benchmark current metrics for each of the primary metrics you agree on as a group. These form the “outcomes” section of the Strategy Blueprint.
5. Who Do You Want Your Customers To Become?
This technique is based on a single question: who do we want our customers to become? The aim is to look beyond a specific offering or how much profit you’ll make. Instead, explore the impact of your service on customers. How will you change their lives?
For example, George Eastman didn’t just invent an affordable, easy-to-use automatic camera at the end of the 19th century; he created photographers. His innovation allowed everyone to do something only trained professionals could previously do.
Here’s another example: Google is not just a sophisticated search algorithm, it lets everyone become expert researchers. Or consider eBay. The popular trading platform has created a new breed of entrepreneurs.
This exercise takes about 30 minutes to complete.
Pose the question to the group, Who do we want our customers to become?
Let everyone note answers individually for 5 minutes.
Discuss the possibilities and agree on 1-2 answers that will represent your “aspirations” in the Strategy Blueprint.
You can access the full template with these exercises below. Just click to open the template:
Strategy Blueprint Template by Jim Kalbach
Open to create a mural from this template in your team. Powered by MURAL