Strategy is useless without a process

Strategy is valuable.

It lays out a process for making your ideas a reality. It’s the full set of behaviors and techniques that you need to master in order to achieve success. Strategy doesn’t just plan ideas, it creates them.

Yet, the bar for strategic planning is offensively low.

Why is it that when a group gets together for a strategy session, they often leave with a document filled with bullet points, and often not even a plan? They talk about themes, goals, and metrics. They have every ingredient they need but they don’t have a recipe. Strategy is useless without a process.

Developing a process is the ultimate objective in scaling ideas. I find it’s a great way to mobilize people around a common goal. It should be logical and serve as a map for how the project will be executed. It keeps you accountable for measuring your efforts and making corrections.

Every organization’s process should be custom-tailored. Google found success in the Associate Product Manager program because it was designed with the ideal Googler in mind. What works well in your company? What set of behaviors lead to better outcomes? Study your best ideas and figure out your step-by-step method for success.

As you fine-tune what your process looks like, these 6 techniques will make your strategies stronger.


Study your stakeholders.

It may seem basic, but you should go into every strategy understanding who your stakeholders are and what roles they play in your plan. Sometimes they play more role than one. Take the example of a ‘smart city’ startup I worked with recently. The company helped cities connect more people and devices to the internet, and in it, legislators occupied two roles. Sometimes the startup helped legislators connect their cities. Sometimes it encouraged them to fight or support a bill. I describe these as: legislators-as-connectors and legislators-as-regulators. They also had many other stakeholders like citizens, municipalities, and municipal leagues. The better you approach strategy with empathy, the better you will feel the world as they feel it. Add purpose to your approach.


Target your planning

You can never spend enough time learning about your target customer, client, or audience. Most companies do 1-3 things extremely well, and they usually do it for a specific type of person. Sure, you do marketing, but what type of marketing? Content marketing. Do you do content creation or promotion? What industry do you usually do it in? Do you do that globally or do you focus on specific geographic areas? Do you do it for B2B or B2C companies? I encourage you to constantly dig deeper into what you do well, who you do it for, why they pay you to do it, and what they’re worried about gaining or losing. You can’t be all things to all customers, so figure out who you are, who needs you, and why.


Know your WIIFMs

What do you want or need from each of your stakeholders in order to succeed? You should know your “What’s In It For Me?” list by heart. Let’s imagine for a moment your company is seeing a lot of turnover and your teams are too slow because they’re constantly bottlenecked. The first thing you have to do in this situation is write down a list of everything you want from employees. From there you focus on clearing up what’s stopping them from doing those things extremely well. Knowing what you want at a tactical level lets you develop metrics to monitor and set targets for your goals.



On the other hand, you also need to intimately know your “What They Want From You” list. What do these stakeholders need from you to succeed? This covers people who buy from you (customers), invest in you (shareholders), work for you (employees), work with you (employees), and partner with you (partners). Get to know these groups through conversations. Listen to their stories about their experience with you, what they are working on at work, and what their goals are for the next few years. Understanding stakeholders’ needs and expectations leads to insights that can drive strategy.


Design for opinions

Strategies that succeed actively plan actions that meet expectations. Go back to the section of your strategy that talks about objectives or goals and tie each and every tactic to address specific opinions from your stakeholder groups. Decide as a group what actions you will do that addresses both your WIIFMs and WTWFYs in a scalable way. Involving stakeholders in the strategy process is a great way to avoid making long-term mistakes. Build your own “council” of people you can tap for insights and feedback.


Schedule checkpoints

There’s no shortage of work to do, so schedule checkpoints into your strategy to assess your efforts and effectiveness. Detail what your milestones are ahead of time and use a scorecard to see where you stand. Be prepared to make corrections. Before Slack became a billion-dollar startup, it started out as a now-defunct online game called Glitch. A lot had gone wrong with now-CEO Stewart Butterfield’s online gaming company, but one thing had gone incredibly right: the internal communication tool they built for its employees. By 2015, the Slack messaging app was dominating in Silicon Valley. This preparedness to change allows you to be innovative with your plan.


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