What use are strategy tools in this age of disruption?


This is a question I am often asked early in my session on Strategic Analysis, part of the Fast-Track Advanced Management Program. My short answer is that, although most of the tools were developed in a time of greater stability, they are still the best tools to help us make sense of what is happening in our markets right now.

Added on 11 January 2017 by James Moncrieff

strategy tools

My longer answer unfolds through the session. I point out that no strategy tool has ever yet created a strategy. The only place strategy happens is in the head. It is the quality of strategic thinking that is important and the tools are only an aid to that thinking. I remind people that filling in a four box model doesn’t necessarily mean they’re thinking strategically.

The tools can help us to categorize and make sense of the mass of information that is out there, and spot the critical issues more readily. They also provide us with common frameworks and a common language so we can develop a shared and collective viewpoint. But that’s all they do.

The aim of the session, then, is to begin to develop the strategic thinking required to apply the tools effectively. We follow a simple path, beginning with defining strategy as ‘making informed choices about where to focus your most critical resources and capabilities’. Most of the strategy tools help us to make the two fundamental strategic choices: ‘Where to compete?’ and ‘How to compete?’.

As we work through the toolkit, seeking answers to these questions, we reflect on the process needed to develop the critical reasoning skills of noticing (what catches your attention?), sense-making (what does it mean to me/our business?) and judgement (what are you going to do about it?). We also encourage curiosity, skepticism and a willingness to challenge assumptions and mental models.

What appears to be a fairly conceptual session then takes on a new dimension when we introduce participants to a ‘live case’. This is provided by an external organization who bring the group a real strategic issue that they are facing currently. The case sponsor briefs the group on the context, the challenge and the desired outcomes. Working in small groups, participants then have several hours spread through the remainder of the week to analyze the situation and develop some recommendations, which are presented back to the sponsor on the last morning of the Program.

This is where they recognize how important the tools are for making sense of what is happening, how it may unfold and what can be done about it. It is also where they really begin to develop their strategic thinking capability. At first, the live case shapes up as an exciting challenge, then it begins to appear daunting as the reality of what they are being asked to do hits home. Against the perceived odds, every group has risen to the challenge and produced an impressive and informative presentation for the sponsor.

We know that this live case learning has impact and is successful, because many of our past participants, go away thinking ‘my organization could do with help like this…’ and come back to us with their own live case. What better than 20+ bright people focusing their attention and strategic thinking on tackling their problem. And so we have live cases provided by companies from across a wide range of geographies and industries, from not-for-profit as well as commercially focused organizations.

If you are interested in finding out a bit more about this session and this program take a look at the Fast-Track Advanced Management Program details.