Comparing Strategic Planning and Strategic Doing

S trategic Doing represents an agile strategy discipline that is distinctly different from how most of us learned the basics of strategy. Traditionally, strategy in organizations depends on a mechanistic, linear process which we have come to call “strategic planning”.

This approach does not work very well in complex environments that are continuously shifting. Strategic Doing invites us to do our strategic thinking and action differently. My colleague Laz Kozmon and I  came up with the following graphic to explain the difference.

Strategic planning proceeds from the assumption that there is a hierarchical organization in place that can effectively execute on the plans developed. It is no surprise. Strategic planning evolved in the 1950s and 1960s to manage the complicated job of allocating capital across multi-divisional companies. In the 1980s economic development professionals began to apply these disciplines to local and regional economies.

These traditional approaches did not work very well. The reason is obvious. Local and regional economies are not hierarchical. There is no command and control structure in place to carry out a strategy. The mayor cannot tell the school board what to do. The school board cannot tell the chamber of commerce what to do. And the Chamber of Commerce cannot tell the mayor what to do.

In contrast, Strategic Doing is designed for open, loosely coupled networks. It is a simple discipline that takes practice to master. That’s the hard part: Strategic Doing is a collective discipline. To be effective, members of the network must develop a sufficient level of trust in order to undertake complex projects and the disciplines needed to design and manage them.

These trust levels take time to develop. They start from doing small, relatively simple tasks together. As a level of trust within the network grows, members of the network can take on increasingly complex work together. In my experience, it takes about a year for a network to gain a sufficient level of mastery that it can sustain its strategy.

We can contrast strategic planning and Strategic Doing in another way. The role of metrics and the process of accountability are fundamentally different. In strategic planning, metrics are set by the small group of people who develop strategic plan. The metrics provide a measuring rod to make sure that people lower in the hierarchy––the people charged with the responsibility of executing––are following the plan. Accountability comes from reporting against these metrics: command and control at work.

In Strategic Doing, metrics play a different role. We use metrics to facilitate learning. Whereas strategic planning is a deductive process of thought and action, Strategic Doing using inductive reasoning. We learn as we do. Metrics provide a convenient tool to accelerate our learning. With them, we figure out what works. Without them, we would be lost. Accountability in Strategic Doing comes through transparency and the mutual interdependence embedded in the relationships of the network. Forget command and control. It does not work in open networks. Mutual trust becomes the fuel for economic transformation.

Ed Morrison is Director of the Purdue Agile Strategy Lab. He is also an adjunct professor at the University of the Sunshine Coast in Queensland, Australia. For the past five or six years, he has been developing new, agile approaches to strategy in open, loosely joined networks, a discipline he calls Strategic Doing. Prior to starting his economic development work, Ed worked for Telesis, a corporate strategy consulting firm. In this position, he served on consulting teams for clients such as Ford Motor Company, Volvo, and General Electric. He conducted manufacturing cost studies in the U.S., Japan, Mexico, Canada, Italy, Sweden, and France. Ed started his professional career in Washington, D.C., where he has served as a legislative assistant to an Ohio Congressman, staff attorney in the Federal Trade Commission, and staff counsel in the US Senate. He holds a BA degree cum laude with honors from Yale University and MBA and JD degrees from the University of Virginia.

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