Posts Tagged ‘technology’

3 Ways To Test Your Strategy

Tuesday, January 18th, 2011

An article I read recently showcases 10 tests of a strategy that apply some of the best thinking that’s been done on the topic.  It was published in the McKinsey Quarterly and is called “Have You Tested Your Strategy Recently”. You have to register to read the full article but it’s worth it.

I want to focus on 3 of the tests which I think are particularly valid for business owners.

The first one asks the question – does your strategy put you ahead of trends? That new trends develop in any market is a fact. The issue is the length of time it takes for them to become apparent. A major technological breakthrough or a significant change in, e.g. the economy/demand or regulations/legislation can drive a rapid transition.

But most trends develop so slowly that business owners only react when their profits are affected. At that point it may be too late to respond effectively (think about the travel agents who ignored the rise of online competitors). The cost of missing a trend can be heavy, but seeing it early can pay off.

So how do you spot new trends? Keep an eye on customers who have been quick to adopt new products in the past. What are they doing? Think about the impact the new trends would have on your financial position – and the decisions you would make if you were certain they would happen. How do the results of those decisions compare with your current priorities?

The second test looks at how well your strategy deals with uncertainty. A challenge for business owners is to know which choices to make now, given that the outcomes will take place in a future they can’t control. The authors suggest breaking uncertainty into 4 levels.

The first gives a reasonably clear view of the future with a range of outcomes tight enough to support a firm decision. At level two, there are a number of identifiable outcomes for which a company should prepare. The possible outcomes in the third level aren’t specific but fall into a range resembling a probability distribution. And level four features total ambiguity, where even the distribution of outcomes is unknown.

Most companies assume they are facing either levels one or four while they are usually dealing with level two or three. The authors suggest quickly ruling out impossible outcomes and then looking for those which are either mutually supportive or which are unlikely because they undermine one another. A tool like scenario analysis can be applied – by the owner, management team or consultants like us – to the remainder.

The third test, asks if the strategy balances commitment and flexibility. Commitment and flexibility are opposites – if you’re very committed to a course of action you may have very little flexibility.

Making the best trade-off between them requires understanding that, of all of the decisions a business owner has to make, only strategic decisions result in commitment – through hard-to-reverse investments in long-lasting, company-specific assets.

But in this world of uncertainty, strategy is not only about where and how to compete, it’s also about when. Committing too early reduces flexibility, leaving it too late can allow competitors to gain advantage.

A market beating strategy will do 3 things. Take big bets, or make commitments aimed at gaining significant long-term competitive advantage; make no-regrets moves, which will pay off whatever happens; and maintain options, that involve relatively low costs now but which can be turned into a higher level of commitment as changing conditions warrant.

Why did I choose these 3 tests? Because they are, I think, the most relevant right now as a result of the fall-out from the financial crisis and recession and the hardest for business owners to deal with. (Although I was tempted by Test #8 – Is your strategy contaminated by bias?)

If you would like someone to talk the tests over with, drop me an e-mail or give me a call. I’d be happy to spend half an hour chewing them over with you

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