Smart Strategy Starts with a Clear Opportunity

In their rush to solutions and decisions, boards of directors and executive teams too often can skip right past the most important step—agreeing on what the strategic opportunity is. 

Signature i studied design thinking practices to develop its Forward Design methodology for strategic planning. We learned that getting agreement on a statement of the problem or opportunity is a critical step in effective strategic thinking and innovation.  Imagine that? It should be common sense except most people just assume they have a shared view of the challenge.  

In our two years using Forward Design it is surprising what a powerful reference point the opportunity statement proves to be.  It focuses and refines our analysis of the organization’s current and future context. An opportunity statement can succinctly clarify the desired outcome and the key issues shaping that outcome.  

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Because design thinking encourages visual representation, we are now turning these opportunity statements into simple diagrams like the one pictured here.  The circle at the center represents the desired outcome or vision the group has. And the surrounding circles, or petals as one client dubbed them, are the key drivers of the opportunity or problem the organization is ready to address. 

These opportunity statements offer a good first impression of what will become important in a new vision or strategic goals. And we’ve also made sure to use these statements to check a group’s work.  After the new strategy is developed and a new strategic plan is approved, did the group hit the target of opportunity or get distracted by less important issues and other bright shiny objects? 

There are definitely purposeful listening skills and a whole lot of intuition required to turn fast-paced strategic discussion into an opportunity statement.  We listen closely, mock up the visual in the spirit of rapid prototyping, and then ask the group to affirm or refine it.  Then it becomes a tool to keep us oriented and focused.

In our work, the opportunity statement rarely shows up in the final strategic plan or new strategic initiative. Our clients may not even realize how pivotal it is to our Forward Design process.  It’s just a simple little process tool with the power to bring people out of confusion into clarity and common purpose.