Thursday, June 3, 2010

Asking the Right Questions is the Key to Effective Strategy

“If I had an hour to solve a problem and my life depended on the solution, I would spend the first 55 minutes determining the proper question to ask, for once I know the proper question, I could solve the problem in less than five minutes.”

Effective strategy-making begins with questions. Effective tactical plans also begin with questions, but the types of questions used in strategy are different from those used for operations.

Operational questions start with "who," "what," "when," "where," and "how." Who is going to do what by when? Where will it take place? How will we do it?

Strategic questions often begin with "which" and "why" because strategic decision-making is about making choices (which), then justifying (why) you made those choices. Which market? Which product? Which service? Why this market? Why this product? Or Why this service?

In other words, the purpose of strategic questions is to create a framework for leadership to make choices -- strategic choices. Any strategic question you ask should have many possible answers and, ideally, bring forth new information.

A mistake many businesses and non-profit organizations make is to try to be all things to all people. They think more stuff means more value. Not true. With limited resources, the only reasonable strategy is to keep your offerings limited in scope and aimed at your defined constituencies – you can be some things to some people.

Strategic questions are a tool intended to lead you to make strategic choices that put you on the most direct path to your desired future (vision). With this in mind, focus your strategy making efforts first on asking the right questions. The right answers will follow.