One of the biggest and most common mistakes in planning is the failure to define the exact problem to be solved, as articulated by a decision criteria, prior to moving into action planning.
“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 questions to ask for once I know the proper question, I could solve the problem in less than 5 minutes.” – Albert Einstein
When I originally read this quote, I thought it was insightful, but I didn’t realize how much. In retrospect of leading strategic planning efforts for a dozen years, I now realize that this is very often the root cause of why planning efforts fail. It’s quite simply that the exact problem has not been defined effectively, either in terms of what strategic issue it addresses, or in terms of what the criteria for success is.
It is the tendency of those who don’t commonly work in strategy to feel more comfortable in creating tactics, as a lack of understanding of how strategy is structured pushes people to what they know. This lack of comfort with the nebulous nature of strategy results in a a failure to stay with it long enough, or to build the required elements for context. The end result is a lack of context for all of the planning and project management efforts afterward, kneecapping the potential of the whole effort.
Before your organization moves into planning, take the time to drive high levels of specificity around the real issue you’re working to address, and the decision criteria BEFORE considering your options. While failing to do this initially feels better to many participants, the decision making and subsequent implementation phases always suffer.
Ask the following questions:
1. What EXACT problem are we trying to solve? Is it a strategic issue or an operational issue? (You really can’t spent too much time here)
2. Before we consider options, what is the decision criteria, and how does that address the original problem?
3. What options do we have, and what are the pros/cons and cost benefit of each?
Only once you have gotten this far can you possibly build a complete strategy that has a hope of being productive.