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decision tree helps define the nature of your problem or opportunity

Decision Tree: Understand the Nature of Your Strategic Initiatives

If your annual objectives are stretch goals—and for many reasons they should be—then chances are there’s no straightforward way to achieve them. Merely tuning your offerings and processes won’t do; chances are you’ll need to go way beyond that.

The key question is: How do you know the nature of these top improvement priorities, which collectively make sure you achieve your annual objectives?

The answer to that question is crucial: If you give an innovation challenge to an improvement team, you are quite likely setting them up for failure.

Over the past three years and in a significant number of strategy sessions, I have learned how a simple decision tree and the consistent use of language can drive the required shared understanding of a strategic initiative.

Decision tree to identify the nature of a challenge

This flowchart helps “operationalize” a set of strategic initiatives: Knowing which method must be used for each of them allows steering them towards success. Plus, leaders can make sure the managers in charge of these initiatives master the methods they are supposed to employ.

How Can You Describe Your Challenges?

Now that you know the nature of the challenges, how can you describe them? In my experience, this is not a question of “naming conventions.” For example, you might call your project “Project Ara,” but you need to be clear what that is about: designing a new phone that allows the integration of hardware capabilities as easily as today’s phones allow the integration of software capabilities: Project Ara is about the “appification of hardware.”

The following table summarizes language you can use to formulate the task of a given strategic initiative. An additional hint: Make things specific by replacing generic verbs like “get done,” “build,” “set up,” “improve,” “design” and “create” with more specific verbs (see the examples). We illustrate that with examples selected from the transformation of a major logistics center.


It’s a Leader’s Task to Figure It Out

Unfortunately, all too often busy managers cede to the temptation to leave “the details” to their employees. Invariably, this leads to diverging interpretations about what the task is. You can thus set your teams up for lackluster results or failure. For that reason, sometimes leaders are required to write a full or, at least a draft, charter for each of their strategic initiatives. Where and when that is possible, it is laudable and very helpful, but practically speaking, we haven’t seen that work all too often.

Hence my pledge here: Business leaders should at least take sufficient care to define the operational nature of their strategic initiatives. To be fast and effective at that, they can use the simple decision tree, and they should also use strong and clear language to describe the job that needs to be done.

Dr. Michael Ohler is a principal with BMGI. You can follow Michael on LinkedIn here. This article was excerpted from "How to Define the Nature of Your Challenge or Opportunity," published on BMGI.

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