Strategy : VIA Vision Into Action

Alan is one of the founding directors of changedrivers.  His primary role is to define the work that has to be done to change the processes and behaviours in the client’s business so that their ideas are converted into practical, operational reality, whether this is in the office, the workshop or the boardroom.

Alan’s fundamental position is that organisational excellence can only be brought about by ensuring that the behaviours and practices of the “leading lights” of the organisation (whoever they are and whatever roles they play in the business) are understood and duplicated across the business.  To this end, he has developed his practice around organisational change that is driven through changes in business process, and the knowledge systems that govern the way work is done within organisations.  His work uncovers the “internal best practices” of the client organisation and he then uses proven methodologies to convert the Tacit Knowledge of the “subject matter experts” within the organisation to Explicit Knowledge that can be shared across the whole of the business.

Alan has been consulting since the late eighties following a successful career in a number of senior marketing and general management roles with major organisations in the printing and packaging industries.

Check out the changedrivers website at www.changedrivers.com.au, or contact Alan by e-mail alan-ward@changedrivers.com.au


Take a moment to think about these questions:

  • Does your organisation quickly and competently convert strategic changes required by higher committees and executive teams into operational reality on the shop floor?
  • How often have you seen quick solutions implemented that didn’t fix the problem because those tasked with implementation didn’t understand the fundamental objectives clearly enough?
  • What would be the impact on your business if the desires of the boardroom could be effectively and accurately cascaded to those responsible for making the operational and tactical changes in the “boiler-rooms” of your organisation?

We have observed that one of the most critical, complex tasks a senior management team has to address is the conversion of their determined strategy into “action on the ground”. The old saying of many a slip twixt cup and lip aptly describes the outcomes we have witnessed of good strategy that has been poorly implemented.

 

The reasons are legion, but we believe that one of the primary contributors to failure at the implementation stage is poor communication of the real intent of the senior management group and the way this requirement is cascaded through the organisation to the level at which the work actually gets done. Each of the handover points between the group responsible for the original strategic or conceptual thinking and those responsible for the tactical implementation represents an opportunity for misrepresentation, misinterpretation, and misunderstanding.

 

Those responsible for providing accurate guidance as to the outcome they desire can often be criticised for either delivering detailed instructions of how to do the job, or a general tasking which lacks clarity of objective in terms of the results, outputs or outcomes that will satisfy their requirements. Far too often we have observed senior management teams indulging themselves in working out the tactical processes by which an objective will be delivered, all too often without the current, technical expertise to be able to adequately make such decisions. Whilst at the other end of the spectrum, in an attempt to contextualise the work they have been asked to do, we have watched as teams of junior managers and their subordinates build a corporate strategy and vision so that they can tackle the job. More often than not, they lack an understanding of the real strategic imperatives facing the organization and even if they were competent to develop these statements they do not have access to the information they require to do the job.

 

We have constructed a series of VIA – Vision Into Action workshops that effectively cascade the objectives of the senior management team to those responsible for doing the work. The process enables an effective audit trail from the original conceptual thinking through to the tactical implementation.

 

Strategic VIA – Developing the “Light on the Hill”

  • This workshop focuses managers’ attention on uncovering the Mission Critical Issues and KeyQueSt(s) (Key Questions of Strategy) in their business that are pertinent to the Workshop Topic.
  • The workshop provides an opportunity to develop are a shared understanding, at a strategic level, of how these organisational problems are to be overcome.
  • The outputs from this workshop are a number of KeyQueSt(s) and integrated, Strategic Answers to the Workshop Topic

Operational VIA – Vision Into Action

  • In this workshop managers articulate the Action Plans that will be required to convert the business objectives into reality.
  • The workshop outputs are KeyQueSt(s) that have been converted into Operational Action Plans that describe the Systemic, Structural, Skill and Stimuli changes required to deliver the organisational objectives and a definition of how the changes will be operationalised.

I2A – Ideas to Action. Tactical Planning Processes

  • These workshops develop project plans that will convert the Operational Action Plans into day-to-day reality through hands on project management and project delivery
  • The outputs from these workshops are Project Plans that will deliver the Operational Action Plans

Cascading the Solution Using the VIA Process

 

The VIA analysis process has been years in the making. It is a convergence of practical business planning experience, academic research, profit centre accountability and a multitude of consulting interventions with a variety of clients in a myriad of industries. In a business environment of increasing complexity, relentless competition and business processes that demand technical specialisation, the need to be able apply clear-thinking in planning processes is of paramount importance.

 

In an endeavor to explain complex organisational issues we are often forced to simplify our explanations so that we can convey understanding to someone else. Unfortunately, too often this simplified explanation results in a superficial understanding of the problem which then begets a superficial solution to the problem.

 

We have found that unless we can succinctly articulate the topic of the workshop we have been engaged to conduct the outputs from the process will not satisfy the client’s need. Although this may sound like a blinding glimpse of the obvious, we have often found that the issues to be addressed in the strategy workshop, whilst relatively simple to articulate are usually wide open to interpretation by those responsible for creating a solution.

 

The Strategy VIA Process – The Light on the Hill

 

Prior to conducting a Strategic VIA Workshop, we work with the client to understand the things that are keeping them awake at night. We probe to understand the “whispers of doubt” that visit them at 2 o’clock in the morning and then conduct a series of interviews with other workshop attendees and selected stakeholders prior to the workshop. During our interviews we uncover the degree to which the concerns are shared, understood, perceived and agreed. In addition we also probe to uncover other pertinent and related issues that might need to be surfaced in the workshop if a truly effective solution is to be delivered through the VIA process.

 

From our round of interviews we work with the client to convert the “whispers” into a Workshop Topic that we can announce in advance of conducting the two day workshop. We have found that our process is most effective when we are called upon to address a meaningfully specific problem such as “How do we leverage our investment in “X”?” or “How do we reinvigorate “Project Y”?”.

 

The outputs from our Strategic VIA Workshop is a series of KeyQueSts that will be used to guide and brief the subordinate working groups responsible for the Operational and Tactical project plans required to implement the selected solution. A KeyQueSt is a succinct statement about a fundamental issue that must be addressed by the organisation. It is usually focused on the present, but always with an eye to the future and it must provide absolute clarity about what it is that must be fixed and a “simple” statement of how we propose to bring about the solution.

Day One – Appreciating the Situation

Day Two Developing the KeyQueSts

Our objective on Day One is to arrive at a position whereby we can be confident that there is a shared understanding across the workshop delegates of the all of the fundamental elements of the problem. Our intention is to get beyond a superficial interpretation of the problem and to ensure that the workshop focuses on the Issue and does not start to reach for quick fixes to complex problems.

  1. Feedback from the front – we open the workshop by providing a summary of the interviews that were conducted and encourage delegates to ask for clarification and provide further information as required.
  2. Develop an Aspirational Endstate – we use a structured process to describe the “desired future” with respect to the issue we are addressing. This becomes our “light on the hill”
  3. Define the Barriers to Success – workshop delegates are asked to explain how they perceive the Barriers to Success in the primary areas of the Systems, Technology and People of the organisation, and how the deficiencies in Structure, Skills, Systems and Stakeholders within these primary areas contribute to failure in the business.
  4. Define the Mission Critical Issues (MCI) – workshop delegates are asked to write a short briefing statement on what they consider to be the three or four MCIs that they would focus on were they delegated the authority and responsibility for fixing the Workshop Topic. They then present their ideas to their colleagues who vote on how Critical to Success they perceive the MCI and also the degree to which they have Control of Resources required to solve the problem. With twelve delegates in the workshop we usually have presentations on thirty to forty MCIs.

To complete the first day of the workshop we reduce the thirty odd MCIs into six or eight Consolidated Topics.

On the second day of the workshop we begin to focus our attention on developing potential solutions to the Workshop Topic. In the first instance we make the delegates take another look at those things that they have defined as barriers to delivering the Aspirational Endstate, but this time using Cause and Effect reasoning. We then use our structured Key Questions of Strategy process to consider the issues.

  1. Causal Tree Analysis on each Consolidated Topic – workshop delegates employ cause and effect thinking to the issue at hand with the specific objective of uncovering the Complications, the evidence of failure, that something is going wrong or is about to go wrong and needs to be fixed. The Causes, the root causes of the problems, the organisational processes that are at fault. The Consequences, the inevitable outcome of failing to fix the Causes
  2. A KeyQueSt is defined for each Consolidated Topic – the KeyQueSt process follows a standard formula.
    Initially the group clearly articulates the Organisational Objective they want to achieve. This needs to be stated in some measurable way.
  3. This objective then enables the team to pose the Question about how they can take the action they perceive to be required.
  4. Give the Question, the team can then turn their attention to the detailed strategies of How they will address the issues and will support their selected strategy and so explain Why they chose to do it that way.
  5. This detailed consideration of the How and Why of the solution allows a succinct Answer to be articulated.

 

The primary objective of our process is to ensure that when the simplified explanation of the problem is presented to those who are responsible for delivering the solution, it is backed up by a richness of information that will provide adequate guidance as they develop Operational and Tactical responses to the KeyQueSts.

 The Operational VIA Process – Vision Into Action

 

Prior to conducting an Operational VIA Workshop, we work with the client to determine which of the KeyQueSts are to be addressed within the workshop. We assemble the right teams to deal with the problems and look for subject matter experts from within the organisation who can bring a detailed operational perspective to the issues. As with the Strategic VIA we conduct a series of interviews with workshop delegates and other stakeholders to uncover the degree to which the concerns are shared, understood, perceived and agreed.

Day One – Appreciating the Situation

Day Two – Planning The Future

Our objective on the first day is to ensure that the workshop delegates assigned to develop Operational Plans to address the issues articulated in the KeyQueSts share a common understanding of the complexity of the issues they have been tasked to address. Our objective is to continue to disaggregate the KeyQueSt into bite-size pieces that can be described in briefing papers the team will then use to cascade to those tactical teams responsible for doing the “work” implicit in the solution.

  1. The KeyQueSt statements provide the focus for the workshop – we ensure that workshop delegates have grasped the intent of the KeyQueSt and have a common understanding of what it is they are expected to deliver.
  2. Imagineering the “Perfect Future” – based upon the objectives of the KeyQueSt we use a structured process that allows the team to articulate in some detail how they imagine the future state will be if they have been able to effectively deliver the requirements as described by the KeyQueSt.
  3. Define the Current Reality – delegates are called upon to provide a detailed account of the customers, product and services, delivery mechanisms and domain analysis within the business unit. This current reality is reinforced through a SWOT Analysis.
  4. As in the Strategic VIA Workshop, delegates are engaged to Define the Barriers to Success with respect to the primary areas of Systems, Technology and People and how the deficiencies in Structure, Skills, Systems and Stakeholders within these primary areas contribute to failure in the business.
  5. The Statement of Intent is a succinct statement of objective. It defines WHAT it is going to be different in the next twelve months, HOW these objectives will be delivered and WHO is going to be accountable for making the change.
  1. As in the Strategic VIA Workshop, delegates are engaged to Define the Mission Critical Issues – and write a short briefing statement on three or four MCIs that they would focus on. Again, we anticipate that twelve delegates will generate thirty to forty MCIs which again will be reduced to six or eight Consolidated Topics around which we will construct an Action Plan
  2. The Operational Action Plan – The Statement of Intent can only be realised through a Detailed Planning Process which describes how the new state of the organisation will be achieved. This is a facilitated action learning process that is designed to transfer skills to the team members so that they can employ the process in their next decision making task. A vital building block of understanding is the recognition of the potential barriers to success that must be overcome if The Statement of Intent is to be achieved.
  3. Change Driving. Planning the implementation is a process, not an event. Too often we have seen good strategic thinking come to naught because the reality of the complexities of implementation were either ignored or not understood. Major change requires good transition planning. This means that it is usually unrealistic to expect that the changes will be made in one fell swoop. Effective changedriving requires short, medium and long-term milestones that in turn allow one to measure the effectiveness of the change plans.

The primary objective of our process is to ensure that the guidance available from the Strategic VIA workshop is a constant “test” that is applied to the solutions developed in the Operational VIA workshops. A question we constantly ask during the workshop process is “In what way will this recommendation move you toward the strategic objective articulated in the KeyQueSt?”

 I2A – Ideas to Action. Tactical Planning Processes

 

This is the level at which the rubber really hits the road. Here we are concerned with the detail of implementing changes in process and activity. Our control and management processes rely upon, project plans and issues logs; action plans and accountability statements; resource planning, management and reporting. Our objective is to develop detailed project plans that will convert operational objectives into day-to-day reality. In this phase of the task, we often act as the Programme or Project Manager and will often take on the responsibility for transferring project management skills to the client’s staff.

 

Prior to conducting workshops, we work with the boss to select the “Issues To Action Workshop Topics” and we then distil, edit, augment and clarify, the Operational Action Plans to ensure their usability for the Issues To Action teams.

 

Workshop Process – Outline Project Planning

 

We employ a structured process of Outline Project Planning in a one day workshop which leads delegates through a process of Planning to Plan the Project Plan. The process addresses five critical stages in developing a project plan.

 

Definition – An accurate description of purpose and scope of the project as understood by the delegates. This allows the facilitator to ensure that the team stays within the boundaries of their task and don’t begin to solve a problem they have not been asked to address.

 

Deliverables & Deadlines – We ensure that the team has a precise understanding of what it is that they have been tasked to deliver and that they have absolute clarity about when key stakeholders expect to take delivery.

 

Dependencies & Demurrage – We lead the groups through an analysis of the relationships between project elements so that they can define the critical path and identify the key risks that threaten the achievement of the outcomes.

 

Development – Inevitably there are sub-projects and key tasks that will make up the elements of the detailed project plan. Successful implementation will be determined by how well the project team operationalises the Systemic, Skills, Structural and Stakeholder changes that will be necessary to deliver the business objectives.

 

Devolution – All projects have a sunset clause and one of the critical factors in project implementation is determining who is going to be responsible for ensuring that the project’s recommendations are embedded and simply become “the way of doing things around here”.

 


Ó Copyright Alan Ward 2004

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