How to have an honest conversation about business strategy
By Candice Coetzee, Head of Strategic and specialized Services and Ryan Tolmay, Strategic Consultant, Inspired Testing
When businesses talk strategy internally, it’s not always a conversation that happens between the right people at the right time in the right place.
Very often these conversations are fragmented, or don’t involve key influencers, or are broken up between business units or silos, and therefore the overall strategy becomes as fragmented as the discussions around strategy themselves.
Communication is key
We’re in the business of delivering software quality, which needs to go hand-in-hand with the overall business strategy to be most effective. As such, we need to know which quality issues matter the most from a business perspective in order to fine-tune our quality assurance and delivery services.
These are the types of conversations the business itself should be having internally, because from these conversations other issues might transpire that have a broader impact on the business itself, not just the quality of one aspect of the business. These issues might then need to be addressed first, in order for us to deliver better quality.
Oftentimes when we unpack the process – for example, we ask the developers for their proof of Unit Testing release notes – we get told that’s not part of the process or hasn’t been done correctly, and then we are immediately at risk, because as a vendor we are accountable for the final quality of the product and yet can’t vouch that the upstream processes have been done correctly.
The conversations that need to happen should also be public. Whether they’re internal or external, the right stakeholders need to be part of the conversation, which in our area of the business is the C-level team that can influence key stakeholders in the business to enable us to provide a better-quality strategy and also help them optimise their business strategy.
This process is not entirely risk-free. When a vendor like us comes through and starts unearthing issues, it obviously highlights areas of under-delivery or non-delivery from certain business units, which carries the risk of potentially exposing employees. While with an objective input from our side, this does pose the risk of have to further stabilize parts of the business, and so should be handled carefully and sensitively.
It’s important to reiterate that the conversation should not seek to highlight people but rather highlight inefficiencies in the business so we can take them where they need to be. The intent is not to disrupt the way of work but to create a positive outcome with an efficient and effective strategy behind it.
Finding the right approach
Now that we’ve established the need for conversations around strategy, what’s the best way to approach the process behind not only quality strategy but overall business strategy as well?
There are three main approaches we advocate, on a case-by-case basis:
1. The Five-D’s approach
- Define: what type of conversations do we need to have, why do we need to change the strategy, why are we all in the room together.
- Discover: put in a collective core and understand what we’re resolving or trying to optimise.
- Dream: understand quick wins and long-term vision, and how this speaks to what the business wants to achieve, and are we meeting the dreams and ethos of the company.
- Design: what are the elements discussed above, and how do we make sure they are done correctly implemented to achieve ROI and results.
- Delivery: delivery and measurement of the process, to see if the KPI against the strategy has been met, or if it needs further tweaking.
2. The nimble approach
- Purpose: what are we describing – who, what and how? Who’s doing it, what are we doing and how are we doing it? The scope will depend on the size of the business.
- Winning: the future states and how you’re going to get there. Know what it’s going to look like once you’ve succeeded.
- Arenas: what must the business succeed at most to achieve its strategy.
- Recitals: what it means to excel in the arenas. This comes down to KPIs, and what it is you want to achieve.
- Acts: What are we going to do in this space.
3. Planning to win
- Guiding inspirations: how are we motivating the company to achieve its aspirations. Very much a motivational approach with staff and culture.
- Managing and playing the field: how do you enact the approach on the ground, and how do you go about motivating your staff to help achieve the company’s goals.
- The Right To Win: this is the way you will win on the chosen path. You’ve chosen the playing field and path, now you need to identify how you’re going to win at this strategy. How will you enable your teams to do what they need to do to win.
- Capabilities: you also need to understand the configuration and setup not only of staff but also operational framework and organisational structures.
- Requirements in supporting systems: this goes hand in hand with capabilities, and define the KPIs that will measure your progress along the path to transformation.
All these approaches will get you to your end goal, but each will work better in different organisations depending on their own unique strategies, market space or ambition. The first approach is best suited for larger corporates, the second tm medium and smaller organisations, and the third for large motivational or mindset changes that help any company gear for a more effective way to work.
Before embarking on any transformational approach, ask yourself these questions:
- What are the strategic benefits of adopting this approach?
- Why is it important for our business to do this?
- Is it aligned with our business ethics and ethos?
- How long will this take to implement?
- What are some of the financial benefits to the business?
Answering these questions will also help you avoid the typical mistakes of strategic mapping and planning:
- Goals without connections – goals with no linkage to achievements
- Focusing on operational goals without looking at bigger picture
- No rationale – no logic behind the strategy
- Lagging on metrics only
- Having a top-level map only without any details
- Too many goals and visions – keep them down to two with a maximum of five
- Mixing goals and metrics
- Using heavy business jargon – translate strategy into consumable information for people on the ground.