Strategy starts with a goal

If you don’t know where you’re going, it’s hard to plan the best route.

A goal is a prerequisite to strategy. Too often we delve into solutions at the outset of technology project discussions or any sort of planning exercise. We rush into this because the goal seems clear and obvious. But when you take some time to define and discuss the goal, lots of questions arise.

When initially stated, most goals are vague. It’s great to have a good high-level vision of the future and a general ambition toward something lofty. But good goals are specific and concrete. They tell you what the desired future state looks like. They tell you how to know that you’ve made it. If the goal isn’t specific, how will you know when you’ve achieved it?

There’s a big difference between having a goal to “go west” and having a goal to “go to San Francisco.” You can easily tell when you’ve arrived in San Francisco. It might be hard to tell if you’ve made it west. Is this far enough? Is going southwest ok? Do I need to remain in the United States? Am I supposed to cross oceans? What happens if I go so far west that I end up back east again?

Once you know your destination, you can clarify the goal further. How soon do I need to be there? How much money do we have? Is using mixed modes of transportation ok? Is there a specific address I should go to? etc.

Then you can plan how to get there. That’s your strategy. With a budget of x and a need to be there by y, this is the best course to take, and here’s why.

Here’s Why…

You’ll know you’ve developed a strategy when you can articulate why it’s a good strategy. There needs to be some rationale that achieves a specific goal using a particular method. You should be able to explain why this method works better than other methods. After all, to develop the strategy, you had to make choices. Which means certain options were excluded and alternatives selected instead. The essence of strategy is choice. And that’s where most people fall off the wagon. Do the “here’s why” test to ensure you’ve got a valid strategy.