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What strategy is (and isn’t)

There are many ways to define strategy. However there are some very good well defined strategy models that are used by businesses large and small.

One such model comes from two of the world’s great design strategy proponents; Roger Martin and A. G. Lafley.

Roger Martin is Academic Director of the Martin Prosperity Institute at the Rotman School of Management.

A. G. Lafley was Chairman of the Board, President and CEO of Proctor & Gamble

Roger Martin worked for A.G Lafley to reposition P & G’s Olay from a struggling $800 million brand into a $2.5 billion brand with high margins and a consumer base in the heart of the market. The method they devised was a cascading decision chain which set the strategy for the product.

In 2013 Roger Martin and A. G. Lafley joined forces to write a book about their strategy approach – Playing to Win. How strategy really works. The book uses a sporting analogy to demonstrate their strategy process.

I’ve read the book, in fact I’ve devoured it, and I think it has many answers for designers wanting to develop a strategic approach for their studio. I have adapted the approach that Martin and Lafley take and built it into a workshop called Designing demand.

Their ideas can be applied for organisational strategy as well as competitive strategy.

I first heard about the Martin and Lafley approach when researching The business of design and I built their ideas into an example (p 185) of how design studios can use design as part of their business strategy.

The authors say that the key to real strategy is seeing it as a set of choices about winning. It’s an integrated set of choices that will uniquely position the business in their industry and marketplace. This approach will create a sustainable advantage and offer value relative to the competition.

The authors define strategy by answering five interrelated questions:

  1. What is your winning aspiration? The purpose of your enterprise, its motivation aspiration.
  2. Where will you play? A playing field where you can achieve that aspiration.
  3. How will you win? The way you will win on the chosen playing field.
  4. What capabilities must be in place? The set and configuration of capabilities required to win in the chosen way.
  5. What management systems are required? The systems and measures that enable the capabilities and support the choices.

The authors see this as a cascading process with the choices at the top cascading down to set the context for choices below.

This is the way that they visualise it.

Courtesy Playing to Win. How strategy really works  A.G Lafley, Roger Martin.

The beauty of this system is its simplicity. If you use the flow chart above you can begin to develop organisational strategies that will strengthen your studio and competitive strategies that will grow your studio.

This is the approach I demonstrate in the Designing demand workshop.

So what’s the confusion with strategy? Many business owners (including designers) confuse strategy and execution. Strategy is not developing a media plan for a client. That is execution. Execution comes as a result of the choices that have been made in the strategy process outlined above.

Greg Branson

Greg’s passion is the research and development of methods that improve design management and the role of design in business.

Greg has developed a series of business tools to help designers manage their business better along with a series of workshops that show designers how to use these tools.