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Reflection on Mintzberg’s The Rise and fall of Strategic Planning (1994)


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Highlights from Mintzberg ‘s The Rise and Fall of Strategic Planning

Ch 1: planning and strategy. Mintzberg offers definitions in this chapter. He asks “Is strategy making  simply a process of planning or is it simply an oxymoron? Should strategy always be planned, never be planned or sometimes be planned? What’s the relationship between strategy and planning?”

  1. Mintzberg begins by explaining planning: he reminds that planning is used so broadly and in so many different contexts that it almost cannot be defined. He says scholars have been failing to define planning since the mid-60s. He thinks this is because scholars have been more concerned with what planning might be than what it actually is. He has made a career of classifying approaches and methods, inputs and outputs, perspectives on planning. As an example he takes issue with the idea that “planning is future thinking” because it cannot be bounded. It’s a definition that’s too fuzzy. He also takes issue with the idea that planning is controlling the future because it too is unbounded. He disputes that planning is simply decision-making, because if it were you wouldn’t need a separate word. The Chapter 1 discussion really illustrates the challenge of trying to get a set of operationally defined concepts that are used with rigor in order to approach the subject systematically.
  2. He settles on the idea that planning “is a formalized procedure to produce an articulated results, in the form of an integrated system of decisions”. The emphasis here is on formalization and systematization of the phenomenon to which planning is meant to apply. This is an operationally feasible definition and identifies planning as one means among many of developing a strategy.
  3. justification for planning: he notes that organizations must coordinate their activities; account for the future; be rational in their approach; develop control plans. All of these lead us inevitably to planning.
  4. the difference between planning and strategy: he points out that just as there are many different definitions of planning so too are there many definitions of strategy. Various writers consider strategies to be plans, patterns, positions, perspectives or some combination of these. Mintzberg believes strategy is different than planning and that there is a difference between planning and strategy formation. In Chapter 6 for example he will describe strategy formation as an output of an ongoing dialogue between managers, leaders, operators with many feedback loops that seek to capitalize on rapid adaptation to changing environments, which is considerably different than the idea of strategy formation as the result of a rational forecasting process.

Chapter 2: introduces multiple models of planning. A masterful analytical treatment of the complicated human process that includes rationality, process control, perspectives, worldview and many distinct schools of thought regarding planning.

  1. the basic planning model comes from the design school and treats strategy as a bringing together of competing values, environmental considerations a process of evaluation and choice with a notion of implementation. He offers an alternative view with the Ansoff model which is as complicated as a wiring diagram of your motherboard. He shows the connection of Ansoff and Steiner’s models to what has become known as the PPBE ( planning, programming, budgeting, and execution) model within the Department of Defense. This is a cold war era relic of rational planning taken to the logical extreme.
  2. conventional strategic planning: he analyzes the various stages of conventional strategic planning, decomposing them into their components such as: objective setting, external and internal audits, strategy evaluation and implementation.
  3. He sorts out 4 hierarchies in typical strategic planning: objectives, budgets, strategies, programs and shows the linkages between these which are usually taught in management by objective courses.
  4. He concludes the chapter with a discussion of what he calls the great divide of planning which groups two sets of activities: performance control and action planning as separate and distinct groupings of actions
  5. finally he uses the 4 hierarchies to look at  3 different types of planning: conventional strategic planning, analytical planning, and capital budgeting

Chapter 3: evidence on planning

  1. anecdotal evidence: he acknowledges that there is an abundance of anecdotal evidence that supports the notion that planning pays off. He demonstrates convincingly the problems with anecdotal stories as a combination of survival bias, selection bias, confirmation bias, and a failure in the design of experiments
  2. literature review of systematic studies: he concludes that systematic studies do not support the efficacy of most planning regimes
  3. typical planners response to the literature: Mintzberg says these come in five different forms and are all acts of rationalization in some way
    1. denying the problem
    2. trusting that the process will work even if specific results the workout
    3. developing ever more complex modes of planning
    4. reverting back to simpler planning strategies
    5. believing that it’s different in their organization
    6. he  highlights Col. Harry Summers indictment of the Department of Defense’s supremely rational Planning, Programming, Budgeting and Execution (PPBE) system which was an attempt in the 60s to rationalize preparations for war in the conduct of war itself. Summer says “the rationalistic approach is characterized by the pretension to universality of its solutions, its intolerance of tradition and authority, quantification, simplification and lack of flexibility. It’s very efficiency prevents flexibility by eliminating what does not contribute to achieving the current objective so that alternative means are not available if the objective is changed”
    7. he concludes the chapter by observing that conventional strategic planning typically is a conservative process that undermines both creativity and strategic thinking. He thinks it’s inflexible and breeds resistance to major changes. He thinks it discourages creativity in favor of extrapolating from the status quo which emphasizes a focus on short-term rather than long-term

Chapter 4: pitfalls in planning. In this chapter Mintzberg describes the importance of commitment of an organization to its planning and strategy making process, it shows why this can be a problem. He has an extended discussion on the intersection between planning and change management. He doesn’t actually job of demonstrating why politics in organizations inevitably effect what is usually considered to be a rational process. He observes that in a session with control can prevent a strategic planner from containing a set of flexible options suitable for an emerging and dynamic environment.

Here are assumptions/tribal wisdom that Mintzberg (p195) calls into question about planning and commitment for example:

why do we assume that:

1. planning is committed to management?

2. Commitment to planning produces a commitment to strategy making, and a commitment to the results the strategy produces, and an effective implementation plan?

3. planning will produce loyalty and commitment from management?

as an example: consider the 5 goals that our board have for us: do you believe that these appropriate objectives and further, that they CAN be managed? and further, that having a 3 year strategic plan is the best way to achieve them (if we believe there can be a causal connection between our actions and those goals)

example: do you really think that “stock price” is an appropriate object of management by our company? and that we can actually affect stock price according to a plan?! this would be laughable if it weren’t so sad. Think of all the short term manipulations required to be able to influence analysts, brokers, the press etc in order to spin quarterly and annual earnings. Its pointless and counterproductive. In fact, an excessive concern with stock price is a clear indication of an unsuitability in your corporate management. There are many studies that show that between 75 and 90% of the variation in a company’s stock price is attributable to the sector and market dynamics, ie beyond a company’s control. The fact that BSG uses this as a measureable part of managerial performance raises serious questions to me about its suitability in educating young impressionable managers. (Ken’s opinion only)

Chapter 5: fundamental fallacies of strategic planning (see Brenda’s detailed notes below)

Chapter 6: a new framework for thinking about strategy and planning.  Mintzberg offers a behavioral framework for planning based on his belief that planning as it actually is conducted should inform our understanding of it as a process that can help us integrate our operations and visions. I’ve summarized the topics that he describes in Chapter 6 below in case you find these subjects interesting

  1. synthesizing analysis and intuition
  2. planning as strategic programming
  3. plans as a means of communication and control
  4. planners as finders of strategy
  5. planners as analysts
  6. planners as catalysts
  7. planners and strategists
  8. a short summary of planners in context

Ken’s  conclusion: a superb piece of scholarship that remains central to any understanding of the broad topics of planning and strategy. You may not agree with his recommendations are insights in Chapter 6, but you have to take his analysis of the state of planning and a deep theory of strategy making into account if you’re concerned about organizational strategy.

Deeper look at Chapter 5 and 2 discussion questions:

Within chapter five of our selected book, Mintzberg (1994) discusses scenarios instead of forecasts.  The discussion maintained that the future is unknown but with assumptions you can question what and when to make decisions by utilizing scenario building.  With the business strategy game, we are using this type of activity to make our strategic decisions because as we make our decisions those decisions build upon the future structure of our company.  Mintzberg explained scenarios as “focused less on predicting outcomes and more on understanding the forces that would eventually compel an outcome; less on figures and more on insight” (p. 248).  Team B’s focus is on letting our products speak for themselves as expressions of our inner quality and spirit and to use our business as a force for growing a sense of global community and interconnectedness.  This chapter focused directly on finding the “right fit” to how many scenarios to build.  The focus is on the vision.  The business strategy game provides for uncertain times but our company is not concerned with the bottom line but is concerned more with the people within our organization.

Mintzberg’s passion is not in the planning but in the collaborative effort of including all information into the decision making process to include others within the organization.

Question to consider:

  1. What have been your experiences when “planners” have made decisions without the consideration of others within the organization?

Mintzberg discussed strategic thinking is a reflective systematic activity where creativity must be used as you break down the vision of the organization into pieces to come to a final decision.  He explained it as an experimental activity where one might have to “think to act and act to think” (p. 293).

  1. How does strategic planning obstructed strategic thinking at your organizations?
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