Posts Tagged ‘strategy’

More reflections on Mintzberg on planning

October 29, 2010 8 comments

In 1978, Professor Henry Mintzberg writes:

“Most of our studies show evidence of two main patterns, one superimposed on the other. The first is the life cycle of an overall strategy its conception, elaboration, decay, and death. The second is the presence of periodic waves of change and continuity within the life cycle. (Longer cycles of this kind could be identified as well, from one life cycle to the next.) What this second pattern suggests is that strategies do not commonly change in continuous incremental fashion; rather, change even incremental change takes place in spurts, each followed by a period of continuity.”

A reflection on Mintzberg:

The Dept of Defense’s capstone Planning, Programming, Budgeting and Execution System (PPBES) is the supreme techno-rational control process left in the world after the demise of the Soviet Union and its central planning. It values precision, detail and control and is based in a belief that certainty can be achieved even in complex situations. It responds to uncertainty with more planning and a quest for more certainty.

PPBE is failing at a rapid rate as more competitors learn to offset the American economic and conventional military advantages with asymetric threats. Recent battlefield and political successes can be attributed to setting aside the formality and lockstep bureaucracy with adaptive improvisation and design thinking. The best measure of this phenomenon is in the rise of Operational Needs Statements which are how local commanders submit requests for people and equipment not contained in their centrally planned an designed organizations. Once a rare exception, they have now become the primary way by which unit redesign and organizational change are conducted.

This is considered by many to be an indictment of the PPBE system, which still endures due to institutional inertia and the fact that it is easily gamed by defense contractors

Extreme environmental pressure created the need to bypass the formality of PPBE, in spite of every effort made by insiders to maintain business as usual. This inertia cost the nation many 10s of billions of dollars in wasted procurement programs that were not needed by field forces.

The micro changes of field units working around the system in an ad-hoc manner which ultimately became the Operational Need Statement was a bottom up transformation (still in progress) which is revolutionary in nature.

Micro-improvements to the process brought discipline and normality to the ad hoc process and it may succeed in significantly amending the PPBE process. Without the constant tinkering and experimenting of a strategy in process, the PPBE would have collapsed under its own weight and risked failure in Iraq.

A detailed plan with rigid adherence was a recipe for disaster in Iraq and so I will disagree with those who want to preserve strategy for the sake of consistency and certainty. Under some circumstances that can be the worst strategy of all.

The Pentagon Wars” book and movie outline the absurdity of the over-formalized PPBE process, while “Boyd” by Robert Coram is an excellent treatment of the military reform movement of the 1980s which was the last serious attempt to reform an outdated strategic control system.

The story of the modern reform movement is still being debated and discussed in the halls of CGSC, including my dissertation topic which examines the education of the next generation of leaders and their understanding of change management



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

August 8, 2010 5 comments

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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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Integrated strategic change and how it differs from traditional strategic planning and traditional planned organization change

June 11, 2010 3 comments

Model of the Human Processor
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Cummings and Worley define the concept of integrated strategic change (ISC) as a comprehensive OD intervention that examines how plan change that can add value to strategic management. The integrative piece looks at a synthesis of business strategies and organizational systems responding together to external and/or internal disruptions. This strategic change plan then would help members manage the transition from current status and organizational designs to a desired future strategic orientation. The simultaneity of strategy and organizational design is the essence of the integrated change plan. ISC is one of the newer concepts in the OD repertoire.

ISC can be either radical or gradual in its systemic realignment between the environment and the businesses strategy. It has a results-focus while simultaneously examining processes, structure and strategies. It is concerned with the implementation, transition states, and human resources and not just the conceptual plan.

It looks simultaneously at strategy, operations and tactics; and both planning and execution. ISC considers three-time states: the present, the transition, and the desirable future. It goes beyond the isolated, rational analysis of traditional strategic planning to include human factors, culture and environment in the implementation phase. It is a highly participative process as opposed to traditional strategic change planning which typically resides in a small staff sell at the highest echelon in the executive branch of the organization.

It has four phases: strategic analysis, strategic choice, designing the change plan, and implementing the plan. The four steps are overlapping and iterative as opposed to linear and compartmentalized, as in the traditional methods.

Finally, ISC differs from traditional processes by examining strategic orientation as the unit of analysis; considers how to gain commitment and support for the strategic plan as an integral part of the overall plan; and incorporates elements at all echelons throughout the organization in analysis, implementation and monitoring effectiveness. Ownership is central to this concept.

My experience with Army strategic planning has been of the traditional variety and it’s clear that ISC is a better fit for the real world of managing change in large organizations. The annual off-site gathering of senior leaders to create a vision which is put on a shelf and back to business as normal is the stereotype, mostly true, of the traditional process. The pilot program of reengineering an Army installation that I participated in as the senior military planner, featured some of the elements of ISC and in those areas the plan was much more successful than when we applied traditional means. To the extent that we consider transitions in implementation, human factors, and incorporated stakeholders from every echelon, we were successful. When we tried to implement a top-down, from-a-distance strategic vision, we suffered the usual problems of traditional planning.

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Reflecting on wicked force management problems (Army)

May 5, 2010 4 comments

My take on the problem with force management is that it has been treated as a complicated problem, suitable for central planning (PPBES) and not as a complex problem, rife with social & political context, in a dynamic state where the variables change parameters far faster than the planned decision cycles. Consequently, we never get what we planned for, it’s always too costly and the steady-state never is.

My suggestion that FM be treated with design, as a complex problem, would engage with fundamental questions of the purpose of the Army and process by which it is designed, fielded and sustained. I’d argue against an Archimedean perspective because that’s what has led us to the cumbersome, over-planned, under-executing Byzantine bureaucracy we have in place. The owner/operators (ie operational career field “end-users”) have generally stayed outside of the process and have let the “experts” run this system.  I argue for them to be part of the FM process, and thus believe design-thinking is needed in order to get the Army you want.

I consider it to be complex, and not just complicated, because of the multiple actors, time frames, values, purposes that combine to resemble March’s “garbage can decision making model” w

A rather longish discussion of how social, political and “unplanned” FM can be is here:

making your own way, following your dream

March 14, 2010 Leave a comment

BAGHDAD - FEBRUARY 16: Visitors attend Baghdad...
Image by Getty Images via Daylife another story of brave women in business, making their own way, on their own terms. very cool, and…math! inspiring advice i’ve shared with my daughters

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A reflection on meeting management and the use of silence

February 14, 2010 Leave a comment

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Manny: I agree that when we feel connected to our purpose that our decisions and actions come naturally and easily and we can find the resources we need to break through challenges. Staying connected in a human way to our sources of strength with an appreciation of our own limits but our own potentials helps us turn the long journeys into successful ones.

Loyalty really is an important part of our decision-making, because it commits us to taking actions on the basis of incomplete information and which affect our values at the deepest level. This is why I have been arguing this term for the importance of transparency as opposed to poker playing with our deepest beliefs. I believe we owe it to our superiors but more importantly our subordinates to be as transparent as possible in order that they can have trust in our commitments and confidence in where to place their loyalties.
I agree that silence in the meeting is as important as the space between musical notes. I make sure that when I go into our important curriculum design meetings with the senior leadership I have carefully laid out the arguments I want to make with key phrases that I want to install in their minds that are supported by deep analysis which I can call upon if needed. I look at the agendas to anticipate where I can most effectively and logically make the arguments and I rehearse our meeting routines to see how and where I can best insert my insights.

I make sure that I have considered who will be at the meeting and how I can approach them before hand so that they’re not surprised by the things that I will say and to gauge their response to my ideas. I have found this to be very helpful in communicating my ideas effectively and preventing me from taking on ill considered recommendations in public. By being transparent in writing with my proposals I find that I have built trust-based relationships and a reputation for having no hidden agendas.

Expressing myself in writing demonstrates a commitment to transparency and evidence which has silenced many “he said- she said” responses to complex negotiations.I then make notes during the meeting on who I should talk to and on what topics immediately following the meeting to seal the deal. I make sure also that the person making the written notes for the meeting is on my distribution list and that the things that I thought were important are reflected in their written record of the meeting. This artifact becomes an important tool for developing the situation in the days and weeks ahead because it is the basis for taking formal action.

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Developing organizational vision

February 14, 2010 Leave a comment

{{fr|1=La Grande Poste d'Alger (Algérie).
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Sometimes I think of the building of vision in an organization to be like the game of post office in which each communication transaction more of the idea just a little bit and that what we end up with is considerably different than what we started with. It seems like we need to have divergent communication in visioning in order to explore the boundaries and potentials and then some convergent group consensus, certified by leadership, in order to come up with a restated recalibrated community vision to launch us into the next round of excursions.

When you think of all the different modes of formal and informal communication and our tendency as humans to reframe and reinterpret what we see and hear it’s no wonder that our vision is a living breathing dynamic entity all of its own. I think this is what Melanie is looking at when she talks about the power of story in leadership in how the story itself can become a force and an entity all of its own

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