There is no illusion of strategy, you just have to be prepared to iterate

I’ve just read Graham Oakes’ article ‘The Illusion of Strategy’ with interest.

There is a lot of stuff out there right now about what the role of strategy in digital is, with new terms such as ‘agile planning’ (which I wrote about here) and ‘lean planning‘ coming to the fore.

Oakes argues that there are 2 types of projects out there: one where you know what you’re doing and one where you don’t.  He says most digital initiatives fall into the second category, because you have to iterate.

But if you look at the thinking behind agile and lean, iteration and experimentation doesn’t necessarily mean you don’t have a strategy.

A well defined objective and a basic idea (or set of ideas) about how you will achieve that objective can be described as a strategy, can’t it?

Reporting back, you might miss out all the experiments or wrong turns you took, to make it sound more clear-cut.  But you still knew where you wanted to go and had a rough idea of how to get there.

There is no illusion of strategy.  It’s either there or it’s not.

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2 Comments

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2 responses to “There is no illusion of strategy, you just have to be prepared to iterate

  1. I don’t think that Graham’s saying that the second category lacks strategy. It’s just that the approach of exhaustive analysis and frameworks loses effectiveness.

    From a lean perspective, I can’t help but notice the similarities to Steve Blank’s “known market” vs. “unknown.”

    http://steveblank.com/2010/03/01/death-by-analysis/

    Basically, most startups (and by default most digital strategy) are focusing on a new market that’s never been examined–the hypothesis of “We are creating something that never existed before for customers.”

    I have a feeling that’s why consultants can’t thrive with startups. The variables aren’t known, and to Graham’s point, strategic analysis begins to be a waste of time.

    And I think that this is why what Made by Many is doing is fairly interesting–the lean planning approach embraces the chaos and throws the strategic frameworks out the window (I think?).

    Anyway, awesome find. And definitely I’m curious if you’ve had any success with the approach.

  2. katebordwell

    Good point – I think Graham clarified what he was saying in the comments after I had written this piece.

    I suppose what I am saying is that it’s still a strategy if you know where you want to be and have a rough idea of the things you want to try to do in order to get there. I don’t think that’s too far removed from what we do, or what Made by Many is doing, although I could be a bit wrong about that.

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