Strategies to play to winPay to win: strategies to get new business

There are many ways to develop strategies to play to win new business; some are good and some are really good. These are well defined strategy models that are used by businesses large and small.

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

Roger Martin is Professor Emeritus at the Rotman School of Management at University of Toronto.

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 business.

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 to develop a strategic approach.

In these troubled time it is important to define which spaces you will play in before you develop strategy.

Working out where to play is part of organisational strategy. Martin and Lafley’s ideas can be applied for organisational and 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 develop strategy as part of their business planning.

Strategy is about choices

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 to uniquely position the business in their industry and marketplace. This approach creates a sustainable advantage while identifying a studio’s uniqueness.

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

This is the way they visualise it.

Strategy chart

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 develop organisational strategies to strengthen your studio and competitive strategies to grow your studio.


Revisit your business strategy. Use the Lafley/Martin approach to establish your aspirations, set the space you want to play in and define your design value proposition based on your unique capabilities that are supported by strong management systems.

Greg Branson

Want more like this.

Want to understand how to develop a winning strategy? It’s all in The Business of Design

How will we win

Relationships are the key to winning better work from existing clients.

Develop ‘design mature’ clients

Develop an internal capability that will show clients how to become mature users of design.

Working out where to play

Assessing the current market and working out which areas are worth playing in.

Want more information like this delivered to your inbox every Wednesday? The Design Business Review is Australia’s only online design management magazine. It’s professional development information written specifically for Australian designers by Australian designers. Best of all, it’s free.



Greg Branson

Greg’s passion is the research and development of methods that improve design management and the role of design in business. He applies this research in mentoring and coaching.

Greg has developed The Design Business School to help owners manage their business better along with showing designers how to get more involved in the studio and develop their career path.

 Contact Greg.