What strategy is (and isn’t)

Design strategy has become a common service offered, or term used, by many designers. Just Google it and you will get about 1,150,000,000 results. When you dig into this you find many interpretations of design strategy. There are numerous ways to develop strategy; some are good and then there are some that are realy good. There are well defined strategy models 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 a Professor Emeritus at the Rotman School of Management at University of Toronto where he served as Dean from 1998-2013.

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

Roger 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.

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

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. We have adapted the approach that Martin and Lafley take and built it into our mentoring and workshops.

Their ideas can be applied for organisational strategy (internal) as well as competitive (new business) strategy.

Strategy is about choices

The authors say 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 will create a sustainable advantage and offer value relative to the competition.

The authors define strategy by answering five interrelated questions:
1.    What is the purpose of your enterprise, its motivation.
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.
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 begin to develop organisational strategies to strengthen your studio and competitive strategies to grow your studio.

So what’s the confusion with strategy? Many business owners (including designers) confuse strategy (planning) and outputs (tactics). Strategy is not developing a media plan for a client. That is an output.

Got a question? Want to share your point of view? Please feel free to email me.

Want more?

Want to find out more about design strategy:

The business of design

Getting design into the C suite

Convincing clients design has value.

Greg Branson
Co-founder Design Business Council.

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About 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 processes and tools to help designers manage their business better along with a series of workshops that show designers how to use these tools.

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