[Editor's Note: As we have worked with companies over the years, one characteristic we have noted about successful companies is the ability to prioritize and focus. Many companies have a seemingly endless list of opportunities; the question is "what do we focus scarce resources on first." I hope you find this article thought-provoking. - dpm]
Too Many Shiny Objects and the "Not Going to Do Now" List
On a number of occasions, we have come into new client situations to "validate" an existing strategic planning process. In many instances, we find that the company has documented strategies and initiatives too numerous to fit on an 11X14 sheet of paper - with small font size! We then proceed to ask each of the managers which is the most important strategy or initiative for the coming year. Not surprisingly each manager has a different idea of what is most important.
Too many opportunities... Too little focus
These are not companies without opportunities. To the contrary, these are typically companies with compelling products and services. The problem stems from too many opportunities without an appropriate filtering or prioritizing process. Sometimes, it stems from a creative/innovative Founder or CEO who can see potential technologies, products, services, markets, partnerships, etc. everywhere. In the race to not miss out on these possibilities, the Founder /CEO can push the organization in many different directions. This behavior is so common that it has been coined the "Shiny Object Syndrome." In these situations, the organization pursues many different opportunities, executes poorly, distracts management attention, and in many cases, abandons projects partially completed in order to pursue new ones. Resources are wasted, time is sacrificed, and most importantly, attention is diverted away from core activities.
The "Not Going to Do Now" List
In determining strategic direction for a business, it is far easier to decide what you are going to do, than what you are not going to pursue now. The most important tool is the "Not Going to Do Now" list, which outlines projects, initiatives, strategies, acquisitions, etc. that might be interesting to explore at some time in the future, but are distractions to the current strategic direction. During the planning process, items are added to this list. The management team agrees that in order for the organization to pursue an item on the "Not Going to Do Now" list, something must be come off the current strategic planning list.
There are a number of techniques to use in prioritizing. Some companies use the following categories to further delineate priorities. Items noted as "Critical" are the focus of the business. Once these have been completed, the "Need to Have" category items are next in priority. It is interesting to note that companies that use this approach rarely get to the "Nice to Have" items, and almost never get to the "Can Be Deferred" items.
Need to Have
Can be Deferred
Nice to Have
Alignment around the Critical Strategies
It is our belief that most companies should identify no more than three strategies. Companies that execute well on two of the three strategies are usually very successful. The key to success is focusing on a limited number of strategies, communicating the direction, aligning the team and incentives around those strategies, establishing solid action plans and metrics, and holding members of the team accountable for results.
Simple to identify...More difficult to do
Like most things in business, Identifying the "to do" strategies and the "Not to do" List is easy to describe and more difficult to achieve. We spend most of our time working with businesses to help them narrow strategies to ones they can execute well, focusing and aligning the team, monitoring the progress, and adjusting course as necessary.
If you would like to discuss this in more detail, please contact me.