Five Questions To Stress Test Your Strategy
Here are five questions you can ask of yourself to stress test your Strategic Plan:
1.) Did I follow a structured, proven approach to planning? Your Strategic Plan is your roadmap for success. You may know where you want to go, but in order to get there in the most efficient manner, you need to know where you are today. This is where the philosophy of Lean Startup is a disservice to entrepreneurs and businesses. It isn't strategic, it's trial and error. Wandering off in trial directions burns cash, and worse, burns time. Following a structure approach will dial you into the vicinity of the bulls eye. Once you engage the market, structured planning will facilitate fine-tuning rather than entire rework.
2.) Did I follow a dynamic process? Having created more than four dozen Strategic Business Plans throughout my career, there's one paramount lesson I've learned. The questions we ask of ourselves during the planning process are often more important than the answers we discover along the way. Planning must be characterized by dynamic conversations and the challenging of every assumption. From the outside looking in, this may look to be a bit confrontational, but remember, every pearl emerges through the application of the right amount of friction.
3.) Did I write a Business Plan or a Strategic Business Plan? This may sound like I'm splitting hairs, but the two documents are very different. What's the difference? Business Plans are static documents that reflect a snapshot in time. Strategic Business Plans are living documents that drill down from Goals (3 to 5 year vision), to Objectives (measurable performance gates within the coming fiscal year), to Strategies (initiatives implemented on a timeline in order to achieve our Objectives), to Tactics (day-to-day business tasks necessary to execute our Strategies). Your Strategic Business Plan is your primary management document enabling you to calibrate execution in real time.
4.) Does my Strategic Business Plan support Due Diligence? A great litmus test for your document is to review it in light of Due Diligence process documents used by private equity firms. Your plan should answer every question that would arise in Due Diligence. Angels, VCs, and PE firms evaluate the viability of a company through Due Diligence. If no one else would invest in your company, why are you?
5.) "How do we know that?" During my tenure as a senior executive with STERIS Corporation, Bill Sanford, our founding CEO, would drop this question on individuals during strategy presentations. You would be amazed at how many people couldn't answer this question (and subsequently were looking for a new job). This is perhaps the most relevant question you can ask yourself during the planning process. Am I basing my strategy on assumptions, or cold, hard market-derived facts?
Finally, don't use templates to write your plan. No ground-breaking company ever emerged by filling in the blanks. If you're unaccustomed to conducting a strategic planning process, get professional help. The few thousands of dollars you invest at the outset will save you tens of thousands of dollars in lost time and missed opportunities.
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