Project Management Institute

The right decision

to create a strong strategy, organizations first need to know what they're up against


To create a strong strategy, organizations first need to know what they're up against.


The world's accelerating pace of change challenges every organization—whether in the private or public sector—to seize opportunities and manage risks. But many organizations struggle to adapt, because they're unable to recognize how change generates threats and opportunities.

What, then, should the rational organization do? Answer: Embrace change and develop strategy.

All companies struggle with developing strategy. It's difficult to predict the future and develop a plan that capitalizes on market conditions and opportunities. But if you understand exactly what you're up against, it becomes more manageable.

Spend some time analyzing the macro business environment. I like to ask myself a few questions:

  • Where is my market going, and what influences will be felt in the near and long terms?
  • How might technology play a different or larger role in the future?
  • What will my clients want or expect in the future?
  • How can I innovate to change the value equation?

All the above questions require research and analysis from different sources. I have always used my interaction with clients and employees to gain a sense of what's new.

For instance, in the mid-2000s I started a cyber-security service for the U.S. federal government. The organization's strategy was based on third-party research and corroborated by discussions with employees and clients. It may seem counterintuitive to gain macro insights from frontline employees and clients, but that's often where you first find such wisdom. So ask your clients or team members: What influences do they see impacting the organization, and what is their vision for coping with a changing landscape?

Look outside your enterprise and identify potential trends, opportunities and risks that might affect your organization. Third-party research definitely will help answer these questions. I never start a strategic planning exercise without first understanding what the researchers are reporting and predicting. I look for economic and marketplace trends, technology trends, business drivers and anything that will enhance my understanding of what's next. And yes, I review our competitors’ websites and review what services and markets they are emphasizing. After examining what competitors are doing, you can begin developing a responsive strategy that incorporates the external environment analysis. A strategy that doesn't acknowledge and anticipate external influences is a recipe for folly.

For example, when it became clear that federal contracting methods were going to significantly change, we took aggressive steps to update our strategy. We made strategic partnerships with small businesses to bid under their prime contract. We also created an office focused on acquiring government-wide contracts. These both led to mitigating the effects of the changing contracting environment.

We avoided the meltdown that many of our competitors faced. Instead of seeing major change as bad news, we turned a risk into an opportunity and grew sales when nobody else did. The lesson is clear: Adapting strategy to a changing world not only drives results—it can save an organization's life. PM

img Andy Robinson is the senior vice president for ICF International, Washington, D.C., USA. He has worked in management consulting for over 20 years.
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