Strategic Planning

Gearing up for the NAEP Leadership Forum

In the morning, I’ll be leading the Leadership Forum annual meeting for the National Association of Education Procurement. It’s a beautiful evening here in Louisville, Kentucky, and judging by the members I’ve already met, tomorrow promises to be an engaging and productive day.

We’ll be taking on some pretty important issues in today’s session around leadership and strategy. How do you cultivate an environment that is open and encouraging of change? What is your role as a leader in supporting your people through periods of terrific complexity? Becoming an influential leader is very much a personal journey, but the result serves as a foundation for teams that understand — and are excited to build on — the shared strategy of the team, department, or institution.

Speaking of strategy, we’ll be digging in to the strategic planning process, too. When execution suffers, it can often be traced back to holes in the strategic plan. Whether you inherited a plan from a prior leader, or never finished the process in the first place, developing and refining the strategic plan is critical to getting back on track.

We’ll ask some important questions of each other today, questions that get to the heart of the business model we serve. When we’re finished, you’ll have a roadmap for developing your teams around a strategy that you own, for your people, driving toward the shared success of the institution.

This is some of the most fun work I do, engaging high performing teams and helping them to see what’s possible in their work. Get ready for some new skills, new frameworks, and great fun today!

Rosabeth Moss Kanter on the Zoom Function for strategic leadership

YouTube - Zooming: How Effective Leaders Adjust Their Focus

Kanter has an interesting take on the importance of zooming in, and zooming out, for leaders in strategic roles. It's a riff off of her "Kanter's Law," everything can look like a failure in the middle, recommending leaders learn to be agile leaders. What I find worth noting is that it's logic that challenges our assumptions of the characteristics that make up the best leaders. We hear too often that the best leaders are big picture people, people who are able to define direction and lead others to grand change. Kanter's assertion is that mixing the big picture with the muscle of zooming in to understand detail, not just principle, allows leaders to "see the specific destination, not just what's around it."

The interview below is just 10 minutes and is worth consideration this morning.

Seth Godin on The New Normal

Seth's Blog: The opportunity is here

Seth Godin, from part 2 in a two-part series on the new normal at work (read part 1):

Right before your eyes, a fundamentally different economy, with different players and different ways to add value is being built. What used to be an essential asset (for a person or for a company) is worth far less, while new attributes are both scarce and valuable.

Are there dislocations? There's no doubt about it. Pain and uncertainty and risk, for sure.

The opportunity, though, is the biggest of our generation (or the last one, for that matter). The opportunity is there for anyone (with or without a job) smart enough to take it--to develop a best in class skill, to tell a story, to spread the word, to be in demand, to satisfy real needs, to run from the mediocre middle and to change everything.

I talk to finance and administration professionals all the time about this concept of the new normal. The act of working to restore where we were, to rebuild the systems and processes that were in place before the tectonic economic shift of our generation, is a distraction. Seth's posts this week make for a well-crafted and ultimately optimistic discussion on the nature of the change in work and work systems, and the opportunity we can all take not to rebuild the old, but to build something new, something different, something even better than before.


Rita McGrath walks history lane with Google's project failures

Failing Toward Success at Google - Rita McGrath - Harvard Business Review

Rita McGrath:

I'm often asked by companies how many experiments are needed to find a good "hit rate" of successes. If Google is any indication, the ratio is pretty high. That being said, what company would not be pleased to have maintained dominance in search, toppled the Blackberry in market share for smart phones at neck-breaking speed, hosted millions of e-mail users with gmail, and helped millions of us find our way with Google maps?

If you only use Google for search, you may have missed the products that McGrath reviews in her post this morning. But don't let that stop you from reading it. What she's done, using Google as a clear exemplar and backdrop, is give us all a stark reminder of the work it takes to actually find a path in our strategic plans and operations.

What Google has been exceptional at over the years is knowing both when to launch, and when to call it quits on a project by project basis. And each, if you look closely, ends up being cumbersome in delivering on their core strategic objective: drive advertising online.

Even the ad-oriented products like Google Print and Google Catalogs didn't make it. Apparently, someone at Google discovered that the bloom might have fallen from the rose of the print ad business. That's how it happens, more often than not: it's not necessarily Google's fault that Google Print didn't fly; the market evolved, transformed around them, and suddenly the product had no place.

So, today's message, if we can let Google's experience serve as a model for all of us, is to ensure we're maintaining a vigilant watch over our portfolio of projects and, like Google, make the choice for change when projects fall out of alignment with the strategic plan.

Tony Bates on strategic planning in e-learning

Tony Bates - How useful is strategic planning for e-learning?

Tony Bates is working on a book on integrating technology in post-secondary educational institutions with Albert Sangra. Late last week Tony posted a few key learnings from the first chapter, this stuck out to us:

Fourth, for successful technology integration, an institutional strategy must be fully supported by all members of the executive team, and that support needs to be continued over a considerable period, including changes in executive teams.  Some of the most successful institutions in integrating technology had consistent strategies and key people in senior administration in place for many years. Other less successful institutions in the case studies often suffered from a lack of shared vision at the executive level, or continual changes in directions or key personnel.


Unfortunately, we found little evidence of this level of thinking in most of the case studies, the emphasis instead being on improving ‘business as usual.'

There's a piece implicit in this argument which we've talked about before: a big part of the buy-in that comes from today's senior leadership comes in having a better-than-baseline understanding of how technology will help align daily knowledge work with strategic goals. As one commenter put it in Tony's post, "I find it interesting how few institutions include educational technology in their strategic thinking or, indeed, how changing patterns of knowledge distribution will effect their role as knowledge custodians."


To be clear, we're talking about two different things here. The first is technology that supports the people and process structure across the organization. The second is the technology that integrates the learning environment and brings educators and students together. In reading Tony's points -- and based on our experience -- there is an obvious and strategic parallel between the two; learning and administrative systems serve the same purpose: to bring learners together, in class or in the conference room. We do well when we consider how our systems are serving strategic goals in that light and align executive expectations accordingly.

Tony's post is worth checking out in full this fine morning.

Reframing Risk - Using the "Premortem" with your strategic planning committee

Consider A Strategic Planning Premortem — Patrick McKenna

Patrick McKenna with his take on the strategic planning premortem:

As everyone knows it is common practice to conduct a “postmortem” or lessons learned session upon completion of any major undertaking. If your endeavor achieved its goal, the questions typically focus on what went right, what we did well, and how we might sustain our success. If your initiative fell short or failed to meet expectations, your postmortem efforts tend to focus on what went wrong and how we got off track.

That said, this may be a time to think about conducting a ‘premortem.’ A Premortem is a process to aid in identifying the potential roadblocks, before they have a chance of derailing your implementation efforts.

The piece is interesting -- the concept is essentially a repacked version of risk mitigation, but McKenna walks through the process of engaging a strategic planning committee (even the more experienced senior teams!) to think more deeply about the issues that crop up in risk sessions. It's a refreshing take on a concept too often poorly scoped in major change initiatives.


Ann All illustrates importance of strategic planning with senior teams through the Fed?

Ann All: Feds Make Project Management Progress | Blogs |

Ann All on changes in the federal government IT process:

Federal CIO Vivek Kundra appears committed to improvement, saying that beginning next month the government will provide detailed twice-yearly updates on how well agencies are implementing his 25-point federal IT reform plan. Created by Kundra and the Office of Management and Budget with collaboration from past and present federal CIOs, Congress and the private sector, the plan was released in December. It proposes major changes in federal IT governance and procurement as well as infrastructure and systems.

Take a moment and digest what's going on here: the Federal CIO's office worked with the Office of Management and Budget, past and present federal CIOs, Congress and the private sector to develop what amounts to the strategic plan for the operation. Do you think that's an easy thing to do? We don't. Throw into the mix a commitment to produce a progress report against that strategic plan twice a year and, well, in any other context it would feel less ironic to say it might take an act of Congress to get this done.

All's piece points out some great resources and analysis if you're interested in IT process re-engineering. But in quick summary, she offers this from a 2008 state task force report on IT failures that are absolutely prescient:

  • Create standardized written policies for IT project procedures and uniform IT policies and procedures across agency lines. Government agencies are finally starting to realize what manufacturers and other private sector companies have known for quite some time: Companies with standardized processes operate more efficiently and cost-effectively than their less-standardized peers.
  • Use off-the-shelf software whenever possible, and require approval for software customization.
  • Create work environments in which employees can raise and resolve issues.
  • Require executive sponsorship for all IT projects.

Even as All's piece is focused on IT management, the lessons are far more broad. Simplify and streamline communication to enable your people to do more, more quickly, more clearly, without increasing the burden of support.

Lean in Higher Ed is maturing

In 2005, Bob Emiliani wrote "Lean in Higher Education" -- a fascinating dissection of the state of service in higher education at the time, and a snapshot of the then-strikingly brisk evolution of the for-profit education system. From Emiliani's piece:

University administrators – even those at top-tier U.S. schools – should be alarmed, because what could happen to higher education is no different than what has already happened to the U.S. steel, electronics, automotive, furniture, and textile industries. And the same thing is now happening to service industries such as customer support, financial analysis, and drug research. While it is true that market dynamics often provide a useful and necessary culling of the weak players, it also offers compelling opportunities to improve and become even stronger.

Indeed, we were seeing just such a transformation, due in no small part to the for profit expansion; new players were applying new tools of efficiency across departments. Enrollment teams were becoming more streamlined. Marketing and lead generation became more aggressive. Program definition more convoluted, leading to new programs which flew in the face of long-held academic tradition, all in an effort to drive the business bottom line.

This was a new reality for those of us working in higher education, one of an uneven playing field; we struggled to find the rulebook to teach us to engage this market effectively. Old processes could not hold up in a space ruled by a breed of educational institutions that had turned the model of delivering higher education on its proverbial ear.

The concepts that the for-profits were applying came from Lean manufacturing. For those not yet initiated in Lean, it was originally a production practice that carefully considered the cost of any expense in production. Any cost not directly related to delivering benefit to the customer is typically considered to be waste, and would be a target for cut.

From the perspective of a customer -- or student, in our case -- anything a student would be willing to pay for serves as a benefit to the Lean relationship. Any process or service the student receives that does not benefit the ongoing relationship, which that student would not be willing to pay for, becomes a target for cut as well.

The bottom line of the Lean approach to efficiency: how can we preserve customer value and decrease the burden of work on the organization.

Flash forward five years and we've settled into a new new reality. As it turns out, the application of Lean principles in education makes a lot of sense. In April, 2010, Michael Sinocchi interviewed William K. Balzer on this very subject. Balzer did, in fact, write the book on Lean in higher education (Lean Higher Education: Increasing the Value and Performance of University Processes), and currently serves as Dean at Bowling Green State University.

In their brief interview, Balzer had this to say regarding Lean Higher Education (LHE):

In fact, a growing number of applications of LHE demonstrate significant improvements in college and university processes that result in better service to students, reduced costs for the institution, and greater employee ownership over how their work is done. Overall, LHE holds great promise for improvements in higher education at a time where resources are declining, greater accountability is expected, and higher education’s role in economic development and quality of life is increasingly important.

Further ...

LHE strikes a balance between the long-term needs of the institution and its employees. The elimination of unnecessary steps and activities that add expense and no value to the university saves resources, and it also allows overburdened employees to redesign their work so that it is more meaningful and satisfying.

If we walk away with nothing else from an evaluation of Lean in higher education, we have to walk away with this: reducing waste in the work we do every day brings into alignment the processes, technology, and people on our teams. Lean provides a framework, one that has been applied to great affect across industries for many years. Our job now is to use this framework to diagnose the waste in our operation and build a culture of continuous, competitive improvement.

Wal-Mart launches massive change project -- healthier foods on every aisle

Wal-Mart Gives Boost to Push for Healthier Food – TIME Healthland

Last week, Wal-Mart announced that it will change the "thousands of store-brand products to reduce sodium and sugar and push its suppliers to do the same." That's big news, given the sheer size of Wal-Mart and the footprint it has on the US Economy alone:

Wal-Mart's size, however, gives it unique power to shape what people eat. The grocery business of the nation's largest retailer accounts for about 15 percent of the industry in the U.S. and is nearly twice the size of No. 2 competitor Kroger.

"This is a game changer," said Michael Hicks, associate professor of economics at Ball State University and author of a book on Wal-Mart's economic impact. "If Wal-Mart could reduce the prices on healthy food and provide access to them in more places, you could have a measurable effect on incidences of diabetes and heart-related ailments."

Many have commented on the impact this change could have on the U.S. diet -- a dramatic change that has the potential to affect a significant portion of the nation over a short period of time. That's great news for eaters everywhere, even if food is not a typical topic for this site.

Reflect for a moment on the scale of the Wal-Mart announcement as a change project, though. What Wal-Mart has announced amounts to a fundamental change that affects every team and staff member -- at some level -- across the organization.

  • Research and development must come up with the quantifiable standards to measure partner performance as they retool their food products.
  • Outside partners must retool their products to meet new Wal-Mart standards to maintain visibility on store shelves -- the list of partners in the TIME piece that have already committed to this project indicates the scale: "Bumble Bee Foods, General Mills Inc., Campbell Soup Co., PepsiCo Inc. and Kraft Foods Inc."
  • Merchandising must orchestrate sell-through of existing products and drive adoption of new products on local store shelves.
  • Marketing must drive a new years-long campaign promoting not just a new product, but a new way of understanding food, with messaging, design, and interaction with consumers in a most sacred space: at their dinner tables.
  • Program and project managers must orchestrate activities across inside and outside teams to deliver new food products on time and on budget.

And they have to do it all in a way that inspires buy-in to a new way of working at Wal-Mart. As we've been discussing this week and last, the importance of buy-in can't be understated: it's what allows people to challenge current work habits, and make room for positive, inspired change.

Hats off to Wal-Mart for taking the hard road, the road of change. In an era of tough news in the headlines, it's refreshing to see this sort of consumer advocacy approach with one market-driven solution to our national health crisis.