Posts Tagged ‘strategic initiatives’

What Went Wrong with Apple Maps? What Can We Learn from these Mistakes?

Friday, October 7th, 2016

By Denise Harrison, Senior Consultant

Strategic Planning Expert Denise Harrison

Strategic Planning Expert
Denise Harrison

Apple is world renowned for its innovative product introductions –  but as you look back over history, there have been plenty of flops to go along with the successes. Think about Ping and Rokr – oops, you missed these? Most people did.  And, the introduction of the Apple Map application was another clunker.  Using Maps, you were driven into dead ends; airport runways were specified as roads, and general requests often put you in a wrong location (yes, you ask for a hospital and get a restaurant.)

What happened? Most simply, Apple underestimated the task:

  • Dedicated team was too small
  • Team did not have the required competencies
  • Testing was local (Maps worked well in Cupertino)

What did Apple do to recover?

  • Reassessed the importance of the application:
    • If deemed important then move forward
    • If not, use a third party provider, Apple does this for lots of applications it deems “non-mission critical”
    • In this case, Apple decided that the application was critical.
  • Reassessed the true resourcing and capabilities requirements. The team now has thousands of members (versus a few hundred) and the team has diverse skill sets including how to use “big data” real time (traffic).
  • Broadened the testing – this meant a move to public testing. This decision forced Apple to move away from its traditional secrecy policy.  Large numbers of users in many geographic locations were needed to get the kinks out of Apple Maps.

What does this mean for us?

When executing your strategy, you will need to select a few strategic initiatives (projects) that you need to accomplish.  That number should be around 6-10, fewer if you have a large enterprise-wide project.

Next you need to develop action plans for each project, with clear action steps, who is responsible and how much time and money each step will take. Assess the resources required for each action plan.  Are you under-resourcing and dooming the project to failure?

Once you embark on your strategic initiatives, you may need to make course corrections – did you underestimate the scope of the project – if so, reassess and fix it.

Once a project is complete (or it bombs), do a “lessons learned”:

  • What went right?
  • What did not go well?
  • What will we do differently in the future?

While Apple does not always hit homeruns, it does learn from its mistakes.  Apple now uses public testing for many of its new releases – a real divergence to its former cloak of secrecy.

If you have additional questions about strategy development or implementation, please call Denise Harrison at 910-763-5194 or email

To learn how to take your strategic planning to the next level, please listen to our webinar:  Why Isn’t My Strategic Plan Working?.

Denise Harrison is a senior consultant for the Center for Simplified Strategic Planning, Inc.  She can be reached at

© Copyright 2016 by Center for Simplified Strategic Planning, Inc., Ann Arbor, MI — Reprint permission granted with full attribution.

When Your Strategic Plan Execution Stalls

Friday, April 17th, 2015

By M. Dana Baldwin, Senior Consultant

Strategic Planning Expert

Strategic Planning Expert

When your team gets so busy they can’t put in the time to continue their responsibilities to execute their parts of your strategic plan, what do you do?  No surprise, it is up to you to change the atmosphere in which they are working to get them back on task.  What needs to happen?

It is up to you to reinvigorate the team.  One thing to do is to be sure you are meeting at least once a month to review your progress on the strategic plan and each of your action plans.  Accept no excuses for missing this meeting, as this sends the message that the update session is important to you and to your team members.  At this meeting, go over the strategies you have selected for each of your core business segments to be sure that everyone understands what is expected and who is to do each part.  Review your action plans, step by step, to reinforce to the team that it is imperative that steps be accomplished as each person committed to do when you originally scheduled the action plans at the tail end of your strategy development sessions.

Find out what is preventing or hampering the execution of the various items people should be addressing.  Did people overcommit, did they promise time to carry out their action steps which they can no longer deliver?  You need to dive deeply enough into the problems they have to determine what is really happening.  Have their responsibilities changed since the ending of the formal planning sessions?  Have they lost someone in their departments, so their work load has increased since the process started?

Once you have worked out the details of why things aren’t moving, you and each team member need to determine what to do about the roadblocks.  Can responsibilities be spread over more people, so that time may be made available to work at the strategic level?  Are there functions which are being performed today which no longer need to be done?  As technology changes, it is possible that certain operations which have been done historically no longer need to be done, or at least could be done at a reduced level, or done by others who are not involved in carrying out strategic initiatives.

The most important factor, I believe, is that you need to set a good example.  You need to hold scheduled meetings to review progress, address any problems your team members may have, and to hold people accountable for meeting their commitments.  You also need to complete your own assignments on time, to set the tone for holding others accountable.

If you have problems with your execution, we can help.  Give me a call at 616-575-3193 or email me at  We also have our booklet: Alignment for Implementation, which may help you with getting your people to make your strategies work.  Contact me to get a copy.

M. Dana Baldwin is a Senior Consultant with Center for Simplified Strategic Planning, Inc. He can be reached by email at:

© Copyright 2015 by Center for Simplified Strategic Planning, Inc., Ann Arbor, MI — Reprint permission granted with full attribution.

Close the Gap between Planning and Execution – Monitoring Checklist Keeps Execution on Track

Friday, October 4th, 2013
Denise Harrison

Strategic Planning Expert

By Denise Harrison, Executive Vice President and COO

Are you achieving your strategy or are you slipping?  How can you keep your team on track?  Monitoring is one of the key aspects of successful execution.  Here is a monitoring checklist – if you can accomplish these items you are well on your way to successful execution:

  1. Meet monthly to discuss progress on key strategic initiatives.
  2. Team leaders should have action plans updated before the meeting.
  3. Ensure that all members of the strategic planning team are present.
    1. Discuss last month’s achievements
    2. Discuss and schedule what is planned for the coming month
  4. Resolve shortfalls in progress and roadblocks.
    1. Solve the problem (rather than assess blame)
    2. Determine what it will take to get plan back on track and reallocate resources to achieve your desired results and timeframe
  5. Discuss any changes to business conditions – does this require a change in strategy/strategic initiative?  If so, discuss what course corrections are necessary.
    1. Stop/change any strategic initiatives that are no longer deemed important to achieving the strategy.
  6. Review new opportunities
    1. Assess if they need to go on the list by replacing an initiative already on the list
    2. If they are not more important than what has already been selected, then save for the next strategy planning cycle
  7. Walk out of the meeting with a clear picture of what will be accomplished before the next meeting.

If you are able to achieve all of the items on the checklist, you will achieve your strategic objectives faster by executing more efficiently.

Potential pitfalls?

Here are some pitfalls that I have observed over the years:

  1. Meetings that are held sporadically or infrequently – this makes it harder to get action plans back on track.
  2. Blame rather than problem solving – leaders fix problems rather than point fingers.
  3. Review by exception rather than review of each plan – it is important that each strategic initiative has visibility as a reminder of its importance to achieving the strategy.
  4. Adding strategic initiatives without taking any away.  This results in dilution of resources and often lowers margins and slows execution.
  5. Declaring victory before objective is achieved – yes, it is wonderful to release a new product, but it is better if the new product achieves its revenue and margin goals.

Avoiding these pitfalls by following the checklist will keep your plan on track. Would you like to learn more about executing your strategic plan?  Please listen to our webinar: Strategic Execution: Path to Profitability by clicking on Strategic Execution.

Denise Harrison is Executive Vice President and COO of the Center for Simplified Strategic Planning, Inc.  She can be reached at

© Copyright 2013 by Center for Simplified Strategic Planning, Inc., Ann Arbor, MI — Reprint permission granted with full attribution.

Integrating Your Big Initiatives With Strategic Planning

Friday, March 18th, 2011

Strategic Planning Expert

By Robert W. Bradford, President/CEO

Far too often, companies put off their strategic planning – or even fall completely off the wagon – because of major strategic initiatives.  It might be an acquisition, a system upgrade, a relocation or a marketing initiative, but whatever the project is, it is so big that the management team feels there is “no time for planning”.

Sadly, these initiatives often can drag the organization far off course.  This could mean that some strategic discussions which would be most useful before and during such a major effort as these are not held.  The potential pitfall here is that the core business could go awry, or that other major projects could be slighted.  The problem, of course, is that sometimes we do have good opportunities that require a great deal of our time and money – and that strategic planning is rarely seen as one of the most urgent uses of time or money.  This means that, in order to assure we have resources to complete a big project, it’s easy to see skipping the strategic planning cycle as a practical shortcut to alleviating our resource issues.

Here are some important questions to ask before – and during – a big initiative that uses so much time and money that it seems like a good idea to skip strategic planning:

  1. How can we assure we don’t get off track with our strategy while pursuing this project?
  2. How will we address threats and opportunities that arise during this initiative?
  3. Is it appropriate to put so much time and money into a project that it curtails other activity in the company? 
  4. Can we do strategic planning with fewer resources?
  5. Are we “betting the farm” on this initiative by putting other worthwhile projects on hold?

For many companies we’ve worked with, the four to seven days we spend in a strategic planning cycle are a pittance compared to the dollars and hours that are dedicated to special projects.  Indeed, the action plan review process itself often provides a vital checkpoint for the larger project while assuring that other vital projects also stay on track.  With proper forethought, we can pursue large initiatives and keep the normal planning cycles going.  For others, it requires some careful picking and choosing to determine which parts of the planning process we will do this year.  At the very least, you should consider having a day to evaluate strategic issues and current objectives and a half day to plan resource use and schedule action plans.

We’ve seen too many cases of organizations that leave the planning track for good – often to fail or be acquired several years down the road, because they lost the discipline of strategic planning with an objective, experienced professional.  Good, routine strategic planning – even in a skeletal form – will help you avoid making the mistakes that lead to these disasters.  If you are considering a major project – or even in the middle of one – We hope you will make sure you consider this issue seriously and contact us if we may assist you in your strategic planning.

Robert Bradford is President/CEO of the Center for Simplified Strategic Planning, Inc.  He can be reached at

© Copyright 2011 by Center for Simplified Strategic Planning, Inc., Ann Arbor, MI — Reprint permission granted with full attribution.

Drowning in Strategic Initiatives? Here is a powerful tool for screening them out.

Tuesday, February 16th, 2010

By Robert W. Bradford, President/CEO

Strategic Planning Expert Robert Bradford
Strategic Planning Expert Robert Bradford

When assessing strategic opportunities, we have for years examined four variables in the Simplified Strategic Planning process – value, probability, management effort and financial risk.  Recently, I have taken to including a secondary analysis of opportunities, undertaken when reviewing opportunity screening worksheets in meeting number two.  This screening is particularly useful when you are evaluating far more opportunities than your team can realistically handle (in my experience, from three to ten strategic opportunities, depending on the team and its resources). 

The purpose of this screen is to enable your team to quickly sort out the opportunities with the greatest strategic potential for your organization.  When reviewing opportunity screening worksheets, you simply ask the team to rate each opportunity on two dimensions – resource requirements and strategic impact on the organization.  For resource requirements, you may want to anchor the rating on a one to five scale.  In a medium sized company, a one might indicate resources commensurate with an individual employee’s initiative – requiring little management of either manpower or money.  A two could correspond with departmental level resources, a three with two or more departments, and a five would indicate a need for co-ordination of resources across the entire company.  For strategic impact, we used one for “nice to do”, three for “important” and five for “critical to our future”.  Note that we do NOT rate on a purely financial basis, and in practice, opportunities with a strictly financial payoff were generally given a three impact rating – that is, a simple boost to profit is not enough to earn an opportunity high marks on strategic impact.

Some interesting insights arise when using this assessment tool.  Your team will doubtless agree that priority should be given to high impact, low resource opportunities – I call these “no brainers”.  Equally obvious should be the automatic disqualification of low impact, high resource opportunities – though, in many organizations, these grind up a lot of recourse as individual employees take on pet projects as personal initiatives.  The most difficult discussions – and often the most strategically dangerous issues – occur in the middle zone – opportunities with moderate impact and/or moderate resource requirements.  Each presents a different danger to a well crafted strategic plan – the moderate resource requirement opportunities can choke middle management as senior executives delegate a growing number of “just do it” initiatives to the next layer of the organization.  The medium impact opportunities may actually receive top-level commitment in strategic planning – after all, how can you deny an opportunity that increases your profitability?  These opportunities can mire your strategic level resources in initiatives that produce only incremental improvements in your organization’s performance, while more fundamental, truly strategic opportunities are starved for resources because they are “too difficult”. 

If your organization is plagued by a surplus of incremental projects or “just do it” items that are overwhelming mid-level management, this approach to opportunity screening may give you one more way to rationally say “no” to things that will impede your strategic progress.

Robert Bradford is President/CEO of the Center for Simplified Strategic Planning, Inc.  He can be reached at