Review by Denise Harrison, Executive Vice President & COO

Strategic Planning Expert

Strategic Planning Expert

Playing to Win is A.G. Lafley’s book on how he determined strategy when he was at the helm of P&G from 2000 to 2009 – and interestingly enough, he is back at the helm of P&G.

While there is little new ground covered in this book, it is a good refresher of what senior management teams should be evaluating when they are determining strategy for their organization.  In addition to providing a good refresher, his specific stories of how strategy was set for specific areas for P&G help remind us of what we should be doing with our own organizations.

First the basics:

First Lafley and his co-author Roger Martin set out five strategic questions to be answered:

  1. What is our winning aspiration?
  2. Where will we play?
  3. How will we win?
  4. What capabilities must we have in place to win?
  5. What management systems are required to support our choices?

The authors suggest that these questions are not necessarily answered sequentially, but rather that the solution is an iterative process.  In the Simplified Strategic Planning process we suggest similar questions – although the order is different.  We suggest that where you decide to play is based on research which combined with the internal competencies of the organization helps you decide where you will play – at this point we suggest that the team evaluate its strategy.  We agree that it is an iterative process rather than a straight line.  But no matter where you start, these questions are important ones for your organization to be evaluating during your strategic planning process.

There are many stories of how P&G won by using these questions – but I found the story of where P&G decided not to play much more enlightening – yes, even a global giant like P&G may decide that they are better off partnering with an existing player, rather than going head-to-head with embedded competitors.

In this case, P&G developed “ForceFlex technology” that allowed plastic garbage bags to have a lot more stretch without breaking. This technology evolved from P&G’s knowledge of quilting technology used in its paper towels.  Could or should they launch a new garbage bag line?  It would compete against Glad (Clorox) and Hefty (Reynolds Holdings), two entrenched competitors.  One would think that with P&G’s marketing and channel strength, this would be a no-brainer.  But as they analyzed the competition and the costs that a head-to-head battle would incur, the team decided that it would be better to license the technology to one of the market leaders.  They made the pitch to Clorox, and Clorox not only wanted to license the technology, but also wanted to have a partnership with P&G so that they would have access to existing and future P&G technology in this space.  Both companies chose to move forward with the agreement – partnering on garbage bags, but competing in other categories.

P&G licensing its Force Flex technology to Clorox was an example of what Lafley and Martin call finding what a new “how to win” option looks like.  They give many examples of how looking at different options and thinking through “what needs to happen in order for this to be a success?” for each potential option, allows a team to think through scenarios without assessing the probabilities.  This gives a team a better choice of possible outcomes and stimulates creativity.

I found this book to be a good refresher with good examples of how P&G made difficult strategic decisions.  It will stimulate your thinking as you embark on your next strategic planning cycle. Show more

If you are interested in learning additional ways to invigorate your strategic planning process, please read a complimentary copy of our book: Strategy Tune-up.

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

© Copyright 2014 by Center for Simplified Strategic Planning, Inc., Ann Arbor, MI — Reprint permission granted with full attribution.

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