Thomas E. Ambler, Senior Consultant

Strategic Planning Expert

Strategic Planning Expert

Note: This post is a part of a series taken from Tom Ambler’s article Strategic Issues: The Pivotal Process for Strategic Success previously published in Compass Points in July 1999.  In Part 1, we introduced the series and discussed What is a Strategic Issue?  In Part 2 we discussed How Does the Strategic Issues Process Relate to the Rest of the Simplified Strategic Planning Process?  In this part we will discuss How Should You Identify Strategic Issues?

How Should You Identify Strategic Issues?
Very few Strategic Issues come out of thin air. They are the products of hard digging. Below are a couple of simple, but effective, techniques that help identify potential Strategic Issues:

  • Fully explain the concept of Strategic Issues before starting the review of information and challenge your team to think about the strategic implications of the information.
  • Strongly urge each team member to highlight on the information worksheet, key information that suggests a Strategic Issue and capture their thoughts on a pad of paper throughout the review.

Simple techniques like these permit the process to be more time-efficient and minimize the escape of key information from the scrutiny of the team. Potential Strategic Issues often surface during the review of Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities and Threats (known in Simplified Strategic Planning as Capabilities Assessment, Perceived Opportunities, Perceived Threats) or the Winner’s Profile exercise.

Sometimes potential Strategic Issues do not readily surface. Subsequent to the Information Review, each team member should be allowed time to formulate what they perceive to be the key issues. Recognizing that Strategic Issues are those significant and unresolved questions that must be dealt with before Strategies can be fully articulated, each team member should:

  1. review the notes they have made, the information they have highlighted and those critical items highlighted on the team exercises
  2. identify the most critical subjects that the firm needs to address
  3. frame a question that defines what it is about that subject that needs to be discussed

The next step is to capture the key Strategic Issues on a flip chart or other medium that can be easily viewed and shared with the entire team. Select an approach that balances the need for time efficiency and team participation.

Strategic Issues are typically somewhat unique from company to company. They will also change from year to year as some issues are totally resolved and new ones arise. There are, however, some general topics that tend to be sources of Strategic Issues in many companies.

Some areas that typically produce Strategic Issues are:

  • Strategic Focus
  • Strategic Competencies
  • Culture modification/Organizational change
  • Resource limitations
  • Strategic alliances/acquisitions/mergers/joint ventures
  • E-commerce products

What methods does your company use to identify strategic issues?  Are the methods suggested in this article helpful?  The Center for Simplified Strategic Planning can help your company identify your specific issues.  Call us at 734-995-3465.

In the next part of this series we will discuss How Should You Reduce and Prioritize the List of Strategic Issues?

© Copyright 2017 by Center for Simplified Strategic Planning, Inc., Ann Arbor, MI — Reprint permission granted with full attribution.

Tom Ambler is a Senior Consultant with Center for Simplified Strategic Planning, Inc. He can be reached by email at

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