When something fails — a product launch, marketing campaign, or reorganization initiative — companies often use their original strategy as the scapegoat.
But in reality, strategies only fail when execution fails.
what 5 things should your strategy address?
- The user (or audience).
- The problem.
- The research.
- Your company’s distinct point of view.
- Your company’s unique solution.
What Really Makes Strategies Fail?
Maybe people involved in implementing it didn’t fully understand the strategy from the onset, maybe it changed at the last minute, or maybe the goals weren’t communicated well.
Whether you’re building a product or doing general business planning, creating a successful strategy doesn’t have to be as complicated as you might think. It does, however, require proper organization, as well as alignment of those involved at all levels.
Here are the 4 boxes I always check when developing a successful strategy.
how to make a great strategy
- Document your strategy.
- Align your organization’s strategy with its goals.
- Lay out a (flexible) step-by-step plan.
- Account for your team’s bandwidth.
Document Your Strategy
No matter the complexity, you should always write your strategy down. Many organizations try to cut corners by making their strategy high-level — maybe a single slide or page. While this is more digestible than a lengthy document, and likely saves time, useful information gets lost from the oversimplification.
A business strategy is easiest to execute when it’s well written and, in the best-case scenario, summarized through a visual or tagline. There is no one-size-fits-all template for strategy documentation, but your strategy must be clearly articulated so that every team member can understand it and their role in its execution.
To do this, the strategy should be translated into different formats and mediums to maximize reach: a long-form written document for strategists, a slide summary for an all-hands presentation, a visual summary for external communications, an FAQ, etc.
When a strategy is well documented, it empowers the team to be the decision-makers. A clear strategy gives them the tools to tackle trade-offs and trust their own choices.
Synchronize Your Strategy With Your Organization’s Goals
One of the greatest mistakes a company can make is developing an academic strategy that can’t be executed with its current organizational structure. What’s the point of creating a fantastic strategy if you can’t achieve it? That’s why synchronization, or making sure your organizational design and strategy align, is critical.
Strategic alignment starts with leadership. A disjointed company will translate to a disjointed product or business outcome. Misalignment often happens if the strategy goes against a company’s cultural norms and communication channels, creating friction. Consistent communication between leadership and employees about your strategy ensures maximum alignment.
Aligning Goals with Strategy
Take the following example from my time at X (formerly known as Twitter), when there was a disconnect across the company about whether the primary users were consumers, creators, or advertisers.
X set itself up as a media business with an over-reliance on a subset of influencers to create content while being inundated with consumer feedback on the noisiness around their experience. As we’ve seen in recent months, that strategy was misaligned with the business’s goal to satisfy its real customers: advertisers.
Say what you will about the recent changes, but we’ve now witnessed a strategy shift from the top down creating clarity around the ideal product and business outcomes. Leadership identifying the proper user and adjusting the company’s strategy for engagement reduced friction and aligned the company’s strategy with its goals.
Detail Your Plan’s Chronological Steps
You can’t reach Point B without getting to Point A first. Many holistic strategies will disregard pivotal steps and become dragged down by switching between key milestones.
A good strategy clearly outlines which steps are prerequisites or dependencies to other milestones. When linear plans are not laid out clearly, teams can run into trouble where certain workstreams start too early or too late, throwing off the overall timeline. But, similar to a trip itinerary, where you might have to switch some plans around due to unexpected rain, the trick to staying on track is remaining flexible.
staying Flexible and On Track
When I was on the Kindle new product investments team, we acquired and integrated Audible into the business. The core tenet of the strategy was incorporating the Audible flow into the Kindle e-reader. As we worked toward a joint launch, issues arose about whether the unified experience met customer expectations. These issues came to a head when the go-live/public relations announcement failed. Miserably.
There’s always the chance that things won’t go exactly according to plan. You can’t panic when your strategy begins to veer away from the originally expected order of events. Yes, a strategy needs to be a chronological blueprint, but you must still remain flexible as projects will change over time.
The larger lesson was to keep the scope fluid as we embarked on a multi-month integration project rather than locking into a technical and user experience design early.
Fine-Tune Your Strategy to Be Psychologically Affordable
Ensure that your strategy is affordable for your team’s mental capacity, or what I like to call psychological affordability.
Building a team with equally passionate individuals is a major motivator for success, but we mustn’t take advantage of our teammates’ drive or dedication to a project. When a strategy is so stringent that it leaves no room for creativity or is on such an ambitious timeline it leaves your team fatigued, it’s time to reconsider.
This is when, as a leader, you learn to say no. Abandon the original strategy and go back to the drawing board to develop a strategy that can be executed by the people you have, or take the time to hire and onboard the right people for the strategy.
Prioritizing the Team’s Morale
As a project manager on the original Kindle Fire launch team, our original strategy involved getting as many Android development teams as possible at Amazon to build unique apps.
But as competitors launched their own devices, we realized that having a product in customers’ hands was more important than any on-device apps. As a result, we cut features and apps that were nearly complete but increased the testing complexity and timeline.
While “just in time” decision-making allows for flexibility early on, it can affect morale when teams work toward a deadline and don’t end up being part of the launch. Your team is everything. They deserve to succeed and be recognized for their efforts and accomplishments. Without them, you can’t drive results, which is exactly why you need to take the psychological well-being of your employees into account when drafting a strategy.
Successful Strategies Are a Machine
You may be thinking, “This is quite a checklist.” And yes, it takes work to get this alignment in place. But without it? Incoherence, disoriented teams, and ultimately a failed product or business plan.
Checking these four boxes will help set you up for success and drive substantial business outcomes. A good strategy is a machine that, when operated well, should give you definitive outputs — yes, no, later, never.