Strategic thinking tools

July 3, 2006
Ronald B. Schilling, PhD

We have now examined three areas that are significant for management organizations: competition (DI SCAN, High 5 highlights importance of understanding the competition), execution (DI SCAN, How vision determines success), and investment (DI SCAN, Real-Win-Worth). Strategic thinking tools bind these three together.

We have now examined three areas that are significant for management organizations: competition (DI SCAN, High 5 highlights importance of understanding the competition), execution (DI SCAN, How vision determines success), and investment (DI SCAN, Real-Win-Worth).

Strategic thinking tools bind these three together.

"Strategic thinking" is different from "strategic planning." Perhaps the clearest way to separate these two terms is to consider that strategic thinking is focused on "doing the right things," whereas strategic planning is focused on "doing things right." The initial step in a process should be the thinking step, in which the team brainstorms on a selected direction from among several possible paths. Tools can be very effective in carrying out this process.

Tools are frameworks for team thinking. Let's consider some of the benefits of strategic thinking tools. They identify a common language for addressing problems. For example, the use of the High 5 tool provides a language in the form of Technical Leadership, Image Quality, Throughput, Lifecost, and Total Service. A team using this or similar terminology to describe the attributes of products can easily evaluate their products against the competition's or describe their products to potential customers. It is most impressive to customers when all the members of a product team describe the products in a similar way.

Another benefit of strategic thinking tools is that they allow the team to think with simultaneous focus and flexibility. For example, using the vision statement tool provides focus to a team working together to define a common purpose and mission. As team members focus on establishing the purpose statement, they have flexibility in determining the details of the statement. The key is that as the process continues, the team remains focused. The same thing is true in developing the mission elements that support the purpose statement.

A valuable aspect of strategic thinking tools is the ability of their users to communicate by asking the right questions that will assist the team to find the right answers. For example, the Real-Win-Worth tool asks a number of questions: Is the market real? Is the product real in terms of meeting the needs of the market? Can the technology win? Can the company win? Is the opportunity worth it to customers? Is the opportunity worth it to shareholders? As the team works together to answer these questions, a shared understanding of the investment opportunity, which contains the combined knowledge of the team members, is developed.

Some of the other benefits to be derived by using strategic thinking tools include:

  • promoting teamwork in problem solving (with a team focused on a given tool to solve a problem, teamwork emerges from the process);

  • stimulating creativity in problem solving (when a team is focused and listening carefully to each other, the creativity builds synergistically);

  • establishing team confidence in the problem-solving approach (follows from having focus and teamwork); and

  • providing outlines for the planning process (once the thinking step is in place, the planning process can follow).

The tools noted above, as well as others that will be provided in subsequent articles, have been used by a wide variety of audiences. This includes for-profit (from startups to large companies), as well as nonprofit organizations. The concept of using tools for thinking seems to transcend all boundaries of background and hierarchies of participants, thereby bringing the team together on a level playing field with commensurate results.

Mr. Schilling is an editorial advisor to Diagnostic Imaging and president of RBS Consulting in Los Altos Hills, CA. Comments can be addressed to ronald11341@aol.com.