From the Blog

I’ve been providing professional digital strategy consulting to small & medium sized businesses, non-profits, and individuals outside of my day job for the last five years. I’ve also worked on many strategy engagements for globally recognized brands at my day job, both as a project manager and an individual contributor to deliverables.

However, this Tuesday will be my last day after almost ten years working as a full-time Digital Project Manager. I officially start my career as a Digital Strategist the following Monday. Now that strategy has become the primary focus of my professional contribution to the world, I thought it would be interesting and productive to take a step back and develop a better understanding of the roots of this area of work.

The goal of this self-directed ‘Hackademic‘ exercise is to develop a deeper understanding of the concepts of traditional business strategy, and look for ways to incorporate this knowledge with a current understanding and approach to digital strategy practice. In other words: What tools do traditional strategists use? What processes and frameworks do they follow? What value do they create? And, most importantly, how can I use traditional business strategy to be more effective Digital Strategist?

Follow the leaders

Information is like food: You are what you consume. For this reason, I really like the idea of beginning with a list of leaders I should be paying attention to. Fortunately, Twitter makes this very easy. Because this list isn’t only about understanding strategy in general, it includes individuals focused on digital strategy and content strategy, such as my current colleague Dave Wieneke who leads the Digital Strategy Practice at ISITE Design, as well as industry leading exemplars such as Perry Hewitt, Chief Digital Officer at Harvard University. This list also includes leading business publications such as the Harvard Business Review and Knowledge@Wharton.

Next I went to Amazon and searched on topics including ‘strategy’ and ‘business strategy’. Under the circumstances I believe Amazon will generate better results than searching on Google because the ‘Customers also bought…’ feature will quickly lead to more value. Also, because I believe someone who wrote a best-selling book on topic as academic as business strategy probably gets it. The other obvious benefit to this approach is immediate access to their books.

Here’s what I’ve come up with:

HBR’s 10 Must Reads on Strategy (including featured article “What Is Strategy?” by Michael E. Porter)
About halfway through this one. So far the big take-away is Michael Porter’s defining article ‘What is Strategy?’. The short version of the answer is: Strategy is the creation of a unique and valuable position, involving a different set of activities.At this point you may be wondering: a different set of activities? Different than what? You’ll need to read the article for the answer to that.

The Innovator’s Dilemma: The Revolutionary Book That Will Change the Way You Do BusinessA couple of people I admire tell me Clayton Christensen is an important compliment and counterpoint to Porter’s position on strategy. This one hasn’t arrived yet so I don’t have much to say about the book but I am captivated by Christensen’s contribution to the conversation on disrupting higher education, including this recent article on NY Times: Business School, Disrupted.

The Strategy Book: How To Think and Act Strategically to Deliver Outstanding Results
Rounding out the initial set of books to read, I would like to go with someone a little younger, who I personally identify with. Max Mckeown is a straight talking, engaging author and speaker on the subject, with an approachable and practical sensibility I would like to emulate. I’m about three quarters of the way through this book and I am really enjoying the modern case studies and introduction to standard strategy tools, such as Porter’s Generic Strategies.

Test your mettle, MOOC style

At every inflection point in my career I’ve relied heavily on books to accelerate my climb up the front side of the learning curve, with good results. But today there is a whole new class of resources available, which I’d be a fool to ignore: Massively Open Online Courses. That’s why I’ve signed up for Coursera’s Foundations of Business Strategy, taught by Professor Michael Lenox of the University of Virginia. It promises I will learn how to analyze an organization’s strategy and make recommendations to improve its value creation by building your strategist’s toolkit. Unlike books, I will have an opportunity to discuss what I’m learning with the instructor and the other students who are attending the course.

Open to discussion

I think another vital step in hacking your way to understanding any subject is to discuss it, a lot. In the past this might have been a bit of a challenge for individuals taking a deep dive on something as unique as strategy, without the benefit of a traditional classroom experience. However, today there’s really no excuse for a lack of community. At any moment I have access to online groups, communities, forums, meetups, and literally thousands of open conversations happening on the social web via Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIN and more.

To that end, I’d like to engage in this conversation: Who are the leading voices in strategy you follow? Please leave your comments here, or connect with me on Twitter and let’s chat.

Feb
08

In continuing my series on writing good proposals I would like to cover the topic of assumptions and parameters. Up until now we’ve explored the earlier sections in a good proposal…description, scope, schedule and budget. Now it’s time to look at one of the last sections, which I call Assumptions and Parameters.
I remember years ago a school teacher told me that assumptions were dangerous. And he further shared…In order for me to remember this fact I should notice the word assume…broken down it says ass, u & me. Like, making assumptions makes an ass out of you and me. Not very funny…But memorable. Assumptions truly do represent a serious threat to successful business dealings.

However, in business it is sometimes necessary to assume certain facts in order to streamline communications. For instance…you can safely assume your client would like you to deliver work free of spelling errors. You can also safely assume a client will be happy if you deliver on time, on budget and free of defects. Other than the common sense stuff there is one (and only one) other time when making assumptions is not dangerous…and that’s when you communicate them. There’s that word again…communicate. It’s really important. Let’s consider a few examples.
Imagine you have been hired to build a web site for a client which is going to include HTML5 pages. You know this means a whole bunch of very popular browsers will not be supported. Is it safe to assume the client knows this? Negative ghost rider! I always include which browsers and other software will be supported in the assumptions and parameters when I start a new project.

Or, let’s say you are a wedding DJ and your bride and groom request a rare recording of an old song for their wedding reception. The song is only available on a scratchy old record album they dug out of grandma’s basement. Can you safely assume they will be OK with it when it skips in the middle of their critical first dance? No way. Write it down. The other important thing about assumptions and parameters is you can’t just write it down and assume the client will notice. That is equally silly…I try to review them once before the client signs and once again during the project kick off meeting. I also refer back to them if any required features end up in conflict with one or more assumptions.

In the end, again, it is all about communication. Don’t assume anybody knows what you are thinking…because they don’t. Every single conflict I have ever had in my professional life can be traced back to a miscommunication or lack of communication. It is fair to say most people I have encountered genuinely want to do the right thing…they just forget to communicate what their version of the right thing to do is. Myself included…