Strategic Options are possibilities for the future direction of your organization rooted in your core competencies and built to exploit openings in the marketplace to drive enterprise value.

“The best way to have a good idea is to have lots of ideas”
-Linus Pauling

Dr. Pauling is one of only four people to have won two Nobel Prizes, one of the two who won them in different fields (along with Marie Currie) and he is the only person to ever win two unshared Nobel Prizes. Pretty amazing stuff and while his life’s work is a fascinating story of science and humanitarian activity, this quote is remarkably simple and fitting inspiration as you embark on the exciting work of building strategic opportunities for your organization.

To get to this point in the planning process, you’ve conducted internal and external assessments so that you know what you are good at and not so good at; you also know those same things about your competitors. You have a well-crafted, focused mission statement & aspirational vision statement. You’ve looked at where you should compete in the future. In short, you should have an excellent, thorough assessment of the current state of play for your organization. Now comes the best part! What are the best strategic options you have for maximizing your future growth?

As you’ve stepped through the planning process, you’ve undoubtedly come up with what seems like a good set of options. But are they the best options? What else haven’t you thought of yet? To answer those questions, it’s time for some additional brainstorming. Gather the strategic group together and take the following steps:

  1. Review where you are so far in this process. You’ve made outstanding progress and it is helpful to bring everyone together to review it jointly. Look at the mission & vision statements. Examine the SWOT and competitive landscape. Spend time discussing core competencies. Get everyone refreshed on what your agreed on so far.
  2. Have everyone gather their best ideas for new strategic directions for the organization but it’s important that thoughts are kept private at this stage. We don’t want any advance consensus building.
  3. When ready, get the ideas up on the walls using post it notes or something similar. Your goal is to have each idea captured on an individual piece of paper that can be moved around. At this point, there shouldn’t be discussion on the merits of any idea, clarifying questions are ok but try to just get them down and move to the next.
  4. Once all ideas are on the walls, work to group similar ideas together. If individual ideas are similar but not identical, that’s ok, group them together but don’t lose the critical differences.
  5. At this point, it’s appropriate to argue the merits of the ideas. While ideas that pass this stage need to be grounded in the reality of your core capabilities, it’s ok if you don’t have every capability needed to pursue a good idea. Sometimes you need to build new capabilities to fully exploit great opportunities.
  6. Once you have concepts grouped, have each person score them based on several factors like leverage of core capabilities, size of potential market, ease of implementation, etc.

Use the scoring and continued discussion to winnow the concepts down to a manageable set (3 is too few, 10 is too many). Now tear each apart. Focus on what core capabilities are leveraged to make sure it’s a smart use of your resources; look at the size of the potential market and competition. Importantly, focus on what must go right for the concept to succeed. Identifying the things that must go right is a critical area for discussion and is often the place for the team skeptic to shine. Unearth the 2-3 things that if achieved would bring the skeptic around to support the concept. THOSE are the things to test when the time comes!

The next step will be to create operating plans to test the strategic options which will be covered in our next post in this series.

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Capture Your Future is a series of articles bringing you practical insights gleaned from over 20 years of building strategic plans for divisions of big public companies, medium-size privately held companies, and nonprofit organizations. Along the way we’ll share some lessons we’ve learned from doing the right things, and sometimes the wrong things, in building good strategic plans.

Other posts from the Capture Your Future series:

Why Build a Strategic Plan?

Strategic Planning Overview

Get Started Building Your Future

Kick Off Your Future

Unlocking Your Core Capabilities

Where Do We Compete?

What Is The Competition Up To?