To paraphrase a recent conversation.
Vendor : we're going to attack this space in Q1 next year.
Me: Excellent, that's when you're going to do something but what are you going to do?
Vendor: we're going to launch a cloud based service
Me: Fine, that's what you're going to do and I'll ignore the vagueness here but how are you going to do it?
Vendor: we're hiring talented people to build our system which we might build in an agile way using open source.
Me: Ok, that's sort of how and I won't go into the details because it all sounds a bit suspect, I'll just ask you why?
Vendor: because our competitors are launching cloud services and we need to be in the market.
Me: that's not really a good example of why. What I'm looking for is why here over there?
Vendor: because everyone else is launching ...
Me: ... no, you're just repeating yourself. Why attack this space over another? There are multiple "where" that you can attack, why this one over another?
Vendor: not sure I follow you?
Me: do you have a map of the landscape identifying user needs and how things are changing?
Vendor: what's a map?
Me: Ok, we can assume that's a no then and this is probably the root of your problems. When trying to write a strategy then the first thing you have to do is map out a landscape for the area that you're looking at. To do this always start with user needs. Second, once you have a map then you can determine where you might attack. Third, once you know where then you can determine why here over there. Then you determine the how, what and when. Without a map then you don't have much of a strategy just a tyranny of how, what and when and basically you're just playing chess in the dark.
Vendor: we do have a strategy, we're launching our new cloud service next quarter.
Me: so is everyone else and not one of you seem to know why or have determined the needs.
Vendor: we do know our users, it's written in the strategy.
Me: I could tell you a joke about a general bombarding a hill because "67% of successful generals bombard hills" but you'd probably miss the point. You don't have much of a strategy since you're just doing this because others are and you have no way of better playing the game than this.
... and so on.
Can, I please reiterate to people the importance of :-
- Map your environment (starting with user needs)
- Determine where you can attack (the options)
- Determine why you would attack one space over another (i.e. the games you can play, the advantages / disadvantages, the opponents, how you can exploit inertia or constraints, possibilities for building ecosystems etc)
- Determine the how (i.e. the method - using an open approach, co-creation with others, alliances)
- Determine the what (the details) and finally the when.
If you don't first map your landscape, you can and only ever will be playing chess in the dark.