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Strategy Spotlight: 6 Strategic Spotlight Terms You Should Know

Recently I wrote about the importance of communications and having a common stakeholder language.

From a strategy spotlight perspective this is extremely important. Definitions and a common language help the business analyst keep people on track so they move things forward. Often I have to tell my stakeholders what the terms mean in the context we are using them in and that they cannot change the definition. This approach helps move stakeholders forward. In the strategic facilitation this is a valuable approach. Even if you are not doing strategic facilitation or planning, as a business analyst or project manager you need to know the key terms to align your work and project initiatives.

Related Article: 8 Ideas for Creating a Common Language and Communication Plan

Here are six strategic analysis, planning and implementation terms I often give to clients to ensure that we are all speaking the same language and our work aligns with the over arching business requirements and stakeholders needs.

Strategy Agenda Item is a high level plan of action item designed to achieve a vision. Since strategic planning is a component of the business planning that is to be done before you take tactical action it is imperative that there is a clear understanding of the strategic agenda items as they provide focus. Often rather than focusing on internal operational issues, a strategic focus means addressing and solving business problems through the effective use of existing resources. As strategic initiatives are defined resource usage is analyzed.

Related Article: 5 Questions Business Analysts Should Have in Their Question Inventory

Strategic Initiatives should represent the most significant line of business or cross line of business projects that are planned to improve the business in some way with consideration for the four key business impact zones. In this part of strategic planning phase the team is deciding the essential focus and key initiatives that must be met to achieve the strategic agenda items. Depending on the size of your organization these will become enterprise, program or project initiatives. They can be very strategic or tactical based on your organization’s size, structure and present culture. At the initiative level the way you define success in the attainment of our objectives should be clarified, the speed and distance of action determined and the critical success factors defined. This takes a while to do.

Business and Initiative Champions are individuals that go beyond their operative responsibilities. As defined here, they are individuals trying to influence strategic issues larger than their own immediate operational responsibilities. They take the initiative and accept responsibility and accountability for it. The potential ways and objectives of championing cover the whole process of strategy: the formation of the content of strategy as well as the process of implementing strategic contents.

If the focus is more of being an initiative champion then that person should bring discipline and rigour to planning and execution of an initiative ensuring the timing and achievement of milestones and deliverables are agreed upon and managed. They will need to tie investment in strategic items and strategic initiative to specific and measurable outcomes and enable issues to be addressed and resolved proactively, before they jeopardize outcomes.

A champion can be used more specifically to refer to a senior manager who champions the project, ensures that it is properly resourced and uses their influence to overcome barriers for the team.

Measurable Outcomes are the measurable results of the implemented objectives and must be defined in measurable terms. Measurements are essential for understanding what is happening in your business–what gets measured gets done. In a business environment, measurements come in many forms and include hard, soft, lagging and leading indicators.

Lagging indicators are used to measure performance and allow the leadership team to track how things are going. Because output (performance) is always easier to measure by assessing whether your goals were achieved, lagging indicators are backward-focused or “trailing”—they measure performance already captured. Just about anything you wish to monitor will have lagging indicators. Leading indicators are precursors to the direction something is going. Because leading indicators come before a trend, they are considered business drivers. Identifying specific, focused leading indicators should be a part of each business’s strategic planning and decision-making process.

Related Article: Lagging vs. Leading Business Indicators – Do you know the difference?

You can pre-determine or reverse engineer measurable outcomes by either using the SMART and/or CAR principle. As part of the measurable outcome determination always consider key stakeholders.

Key Elements are the big things that need to be done in order to be successful. They are the big buckets of work. The key to creating key elements is to understand the scope of work at a high level and to be able to state them clearly. A scope of work sets forth requirements for performance of work to achieve strategic and project objectives. The scope of work must be clear, accurate and complete. It needs to be understood by a wide audience. Defining key elements is part art and science and takes a while to master.

Milestone is one of a series of numbered markers placed along a road. Within the framework of strategic planning, a milestone is a special event that receives special attention. It is often falsely put at the end of a stage to mark the completion of a work package or phase. Milestones should be put before the end of a phase so that corrective actions can be taken. In addition to signalling the completion of a key deliverable, a milestone may also signify an important decision, which outlines or affects the future of an initiative or project. In this sense, a milestone not only signifies distance traveled (key stages in a project) but also indicates direction of travel since key decisions made at milestones may alter the route pre-determine in the various plans (strategic, tactical or operational).

Final Thoughts

Whether you are working on a top-down, bottom-up or mid-level initiatives having clear definition of these terms will help you. It is very difficult to walk into a room and write a list of terms on a white board and ask people to define them. You will spend a lot of time on an activity that should be done prior to meeting. I believe the professional provides the words and defines the terms that will be used. I have provided variations of these terms when working with clients to align their thinking, to build or interpret roadmaps and plans already created and to ensure stakeholders had a common language. I invite you to adapt them for your own use. Good luck.

Do your best,
Invest in the success of others,
Make your journey count.
Article adapted from SET for Success, Chapter 15, by Richard Lannon