Let’s start with the ideal. You should put a strategy in place at the start. Before a project kicks off, before a major communications initiative begins, develop a strategy. A strategy—defined by Wikipedia as, “a general, undetailed plan of action, encompassing a long period of time, to achieve a complicated goal”—is wise.
Still talking about the ideal, up front strategy discussions mean you can get buy in. Roles and responsibilities will be clear, and it will force clarity on who the executive sponsor for your work/project/initiative will be. Yes, there will be uncertainty about the future, so strategy puts a set of options in place. Again, strategy means options for accomplishing complex goals; not specific tactics and detailed plans.
But who’s living the ideal?
I also think strategy development can and should happen as you go along. Strategy can be the reminder of what you’re trying to accomplish and perfecting it with new information is smart. Keep talking about your strategy even after the project begins. You can also use the strategy you have in place as the core of broad communications about your project and to keep expectations in check. So when the vice president for finance requests that online forms for employee travel reimbursement transactions be part of the scope, you can talk about your strategic focus and use it as a platform for explaining what’s included and what’s not. To be more clear, strategy allows you to say no. Throughout a project, you’ll find yourself repeating the tenents of your strategy as you remind people about your goals. And that’s okay. (Tell ‘em, tell ‘em what you told ‘em, and tell ‘em again.)
Don’t waste a good crisis!
People often get serious about strategy once they see some warning signs that things aren’t going well without it. When you skipped the strategy discussions and instead dived right into the work, you sometimes run into trouble. Without goals and priorities, everyone on campus can make a case for how things should go. If your project is off the rails, it’s not too late to rewind a bit to get things back on track. And, while you have everyone’s attention (because everyone is worried about a project that’s starting to go south), you can often get the resources and support you need to be successful.
These links will take you to two additional posts I’ve written about strategy for the mStoner blog: