I’ve been developing Web strategies for years. And I recently realized – I’ve been doing them wrong this whole time.
I create strategies by the book, more or less. I begin with research and analysis, develop goals and tactics and then put it all on paper. And that’s when I get a little nervous – as soon as that strategy is committed to paper.
But before we explore the source of my discomfort, let’s review why we create “strategies.”
The concept of strategy actually comes from military operations. It speaks to the manner in which resources are utilized and deployed in pursuit of an objective. In business, we often struggle to define exactly what a strategy is. This becomes even more difficult when referring to focused strategies such as a “Web strategy.” We’re frequently asked, “What goes into a Web strategy?”
Wikipedia defines a Web strategy as “… a long-term strategic business plan indicating how to create and develop a company’s online presence adhering to the business development strategy.” Huh? A Web strategy is a business plan adhering to another strategy? Aren’t strategies and business plans different things?
Yes. But (hopefully) they point us the same direction.
Reflecting back to the military definition, I think of a Web strategy as the place where you pick your battles. Your Web strategy paints a broad picture of what you’ll focus on, and through exclusion, where you won’t invest resources. It does not, however, determine how you’ll accomplish your objectives.
My problem with traditional strategies.
The traditional route to developing a strategy is a time-consuming process including a lot of data collection, analysis and rigorous documentation. You spend months interviewing stakeholders, and performing S.W.O.T. analyses, competitive analyses, capability assessments, product value matrices, and comparisons of potential scenarios. And all to better define the state of your organization, the space you’re serving, the market, the competitive landscape and your unique differentiators.
All of this work makes perfect sense when developing strategic plans for stable, long-cycle businesses. In healthcare, the cycles of change are measured in multiple years and capital investments take a decade or longer to play out. It’s typical to create an annual – or even multi-year – strategic plan for the organization because there’s simply no way to know in the short term if the strategy is effective.
But the digital landscape is different.
When organizations take the more traditional approach to developing Web strategies, planning becomes a one-time per year event.
I used to think this was the right approach. But not anymore.
The Web moves too quickly. If you spend months conducting research, drafting your objectives, outlining tactics and getting it all on paper, the industry and your competitors have passed you by.
Web strategies need to move at Internet speed! You need a new approach. Here are six things you need to be doing differently.
- The “big strategic plan” must die. Thinking strategically shouldn’t be a once-a-year event. You need to develop a process that makes strategic thinking a regular event.
- Shorten the cycle. Traditional strategic planning has a 3-5 year cycle. Web strategy is shorter than that, usually a year. Still that’s not enough! I propose executing a rolling strategy where you evaluate, update, and prioritize your plans and the associated tactics three to four times per year.
- Make strategic planning faster. To speed things up, we need to lighten up the Web strategy development process. Going through a high effort process that takes months upon months simply isn’t practical.
- Bring back transparency. In a fast-moving world, stakeholders need a better understanding of your strategy and execution to ensure buy-in and support. Your approach for establishing priorities must be clearly communicated with the appropriate stakeholders. You also need to consistently provide information on your progress relative to the accomplishment of the organization’s current priorities.
- Rethink how strategy is captured. Use highly flexible tools for organizing, capturing and communicating strategy. The risk of having the tools slow down the strategy process is very real. Specialized software often locks in a particular way of doing things and can harm flexibility and speed. Start with the simplest of tools – sticky notes and Word® documents.
- Give the team some power. Create a multi-disciplinary governance team to advise the Web team and provide feedback on their work. This ensures your team gets input and insight from a range of perspectives from around the business and also carries credibility in its priorities. This team should certainly involve stakeholders from within the organization but may also contain patients and other health consumers.
If it changes, is it still a strategy?
When the strategy changes this much and this quickly, does it just mean that you have no strategy at all? A fair question.
But think about this – how much of your time is spent on initiatives that are strategically important to the organization? How many of your current projects are connected to your current Web strategy?
Many healthcare Web teams spend a large amount of effort in constant firefighting – reacting to the requests of whomever is yelling the loudest. In that environment, the strategy that exists is no longer meaningful. Shortening the cycle leads to a much more regular reassessment of what is most important while leaving little time to kick the execution of those priorities to later in the year.
An agile approach to Web strategy has the potential to radically change the value you deliver to your organization. To learn more, watch our webinar Web Strategy: The Best Offense is a Good Defense.