Dr Phil Driver, OpenStrategies co-founder and author of Validating StrategiesDr Phil Driver is the author of Validating Strategies and the co-founder and creator of the OpenStrategies' system for collaboratively developing, validating, sharing and implementing strategies.

The OpenStrategies' system and webtool and the concepts that are encapsulated in Validating Strategies are supported by OpenStrategies Ltd and the company's international partners.

He started the Validating Strategies journey with what we now recognise was a naïve perception that in most organisations, the ‘people at the top’ knew what they were doing because they had developed and were implementing optimal strategies, that is; strategies which, when implemented, generated desired outcomes better than alternative strategies. We discovered that not only did the top people in many organisations not have optimal strategies, many of them were unaware of this fact. The few top people who realised that their strategies were ineffective usually tried hard, using traditional strategy development processes, to create optimal strategies. Occasionally they were effective; usually they weren’t.

During the MBA courses Phil runs in New Zealand and Germany universities he often asks the students to search on-line for strategies of large companies or government departments and to analyse them to see if they are actually strategies. Every such ‘strategy’ we have reviewed to date has not actually been a strategy. Many contained worthwhile strategic ideas but they were seldom translated into actual strategies or strategic actions.

Phil also discovered that in all but the very smallest organisations, few people understood, had read or were even aware of their organisations’ strategies. Many organisations were so complicated and the environments they worked in were so complex that no one individual could hope to fully understand all the issues and develop strategies on their own. Better tools were required to draw together the strategic insights of significant numbers of stakeholders to create optimal strategies.

For example, in the 1990s the forward-thinking New Zealand Mussel Industry Council wanted an industry-wide strategy for investments in scientific research and technology implementation relevant to the industry. This sector had over 80 key stakeholders including: mussel farmers; mussel processors; regulators; local authorities; central government; employees; environmental groups; community groups; recreational groups; the general public. Traditional strategy development and implementation techniques were unable to cope with this diversity and complexity of often competing perspectives so as to ensure that the resulting strategies met the majority of the needs of the majority of stakeholders. A new approach was needed.

A parallel concept which seemed directly relevant to the problem of developing large scale, multi-stakeholder strategies was the way in which open source software is developed.  Open source software, an emerging phenomenon when Phil was introduced to it by Dave Lane, is written by software developers all over the world and is then freely shared on the basis that if anyone further improves the software then they also share it freely. Hundreds of thousands of minds are constantly being applied to the development and sharing of software and this has resulted in outstanding software which is adopted and supported throughout the world.

Could this be done with the development of strategies? Could many minds be focused on the development and implementation of optimal, shared strategies in the same way that many minds have focused on the development of large, sophisticated open source software programmes? If so then could such strategy development processes and paradigms be fully scalable from very small to very large organisations and multi-stakeholder groups?

Open source software development is built on a tightly defined set of ‘rules’, so that if code-writers adhere to these rules, then each coder’s software can be integrated seamlessly with other coders’ software into large, cohesive packages. Each coder might have a narrowly defined area of interest but provided they worked within the rules, their software code can nevertheless be integrated with many other pieces of software to build large programmes to address complex world challenges.

We realised that the starting point for the open source software community has many parallels with ‘strategy communities’ including:

  • Complex and challenging real-world environments
  • Similar problems around the world
  • Diversity of stakeholders’ interests (often competing with each other)
  • Some stakeholders who are motivated to focus on specific issues but other stakeholders who are focused on integrating many software modules (or strategies) into comprehensive packages to address large-scale challenges
  • Intelligent stakeholders

If the open source software community thrives on the basis of commonly agreed rules, could there be a similar set of ‘rules’ that would enable the multi-stakeholder development and implementation of strategies? After all, ‘software’ and ‘strategies’ are both chunks of information assembled in structured ways.

We concluded that this concept was definitely worth exploring in depth, and to support that exploration, we formed OpenStrategies Ltd. The four co-founders were Phil, Dave Lane, Greg Driver (Phil's brother) and Jonathan Hunt.

We reviewed the ‘rules’ of open source software development and concluded that many of them were directly relevant or could be made relevant to strategy development processes. We then developed an equivalent set of ‘rules of engagement’ for multi-stakeholder strategies (all strategies are multi-stakeholder unless they are one-person strategies).

Along the way we identified:

  • complex demands (many stakeholders, many topics, many timescales, competing agendas, givers and receivers, different resources etc)
  • widespread confusion about strategy concepts and words
  • little common stakeholder understanding of each organisation’s strategies
  • minimal real strategy skills at top management level
  • little use being made of the collective wisdom all stakeholders
  • an overwhelming control of strategy development by those controlling an organisation’s resources and with minimal input from those who had to actually implement the strategy or from those (other than the organisation itself) who would benefit from the strategy (customers, citizens, the environment)
  • weak linkages from high level aspirational statements to strategies, and from strategies to implementable action plans
  • poor stakeholder engagement
  • little cause-and-effect evidence that any particular chosen strategy was either a valid strategy or an optimal strategy
  • few strategies which could convincingly demonstrate that they were ‘worth it’
  • that poorly designed, poorly articulated and poorly understood strategies placed huge demands on leaders and managers to constantly guide what people were doing because the organisation' strategies provided almost no guidance
  • that it is hugely challenging to up-skill leaders and that it would often be more effective to improve systems and strategies so as to make it easier to be lead rather than to improve the leaders
  • that people can hold 5 +/- 2 interconnected ideas in their heads at any one time
  • that people respond well to well-designed physical diagrams which contain up to about 20 pieces of information but that they struggle to understand larger diagrams
  • that the key role of almost every single organisation can be defined as: ‘to create assets and enable customers/citizens to use them to create benefits’ and that therefore ‘strategy’ should focus on improving and enabling this sequence

Given the above observations and constraints, we developed the simplest possible collaborative strategy development and implementation system which uses the smallest amount of strategic information that had the highest value to the most people to define and guide the improvement of what organisations actually do. Our simple solution evolved into the sequence:

‘organisations run Projects which create Results which customers/citizens Use to create Benefits (PRUB)’.
This sequence directly mirrors the key role of every organisation as defined above i.e: to create assets and enable customers/citizens to use them to create benefits.

Everything that organisations wish to achieve can be described in the PRUB sequence so every strategy should be designed to optimise this sequence.

This Projects, Results, Uses and Benefits sequence turns out to be immensely powerful.  The use of PRUB guides the rapid and effective development, validation, implementation and performance-management of strategies using our simple constructs of SubStrategies and OpenStrategies as described in this book. PRUB is scalable from single small strategic ideas in tiny organisations to large and complicated strategies in multi-national companies and multi-stakeholder groups.

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