35. Managing and Validating Strategy Prior to Execution
There are three principle ways in which a plan can be verified, as part of the strategic planning pillar of the Web Reliability Framework. All three ways are really just aspects of one thing – engaging in effective conversation with the plan itself.
We have looked at the motivation layer of the strategic planning pillar, and the application of appropriate pressure to drive the customer into and through a web app with optimal flow in mind. And we have looked at the resistance layer of the strategic planning pillar, where a focus on reducing friction is fundamental for increasing smooth flow through a web property. Now it’s time to turn our attention to the third aspect, the management layer. In the context of strategic planning work, management emphasizes the critical necessity of validation - checking your strategy against reality to ensure it will work as expected. You may believe in your plan, but you must also verify it. Once you find information that supports your plan, you must also verify beyond a doubt that it is trustworthy. It’s not enough to know something; you also need to know how you know.
In general, the goal of strategic planning work is to peer into the future and anticipate what may happen, and then map out a path to your desired outcome while mitigating risks as much as possible. The most dependably successful process for validating a future-looking strategy is by adopting a conversational relationship with it. Simply put, set up a proposed strategy, then ask the following three questions, at a minimum, and see how it answers. First, ask how the plan compares to your past experience with similar plans. ‘What happened the last time we posted our URL on the side of a blimp? Is this the same or different’ Second, ask the plan how it stacks up against other current strategic methods and trends. ‘Everyone else is advertising on Google, but we want to advertise on DuckDuckGo. Is this break from convention warranted? How can I be sure?’ Third, ask the plan how it will work in reality. ‘What actually happens when other people get their first look at you?’ You can get your answer by doing a test-run of each aspect of the plan in the real world. Try posting the key themes of your thought leadership blog series on a message board with a lot of active users. Who is responding? What do they have to say? How many are interested in engaging in conversation about it? Test their responses in this contained environment before launching that blog series full blast on your website. You can ask more than three questions of course, and think of other ways to do a reality check. The payoff? When you fully scrutinize the strategy by engaging it in a conversation, and find ways to do meaningful tests in real-world environments, you get the information you need to move forward or make necessary changes first. You can proceed with confidence and full commitment. Because you don’t just have faith in your plan now, you have validated that it will work.