The objective of setting an initial question is to stimulate a robust, action-oriented and risk-aware solution to a strategic problem. The problem faced should be deep and meaningful, something difficult to overcome and which fundamentally impacts the owners and organisation itself. Furthermore, because of its complexity it requires a long-term plan if it is to be overcome. So, what are 4 key considerations that make-up a good strategic question?
Firstly, its essential to consider why is there a problem – for instance some years ago we would have been able to say that e-commerce could have a significant impact on retail sales. Then we need to consider what is to be achieved? As a high street retailer, we may have wanted to grow our market share. When? Is the next question, in other words what is the time horizon that we are considering? If we hadn’t framed this question some 5-10 years ago, quite frankly we are almost certainly too late. Finally, we should ask ourselves how is this problem to be solved – for example by building a robust, risk aware and action-oriented plan that is tailored to our why? What? And when?
Once framed it's essential it becomes visible to the team throughout the development of the strategy and should always be returned to, to see if it is still relevant as written or does it need refining. This is especially important as the questions acts as a torch beam for the process and without it, it becomes next to impossible to evaluate and assess the quality of the strategy. Simply put, if you don’t know what the problem or question is how can you determine a way forward and know whether what you have done is come up with an answer?
Steve Jobs once said, “If you define the problem correctly, you almost have the solution.” That alone is worthy of spending quality time and effort in trying to define a suitable question.