The Art of the One Page Strategy

Create a strategy that brings the business strategy into focus.

In 1967, Rollin Kin and Herb Kelleher drew a triangle on a napkin. At each point was a city: Dallas, San Antonio and Houston. The two men created a vision for a low-cost commuter airline moving passengers between the three cities. And so, Southwest Airlines was born, alongside a new industry for low-cost air transportation.

As the CIO becomes more involved shaping the future of an enterprise, it is time to become more involved in the strategy.

“If a CIO is to do one thing, and nothing else, it is to help the enterprise understand how information and technology enable business capabilities that drive business success,” says Heather Colella, Vice President Analyst, Gartner.

Read more: How CIOs Can Ensure a Seat at the Strategy Table

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Begin the strategy

Creating a strategy begins with an understanding of the Value Disciplines model created by Michael Treacy and Fred Wiersema, authors of the “Discipline of Market Leaders.” Successful companies differentiate themselves in one of three ways:

  1. Customer intimacy: making money by forging deep customer relationships (e.g., Nordstrom’s)
  2. Operational excellence: providing reasonable quality at low cost (e.g., Walmart)
  3. Product leadership: future-focused and able to predict and create customer demand (e.g., Apple)

Knowing which approach your company uses serves as a lens to focus the strategic decisions and investments to be made. For example, a product leader would invest more heavily in innovation processes and ensuring the company gets product to market before the competition.

To create your version of Southwest’s back-of-the-napkin strategy or what is commonly known as the one-page strategy, start with one of the following approaches: (choose one)

  1. Tell a stakeholder story. Look at the strategy through stakeholders’ eyes. Identify the stakeholders in your story and tell their story. If you are an airline wanting to improve customer service, you might tell a story from the perspective of those using your airline and demonstrate what they really think about the sorely lacking service today.
  2. Tell a product story. Tell the story from the point of view of a customer/product. Put your customer or product in the center of the picture and talk to what you need to do as a company for your customer to be happy or your product to be successful.
  3. Tell a process story. Use a process view of the enterprise to highlight the vision. Identify the top five to seven core business processes that when optimized, will help achieve success. Identify the capabilities required by the process for that success to be delivered.

Next, commit your strategy to paper. Remember this is an iterative process that should be revisited and changed as necessary.

Gartner analyst Heather Colella's chart for the art of the one page strategy. This chart focuses on a three to six year plan for CIOs.

For example, this process-focused strategy highlights a three- to six-year plan for a new CIO.

  • Years 1 – 2 (the base): Invest in IT, creating a platform from which future growth can be enabled.
  • Years 3 – 4: Remove duplication and complexity from the business processes.
  • Years 5 – 6: Grow the business by creating value-added solutions for customers.

This article has been updated from the original, published on October 20, 2016, to reflect new events, conditions or research.

Gartner clients can read more in the report The Art of the One-Page Strategy by Heather Colella.

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