Strategic Planning

The best way to predict the future is to…create it!using the Perception Dynamics approach

The Perception Dynamics approach to Strategic Planning enables you to develop Strategic Plans that are so inherently robust, even in highly unpredictable conditions, that they dramatically increase the certainty of successfully achieving the desired goals. Furthermore, the Strategic Plans produced using the Perception Dynamics approach, can be seamlessly integrated into the operational structure to ensure complete alignment within an organisation.

Traditionally, the Strategic Planning process has often focused on developing plans by defining where the organisation is now, where it needs to be, and then identifying the activities or processes that will have to be carried out in order for the organisation to achieve its goal.

However, as Strategic Planning inevitably deals with long time-scales in an ever changing world, there is typically a high degree of uncertainty about the future conditions in which the plans are expected to succeed. Unfortunately, as the conditions become more and more unpredictable, plans based on activities or processes become less and less useful. Indeed, planned activities can often become even less useful when those strategies have to be implemented by people other than those who originally developed the plans.

A simple analogy of this problem can be seen by considering someone who has to drive a car in order to arrive at a specific destination. Clearly, the conditions experienced are likely to vary considerably from one journey to the next. It would be pointless to make a plan of the journey for someone, by detailing the separate activities such as “turn the steering wheel” or “press the accelerator”.

These activities may well be the types of activities you can observe when someone is driving a car. However, they give no indication of what is really happening as the driver continually monitors and responds to the often unpredictable conditions that are continually being created by other cars, pedestrians, traffic lights, road signals etc. Even with this barrage of unpredictable events, the driver and car are still likely to arrive at the desired destination in a way that cannot be accurately modelled or represented by a planned set of activities or processes. Somehow, the car and driver create a complete, intelligent control system that is able to initiate any of the processes required to avoid the obstacles, keep within the externally defined constraints such as red signals or speed limits, and still arrive at the predicted destination.

Strategic planning is a process that inherently has to deal with substantial uncertainty and variability caused by external factors such as competitors, customers, governments, trade unions etc. So, if we want to develop plans that are robust enough to deal with such substantial variability and uncertainty, we need to model and develop those plans, not in activities or processes, but in units that are analogous to the complete control system created by the car and driver. These units would represent intelligently controlled services that have the inherent capability of achieving a critical goal, whatever the conditions.

Perception Dynamics uses the concept of a service “pod” in order to represent an Intelligent, Controlled Service that has been specifically designed to have the capability of creating or achieving a specific critical future state, even in variable circumstances. The term “pod” is meant to represent the concept of a shell, capsule or boundary that contains the complete controlled service, including all its component parts such as the control systems, the processes triggered by those systems, and all the other resources necessary for success.

A “pod” is analogous to a space pod or vehicle. So, from inside the pod, it would be possible to view the controller triggering all the processes necessary to guide the pod to avoid unpredictable obstacles in order to achieve its ultimate goal. The controller would be achieving this by viewing the control panel giving continual feedback of relevant information and using that information to take the appropriate, intelligent decisions.

A pod can also be viewed from the outside. From this point of view, we cannot see the detailed processes or activities that are being used inside the pod. Nevertheless, even without seeing the operational detail that can only be viewed from inside, we are still able to make a reasonable prediction of the pod’s capability of achieving a particular goal, from experience of the past performance of this pod, or other similar types of pod.

However, unlike planning activities or processes, pods cannot be identified by planning forwards from the current state. Because pods are control systems aimed at achieving critical goals, they have to be identified by planning backwards from the critical, future state that they are created to achieve.

In order to understand this approach, imagine a situation where you need to finalise the terms of a very substantial order with a client who is situated in a country of which you had little geographical knowledge. The meeting has been arranged for 10 a.m. in two days time. The urgency of the meeting means that you have to plan the travel arrangements yourself.

Instinctively, in order to solve the problem, you would probably mentally start at the future meeting, and try to develop a plan, in reverse order, of the various services that you would require. You would probably start by trying to identify the location of the client’s premises and its proximity to the nearest international airport. If it was relatively close to such an airport, you would probably assume that you could engage either a taxi service, or a car hire service to complete the last leg of your journey. So you would work on the next problem of identifying airlines that provided services to the destination airport, which would connect to an airport in your starting locality and which would arrive at the destination airport before a critical time of, for example, 9 a.m.

If you had an option of two different airlines, both providing services that arrived at roughly the same time, you might choose the airline which, from your past experience, had the best reputation for controlling their services to arrive on time.

Although this may again seem an obvious example, it demonstrates that, in uncertain conditions, in order to ensure success in achieving a critical future state, you do not plan forwards in activities or processes. You have to plan back from the future critical states, and identify intelligent services pods that could be created, influenced or controlled to give the desired degree of certainty of success. To do this, initially you do not need to know any details of the internal operational processes that are being carried out by those services.

However, a slightly closer look, at what might appear to be such an obvious and common sense way to solve such problems, starts to uncover the detail of a very powerful approach to solving all types of problem where the outcome is critical, but where there is initially considerable uncertainty surrounding the solution that could ensure success.

In order to do this, it is important to understand that, when viewing a pod strategically from the outside, we are simply interested in the critical interfaces and their relationships. For example, when considering the international flight service, we might only be interested in the destination landing time (the critical output interface of the flight service) and the related latest check-in time at the departure airport (the critical input interface of the flight service).

Being able to identify the pod input states, which are critical to the certainty of successfully achieving a specific pod output state, is the essential information we require in order to connect pods together to create an overall solution that has the highest certainty of success.

However, in order to solve the travel problem, we were, probably subconsciously, planning backward paths for every individual factor that was critical to success. For example, having identified the most probable pod solution was an international air flight, we started with the critical factor of location. Starting at the location of the clients premises we identified the location of the nearest international airport. Planning backwards, we would have identified the specific airlines that had services from the location of a departure airport near to the location of our home or business. We would then have identified a complete set of pods that, together, were able to connect to give a complete path of critical locations, through which we would have to pass.

Having identified a potential critical path of locations, we would have to then repeat the process for the next most critical factor, for example, time. We would have to do this in order to work out exactly which flight service would enable us to arrive at the destination by the critical time. The next set of critical factors we would need to check would be our ability to make contracts with all the critical services or pods. We may be fairly certain that we could make contracts with taxi services at either end of our journey, but we may be less certain of the contract that would enable us to use the specific flight service we required. If we could not obtain a ticket because the flight was already full, there may be little point in arriving at the departure airport before the critical check-in time.

It is the various paths of critical contracts that enable us to bind all the various service pods into an overall service that will create the future we require. However, a purchase type of contract is not the only type of contract that enables us to utilise services that are in the control of other people. There are many types of “psychological” contracts that do not involve the purchase of services. For example, you may arrive at the destination airport to find that there is a strike of local taxi drivers. When you phone the client to explain the situation, the client may offer to come and collect you.

This may not seem much like a traditional form of contract. Nevertheless, it is in fact an agreement or contract that can allow you to achieve critical success, by engaging services that you would be unable to purchase and over which you had no direct control. Indeed, in this case, it is a service that has cost no more than the cost of a phone call, which would almost certainly be less than that of the taxi.

In any type of planning, if the certainty of success is dependent on services that cannot be directly purchased, but are in the control of people, groups or organisations over which you have no direct control, the ability to construct, maintain and strengthen psychological contracts is one of the most powerful, but under-utilised, ways of increasing the certainty of success. Such contracts are often far easier to create than is generally understood. By working back from the perceived needs of the other party, it is often a relatively simple process to identify a Multi-Win situation that can form the basis of a psychological contract. In the flight example, the client was presumably prepared to provide an unpaid taxi service because he considered that the benefit of finalising the order details on-time was worth the additional effort.

Thus, the concept of “pods”, “paths of critical states” and “contracts” that are capable of binding the individual pods into an overall effective service, ensures that the Perception Dynamics approach to Strategic Planning is able to give far more planning power than those planning methodologies that use simple activities or processes.

Pods are completely scalable, from the simplest service carried out by a single individual, to complete organisations or societies. They can represent any type of service. They provide the method of completely integrating operational services, strategies, performance measures, control structures, people, processes, skills, motivation, management, leadership, teams and projects. Pods can be analysed into smaller pods, or built up into complete organisational structures of pods.

Using this approach, Strategic Planning starts with a hypothetical pod, or controlled service, that is capable of producing the desired future. Each critical area of uncertainty can be reduced until it is clear that it is possible to create sub-pods and related contracts that are capable of overcoming each uncertainty. Each sub-pod has a strategic owner who is sufficiently capable of taking ownership and responsibility for creating an operational pod, which in turn is capable of achieving success.

Because every pod is connected to another pod at every critical and measurable interface, complete structures of intelligent, controlled services can be constructed. This construction of contracted interfaces eliminates the traditional situation that allows issues to remain unresolved because they apparently fall into black holes, where no one feels responsible for having to resolve them.

Furthermore, Perception Dynamics identifies different types of pods. Operational pods fulfil today’s demands of the recipient pods. Strategic pods ensure the organisation can supply the needs of tomorrow, by creating the future operational pods with the necessary capabilities. Whilst Leadership pods have the capability of finding and contracting owners who are both committed and sufficiently skilled to create the necessary strategic pods.

In this way, strategic plans, produced by the Perception Dynamics approach, can be totally integrated into the fabric of an organisation. They can be continually monitored so that corrective actions can be triggered where necessary to ensure that the organisation can genuinely achieve the desired, predicted future state.

Perception Dynamics develops strategic plans in terms of nouns and adjectives describing the service pods, owners, paths, critical states and contracts. This contrasts with the traditional approaches that typically use verbs that describe activities. By using such concepts within the Strategic Planning Process, the Perception Dynamics approach assists in designing and creating intelligent, flexible, adaptable, learning and high performing organisations.

If you would like to know more about how the Perception Dynamics approach can help you to improve performance, by developing and implementing robust strategic plans, please let us know your requirements by clicking this email link.