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4 Characteristics of an Excellent Strategic Plan

I recently had the opportunity to attend and speak at a conference on innovation. Although the speakers and content were interesting, one speaker made a particular impression on me – John Warden III, retired US air force colonel.

Colonel John A. Warden III, USAF, Ret.

While his talk was very short, without media supports and not necessarily about innovation, his points on “principles & characteristics of good strategy” hit home…even more so as I learned they were rooted in his incredible experience as one of the key architects of the Gulf War air strategy.

John Andreas in his book John Warden and the Renaissance of American Air Power (2007), describes him as: “the leading air power theorist in the U.S. Air Force in the second half of the twentieth century” and also “one of the most creative airmen of our times. John Warden is not just a creative airman; he is one of America’s premier strategic thinkers.”

According to Warden, a good strategy...

  1. Gives a clear vision of the future: it answers the question “what does the outcome look like?” in enough detail that allows to work & plan backwards to create a roadmap to get there. It contains detailed descriptions, dates, timelines, etc.

  2. Identifies centers of gravity for change: it considers internal and external domains (inside/outside of organization) to identify key areas of change whose impact can be assessed and modularized into specific workstreams.

  3. Time compression: the longer the change takes to happen, the lower the probability of success. A good strategy can take significant time to plan, but should be swift and decisive in execution, even if this means dividing it into smaller “time chunks” with intermediate strategic outcomes.

  4. Provides an exit plan for success or failure: understands the risk of “organizational stall” by clearly answering the questions: “what happens when we get there?” OR “what’s ‘plan B’ if it’s not working…and how will we know

Leaders like you are always working on some element of strategic planning (or should be). What’s yours? How does it measure up? How can you improve it to be more in line with these principles?

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