Reading summaries - Strategic Planning - weeks one, two, and three, Fall 2017

A major purpose that I hope to use this blog for is to write short synopses of class readings. The intent is to reflect on what was covered in them, for the purpose of better understanding the material and seeing linkages between themes covered in the two classes.

Because I’m currently catching up on this at the start of week four of the semester, a couple of catch up posts are in order to get the blog up-to-speed. This post covers the readings from weeks one, two, and three of the Strategic Planning course.

Week one

This class started off with a bang, with roughly a hundred pages of reading due before the first day of class. Welcome to grad school, I guess. And let’s do this.

Strategic Planning for Public and Nonprofit Organizations, Bryson (2011)

The textbook assigned for the class is Strategic Planning for Public and Nonprofit Organizations, authored by our professor John Bryson. The bulk of the first week’s assignment was to read the first two chapters of this book. We also had to come prepared to analyze two case studies - one on Alexander the Great, and the other on Barack Obama’s first presidential campaign.

Chapter one - why strategic planning is more important than ever

  • Organizations that want to survive, prosper, and do good and important work must respond to the challenges the world presents.
  • Economic, social, political, technological, environmental, and organizational changes are aggravated by the interconnectedness of the world. Changes anywhere typically result in changes elsewhere.
  • Strategic planning defined as deliberative, disciplined approach to producing fundamental decisions and actions that shape and guide what an organization (or other entity) is, what it does, and why.
  • Deliberative pathways are the starting point for understanding how mutual understanding, learning, and judgment might proceed.
  • Deliberation occurs in situations requiring choice; the basic form of a deliberative statement is choice based on reasons in order to achieve ends
  • To succeed, deliberative processes and practices also need institutional and organizational arrangements in place to support them.
  • At its best, strategic planning requires deliberation informed by information gathering, clarification of the mission and goals and issues, development of strategic alternatives, and emphasis on future implications of present decisions
  • Benefits of strategic planning:
    • Promotion of strategic thinking, acting, and learning
      • Strategic thinking defined as thinking in context about how to pursue purposes or achieve goals.
      • Strategic acting is acting in context in light of future consequences to achieve purposes and/or facilitate learning
      • Strategic learning is any change in a system that by better adapting it to its environment produces a more or less permanent change in its capacity to pursue its purposes.
    • Improved decision making
      • Strategic planning helps because it focuses attention on the crucial issues and challenges the organization faces, and it helps key decision makers figure out what they should do about them.
    • Enhanced organizational effectiveness, responsiveness, and resilience
      • Good management helps create good organizational systems and response repertoires
    • Enhanced organizational legitimacy
    • Enhanced effectiveness of broader societal systems
    • Directly benefits the people involved
  • Success will depend at least in part on how leaders and managers tailor the process to their situations.
  • “the paradox of strategic planning”: it is most needed where it is least likely to work, and least needed where it is most likely to work
  • To engage in strategic planning when effective implementation will not follow is the organizational equivalent of the average New Year’s resolution.
  • There are more ways to fail than to succeed, and so possible failure is always lurking in the footsteps of incipient success.
  • Always remember that strategic planning is not a substitute for strategic thinking, acting, and learning. Only caring and committed people can do that—and almost always via deliberative processes.
  • There is simply no substitute for leadership when it comes to engaging in strategic planning effectively.
  • Strategic planning is not synonymous with creation of an organization’s strategies. It is likely to result in a statement of organizational intentions, but what is realized in practice will be some combination of what is intended with what emerges along the way
  • The ultimate end of strategic planning should not be rigid adherence to a particular process or the production of plans. Should promote wise strategic thought, action, and learning on behalf of an organization and its key stakeholders.
  • It should be used to create noteworthy public value.
  • A great advantage of the strategic planning process outlined in this book is that the process does not presume consensus where it does not exist, but can accommodate consensus where it does exist.
  • Strategic management is a more inclusive concept than strategic planning, it is a reasonable integration of strategic planning and implementation across an organization (or other entity) in an ongoing way, and should thus be considered a part of governance
  • Conceptually, it is useful to view strategic planning as the “front end” of strategic management,
  • There are many different ways to approach strategic planning in practice. This book focuses on one, the Strategy Change Cycle

Chapter two - the Strategy Change Cycle

  • The Strategy Change Cycle becomes a strategic management process—and not just a strategic planning process—to the extent that it is used to link planning and implementation and to manage an organization in a strategic way on an ongoing basis
  • The ten steps are as follows:
    1. Initiate and agree on a strategic planning process
    2. Identify organizational mandates
    3. Clarify organizational mission and values
    4. Assess the external and internal environments to identify strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, and threats
    5. Identify the strategic issues facing the organization
    6. Formulate strategies to manage the issues
    7. Review and adopt the strategic plan or plans
    8. Establish an effective organizational vision
    9. Develop an effective implementation process
    10. Reassess strategies and the strategic planning process
  • Attention to stakeholder concerns is crucial: the key to success in public and nonprofit organizations (and communities) is the satisfaction of key stakeholders according to their criteria
  • The SCC is a generic reference approach—and not the specific strategic planning process design that will be negotiated during the initial agreement step.
  • Most important thing about the SCC is that it sets up a way of thinking about the logic and requirements of a successful strategy change process. In general, the requirements typically flow from the end of the process toward the beginning
  • The SCC causal logic is as follows:
    1. Desired outcomes
    2. Can be produced by actions
    3. Whose production is guided by process design features
    4. Which are tailored to process context features
  • The SCC is not an auto repair manual. It is more like a guide to collaboratively and deliberatively designing a vehicle and the journey you will take using the vehicle
  • Although the steps are laid out in a linear sequence, the Strategy Change Cycle is iterative in practice. The process does not always begin at the beginning. It does not matter where you start, you always end up back at mission.
  • Goals and vision are thus more likely to come toward the end of the process than the beginning.

Creating Public Value and Institutional Innovations across Boundaries, Yang (2016)

In addition to the textbook, this article from Public Administration Review was assigned for week one. It posed the question, what does an effective public value creation process consist of?

  • four extant approaches—managerial expertise, ethical values, aggregation of interests, and citizen participation—coexist in an iterative process of three steps—participation, legitimation, and implementation
  • the iterative process, with institutional innovations “at the margins” cutting across boundaries between civil society, politics, and administration, is conducive to public value creation
  • The public value approaches outlined above are well developed, but each has limitations
  • The cases show that public values were identified and translated into measurable goals through public participation, which, after legitimation, directed the actions of governmental and nongovernmental actors
  • Translating abstract and subjective values into concrete and actionable directives is influenced by interpretations, as well as by power and path dependency. There is no one best way to make the translation
  • What is really critical is that the legitimation process ensures that citizen participation is appropriately structured so the outcomes can draw credible commitment and sustained support
  • Analysis suggests that regardless of the nature of participation, institutional innovations linking participation and representation facilitate public value creation
  • We believe that integrating the often disconnected arenas of participation, legitimation, and implementation increases the chances for public value creation

Week two

The volume of reading for the second week of our Strategic Planning class did not let up, with three moderately long and complex articles covering disparate subjects plus a case study assignment analyzing the problems with PennDOT in the late-1970s.

Managing Successful Organizational Change in the Public Sector, Fernandez and Rainey (2006)

This article provided an overview of literature on organizational change.

  • A consensus can be discerned that change leaders and change participants should pay special attention to these eight factors:
    1. Ensure the need
    2. Provide a plan
    3. Build internal support and overcome resistance
    4. Ensure top-management support and commitment
    5. Build external support
    6. Provide resources
    7. Institutionalize change
    8. Pursue comprehensive change
  • Researchers must confront the challenge of analyzing the relationship between the content and process of change and such organizational outcomes as perform

Making a Difference: Organization as Design, Romme (2003)

I found this article fascinating. As someone who’s career path has often intersected with technical design communities, I was intrigued by this framing of design concepts and comparison to science humanities.

  • Mainstream organizational research is based on science and humanities. This paper argues that organization studies should be broadened to include design as a primary mode of engaging in research
  • Design is characterized by an emphasis on solution finding
  • The author proposes a framework for communication and collaboration between the science and design modes
  • Design involves inquiry into systems that do not yet exist. “Will it work?” rather than “Is it valid or true?”
  • science develops knowledge about what already is, whereas design involves human beings using knowledge to create what should be
  • The first three values and ideas define the content dimension of design inquiry:
    1. each situation is unique
    2. focus on purposes and ideal solutions
    3. apply systems thinking
  • Four other ideas define the values and ideas regarding the process of design:
    1. limited information
    2. participation and involvement in decision making and implementation
    3. discourse as medium for intervention
    4. pragmatic experimentation
  • Design focuses on organizational issues and systems as artificial objects, requiring nonroutine action by agents in insider positions. The pragmatic focus on changing and/or creating artificial objects rather than analysis and diagnosis of existing objects makes design very different from science.
  • Focusing on the system in which the problem situation is embedded tends to lock designers into the current system. The task is to create a different system or devise a new one
  • Collaboration and exchange between science and design can only be effective if a common framework is available
  • If organization scholars would like their discipline to play a constructive role in society, the training and socialization of students and junior scholars is the first place to start.

Strategic Management Research in the Public Sector, Poister, Pitts, and Edwards (2010)

This article aimed to review and synthesize literature on public sector strategic management since 1985. It found substantial empirical research testing the impacts of factors on strategic management, identifying a complex set of contextual issues that encourage organizations to engage in strategic planning. This article dove into the literature is a highly technical manner probing for evidence of effectiveness. While the subject matter was complex and difficult to distill, some excellent nuggets of actionable wisdom were to contained within it:

  • Once organizations have developed strategic plans, the real challenges may lie in implementation. Public agencies appear to vary widely in how purposeful and effective they are in executing strategy
  • Strategic management is typically an iterative process, and an organization’s experience in implementing strategies may lead to revising strategy and may influence both the planning process and the content of strategies
  • Outcomes can be conceived as coming in two stages: enhanced organizational capacity versus longer term changes in performance
  • Networked organizations were more likely to engage in strategic planning than those that operated in a more traditional “closed” system
  • Strategic planning implementation problems were more likely to stem from managerial issues than political ones.
  • Senior manager support was a positive and significant factor in creating change through strategic planning, but middle manager support had no impact
  • Perhaps the most accurate conclusion to draw from this line of research is that effective strategic planning is most likely when a top leader establishes the process and creates a centralized mechanism for implementing it
  • The success of strategic planning ultimately depends on an organization’s capability to implement the system that it creates.

Week three

Week three of Strategic Planning again provided challenging readings. This time is was a chapter and resource from the textbook, plus three more lengthy articles, a pre-recorded video lecture, and a case study assignment analyzing the politics of establishing an urban growth area. By this point it’s becoming apparent that this is a difficult class which will likely remain challenging throughout the semester, and since that’s what I signed up for I’m roughly equal parts excited and filled with dread for it.

The three assigned articles this week were What You Should Know About Megaprojects and Why: An Overview, Flyvvbjerg (2014), Developmental Evaluation, Patton (2010), and Persuasion in Society, Simons and Jones (2011). I’m going to summarize these articles briefly rather than in detail here. The first of them was somewhat interesting in how it describes the challenges around massive public building projects, and enlightening in regards to showing just how few get completed within budget and how policymakers find rationale to justify them anyway. But there I just didn’t find much in the way of theory or general lessons to pick out as concepts to apply to other cases. The other two readings were plagued by a technical problem, they were scanned in two sheets to a page at a fairly low resolution and not rotated properly. That really added to the difficulty of reading them and I just don’t want to relive that going back through my highlights to summarize. The subject matter was good though seemingly far flung - the developmental evaluation article covered how different methods of evaluation fits organizations better at different stages, and put forth a model in which programs go through stages of reorganization, exploitation, conservation, and release. The persuasion article was interesting in how it covered concepts of fallacy and illustrated through a case study how difficult it can be to make a rational argument stand up in the face of well funded opposition who’s unmoved by facts and reason.

Bryson, chapter three - initiating and agreeing on a strategic planning process

  • The purpose of the first step in the Strategy Change Cycle is to develop an initial agreement. This agreement represents a plan for planning—or specific process design—intended to point the way
  • Strategic planning and management at their best involve “real learning [that] takes place at the interface of thought and action
  • Strategic learning must combine reflection with result
  • The initial agreement outlines important design features of the planning process. Ideally, the step will produce agreement on several issues:
    1. The purpose(s) and worth of the strategic planning effort
    2. Project organization, including who the sponsors and champions are
    3. The organizations, units, groups, or persons who should be engaged, and in what ways
    4. The specific steps to be followed, how the Web and information and communication technologies will be used, and the way ongoing feedback and learning will occur
    5. The form and timing of reports
    6. Resource commitments to begin the effort
    7. Key requirements for a successful effort
  • The agreement also should make clear what the “givens” are at the beginning of the process.
  • The process of reaching an initial agreement is straightforward in concept, but often rather circuitous in practice. It usually proceeds through the following stages:
    1. Initiating the process
    2. Introducing the concept of strategic planning
    3. Developing an understanding of what it can mean in practice
    4. Thinking through some of its more important implications in terms of necessary commitments and other requirements for success
    5. Developing a commitment to strategic planning
    6. Reaching an actual agreement
  • The more numerous the decision makers the more time-consuming the process will be
  • Broad sponsorship dispels any suspicion that the effort is a power play and is also a source of psychological safety
  • “Collaboration across boundaries does not happen naturally, it must be made to happen.”
  • A well-articulated initial agreement also provides a clear definition of the network to be involved and the process by which it is to be maintained.
  • The sequence should contribute to stakeholders’ sense that the process is procedurally rational.
  • It is very important to be clear from the start what is off-limits for the exercise; otherwise, several key decision makers are unlikely to participate.
  • A good agreement should provide useful preparation for any major changes that may be forthcoming
  • Coalitions typically do not develop quickly, they instead coalesce around the important strategic ideas that emerge
  • Strategic planning and management grow out of organizational or community culture, and thus any out­comes produced must tap into that culture, even if the purpose—as it usually is—is to change the culture in some ways
  • What matters most in strategic planning thus is what is not visible. Pay very careful attention to the production of those intangible but highly consequential outcomes
  • Initiating strategic planning can be worth the effort, but the process will not necessarily be a smooth or successful one.
Written on September 26, 2017