Charting Your Company’s Future - Out with Reports, In with Pictures

The best way to form an effective strategy is to actually visualize it and then chart it, say Professors W. Chan Kim and Renée Mauborgne. The duo, who frequently consult to business, suggest that drawing a strategy canvas helps companies break through the numbing monotony of paper in order to get to the heart of an issue. In this HBR article, they introduce a four-step process for drawing and discussing a strategy canvas, and show how companies have used it to successfully zero in on critical issues.

by Chan Kim,Renée Mauborgne
Last Updated: 23 Jul 2013

Few companies have a clear strategic vision. The problem, say W. Chan Kim, The Boston Consulting Group Bruce D. Henderson Chaired Professor of International Management and Renée Mauborgne, The INSEAD Distinguished Fellow and Affiliate Professor of Strategy and International Management, stems from the strategic-planning process itself, which usually involves preparing a large document, culled from a mishmash of data provided by people with conflicting agendas. That kind of process almost guarantees an unfocused strategy. Instead, companies should design the strategic-planning process by drawing a picture: a strategy canvas .

A strategy canvas shows the strategic profile of your industry by depicting the various factors that affect competition. And it shows the strategic profiles of your current and potential competitors as well as your own company’s strategic profile—how it invests in the factors of competition and how it might in the future. The basic component of a strategy canvas—the value curve—is a tool the authors created in their consulting work and have written about in previous HBR articles. This article introduces a four-step process for actually drawing and discussing a strategy canvas. Readers will learn how one European financial services company used this process to create a distinct and easily communicable strategy.

The process begins with a visual awakening. Managers compare their business’s value curve with competitors’ to discover where their strategy needs to change. In the next step—visual exploration—mangers do field research on customers and alternative products. At the visual strategy fair, the third step, managers draw new strategic profiles based on field observations and get feedback from customers and peers about these new proposals. Once the best strategy is created from that feedback, it’s time for the last step—visual communication. Executives distribute “before” and “after” strategic profiles to the whole company, and only projects that will help move the company closer to the “after” profile are supported.

Harvard Business Review, June 2002

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