How to get into strategy work, how to do strategy.

White Jigsaw Puzzle Illustration

So honestly guys, I get asked a lot about how to get into strategy and/or consulting.  Or simply how to do a strategy.

On LinkedIn, on Twitter, on Facebook.  And these days even IG and TikTok.  There are many ways to get into strategy and consulting.  Here’s what I tell the people who come to me.

This covers the basics of those questions.

How to get into strategy as a profession, or simply get better at strategy.

(The strategy strategy?)

How I found my way is simple.

My Path – I went through a series of jobs doing analysis and project management that lead organically to portfolio planning and strategic planning. Which forced me to learn basic business skills like spreadsheets, databases, planning, meeting facilitation, budgeting, schedules, process improvement, change management, staffing, HR, finance, and accounting.

Basic business skills are good for understanding how businesses work. Which is different from strategy, but very complementary to doing strategy for business.

Strategy. Basically, my path here is as simple as just reading and studying all the time.

Overall, strategy is simply problem-solving. But it’s also a series of tools and processes to lead groups of people on the journey of identifying problems, planning out solutions, and making solutions happen in a changing world where the strategy changes as the world does.

I really just put in a lot of work to get into what I’m doing now. I studied what I wanted to learn, practiced it at work, volunteered to do things at work and in professional societies that gave me no extra money or recognition. I applied all the cool strategy tricks I was learning to my work, my jobs, my life. And learned how to do it.  I used my career, my family, my co-workers, and my life as experiments to see how the theory worked in practice.  I learned that anything can work somewhere, it’s making sure that the techniques align what needs to be done and who is doing them.

Really it just comes down to putting in the time to get good at what you want to do.

Look at your experience… And then fill in the gaps.  As a professional, strategy work and strategy consulting can look like many different things.  Just the world of marketing and advertising often call themselves strategists (at selling things).

Business strategy classically come down to a few things

  • Marketing and Communications – because you will always be selling something – a product, and idea, buy-in, a strategy.
  • Competitive Intelligence – what’s going on
  • Strategic Planning / Strategic Foresight – how to make a strategic plan
  • Business Analysis, Business architecture, process improvement – understanding business
  • Data Science – knowing how to draw conclusions from all that data and numbers on computers – at the basics know the difference between Python and SQL, learn how to make and use dashboards.  i.e automate your spreadsheets to save time.
  • Finance and Accounting – because you gotta pay for it.
  • HR and Organizational Change Management – because you need people to make things happen
  • Leadership – you gotta get those in power to trust and help you
  • Project Management – simply a solid tool kit for using a variety of resources to achieve an end goal.
  • Procurement / Supply Chain – know how to spend a billion dollars responsibly.
  • Economics – you gotta know how the world works
  • Behavioral science – at least the basics of people and organizational psychology
  • Industry knowledge – you have to understand how your client’s industry works and what the typical cultures are like.  What laws and regulations they follow, how much money they make, how much money they can spend on strategy, how quickly they can change, and why.

That last part may seem obvious?  But I have learned the hard way is what makes you a star in one industry makes you a problem in another.   Every industry and every company has it’s own culture.  Figure out how they do things before it hurts you.  Some cultures are forgiving, many are not. Sometimes the culture is awesome but that one executive makes everything painful.  You don’t know until you do your research.

Once you do all that you are basically a small consulting firm onto yourself.  Which is what strategy takes – because strategy is not making one department or tool work.  Strategy is connecting the dots between everything, seeing what is important, and making lots of departments, tools, systems, structures, and agendas work together for a common goal.

You asked, so here’s the basic strategy to get good at strategy, or to build your own strategy
1 Assess the future. Really look at the world around you. Look up environmental scanning, futures, strategic foresight. The goal here is to figure out what the world looks like in the future, so you have an idea of where you can go, and what will change. You want to benefit from future changes, and not be hurt by them (like pandemics).

2 – Assess yourself. really understand how much time, money, and energy you have to put into this project of changing your career. Actually write down your constraints – how much time, money, and energy you have. Be realistic.

And also write down what motivates you, what your actual goals are. And make sure those goals align well with the future you see.

Literally align your resources, ability, expectations, and goals with what is possible and achievable in the future.

Be as aggressive and ambitious as you like, but understand that it will be harder and take longer than you expect. Life always gets in the way. Look at every project you’ve done in your career – things always happen that complicate getting stuff done.

This may simply be a ton of research on strategy, business, consulting, and various industries and complementary skills like data science to understand what those skills are and how to do it. Look at people who have careers in data analysis/data science and see how they got there.

3 – Write down a strategic plan.
Scope – the goals you want to achieve
What you have to do to achieve those goals
Schedule – what does the path look like, how long will it take, when will you find or make the time to make the journey?  Have milestones and a way to see progress to celebrate.
Budget – How much money can you invest? Are you doing this in your free time with now money? Are you doing a Graduate Degree? There are many paths that achieve the same goals.
Staffing – is there anyone who can help you, support you
Measurement / tracking – How do you measure progress and keep yourself going?
Risk management – Write down everything you think can go wrong. Mark them all for how likely they are, how bad they will be, and what you can do to prevent or manage those risks.
Tactics – figure out what works for you – Audiobooks? Paper books, Classes, online work, library, reading in bed after you put the kids to sleep? Quitting your job and going back to school? Everyone is different. Build a strategy that plays to your strengths and preferences. Make it as easy as you can on yourself.

4 – Scenario planning.
A scenario plan is a what-if scenario to your strategic plan. Literally what the journey and end looks like, what you will have to react to, and change to make the strategy happen.
I recommend 4 scenarios:
1 – Best case scenario – if everything goes perfect, what does it look like? this is “war gaming” your strategic plan.
2 – Worst case scenario – If everything goes wrong, but you still succeed. What are the things that can go wrong, what do they look like? Can you spot them before they happen, how will you adapt? The risk assessment from above will help feed this
3 – Most likely scenario – what do you think will really happen? How do you adapt and succeed as life gets in the way?
4 – Alternate Scenario – This is the fun part to get creative. What if your goals change? Or you get a Job offer you can’t refuse? Or the economy goes sideways? Look at the analysis of future trends, pick a future trend that can affect your job (Like climate change makes urban planning really fun) look for some sort of disruption that would force you to radically change your strategy, and what that strategic plan would look like.

Scenario planning gives you the tools and preparation you need to react to changes. No plan survives contact with the real world.  Your strategy will change.

Once you have that it just executing the plan (which is rarely easy). Adapting to changes, being flexible, changing the plan, and how and what you do as you learn more and have to deal with new changes.

Periodically – monthly or annually – measure your progress, reassess the future, yourself, your plan, your risks, your scenarios. Change them as you like, celebrate your wins,  and keep going.

After that, it’s really just repeating the above cycle as you adapt to change and you keep going until you either quit or die.

That’s the basics of it.

Let me know if that helps.

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