Try Strategy Horizons Versus a Timeline

setting strategy

Here’s the scenario.  You’ve got people asking you to express your strategy as a set of milestones extending through a certain amount of time.  This puts you in the mindset of building out a timeline and dropping in various important strategic events you see happening in the future.  But even if you try to limit yourself to the next 6 months you struggle with the perceived precision of showing things happening on certain dates or even in certain months.

Predicting the Future

Investors especially appreciate startups that are able to foretell what they’re going to accomplish in the future and do just that.  It’s so amazingly difficult to achieve that even accomplishing 80% of what they foretell is rewarded with credibility.  And that considerably increases the odds of convincing them to invest.

Strategy Horizons

Instead of a timeline, show your strategic milestones in what are referred to as “strategy horizons”.  It’s as simple as breaking the timeline into three horizons.  Two is minimal but I tend to prefer three.  A one year projection might be broken into next 3 months, 3-6 months and 6-12 months.  Now all you need to do is decide which horizon to drop your various strategic milestone events into.  This is MUCH easier and yet something that conveys your strategy and key milestone objectives in a way that prospective investors, board directors, strategic partners or candidates for executive employment positions can digest with clear understanding.

Here’s an example of a way you might graphically depict the exercise:

Strategic Horizons

The vertical axis doesn’t represent anything in particular unless you decide to have it represent significance.  But the main idea is to create “buckets” (horizons) for dropping your various strategic milestones into.  And you get to decide what represents a “strategic milestone”.  I just provided a few examples.  As you grow and can plan/predict further into the future, double the duration of each horizon so that the graphic extends to 24 months.

Want to create your own strategy horizon graphic?  Click here for a blank PowerPoint template.

Review and Update

The benefit of this tool isn’t just to convey your predicted future to others.  It should also be used as a management tool internally.  In other words, on some appropriate frequency (monthly, quarterly, etc), review your progress towards the stated milestones and update the graphic accordingly.

For milestones that were missed, yet remain important, dive into a postmortem review to determine what happened and how to avoid the missed forecast in the future.  Getting good at predicting the future and then making it happen is a superpower that will pay huge dividends in the future.  And even if you get good at it in the early days when you have fewer than 20 employees doesn’t mean you’ll remain good at it as you continue to grow.  Instituting processes, discipline and a culture for predictability requires regular refinement to match the increasing complexities and moving parts of a growing organization.

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