Working in strategy is a demanding job.
It means bringing together people across all the functions of an organization. From product and sales, to marketing, engineering, legal and human resources. Just to name a few.
To keep the job as simple as possible, it's important for strategy managers to have a concrete set of deliverables. When you think in terms of concrete deliverables you can look for examples of greatness for each and hone your craft around them.
I want to share what I believe are the top 10 most important deliverables for strategy managers. In doing so I hope it demystifies what you actually do in the role and provides a framework for quickly selecting the appropriate deliverable.
Let’s get straight to it.
1. Work Plan
You shouldn’t start a project without a work plan. A work plan is the starting point for every single project that a strategy manager takes on. It outlines the objective of the project, how it will be completed, the timelines, dependencies (e.g. data required) and the roles and responsibilities of each key stakeholder.
The work plan only needs to be 5 slides long, and then tested with the project sponsor and other key stakeholders. But once you have this in place with the approval of each key stakeholder, finishing projects is just a matter of following the work plan. Your outputs and outcomes will match with what the organization wanted, and you’ll look like a star.
2. Strategic Plan
Number 2 on the list regards a process strategy managers are involved in on a regular cycle, whether it’s yearly or every 3 or 5 years. That’s strategic planning, and the output from this process is a strategic plan. You might do this for the entire organization, or a business unit within an organization, but it’s important to have a solid strategic plan template ready-to-go.
A strategic plan basically boils down to outlining:
- Where are we now
- Where are we going
- How are we going to get there
This needs to take into account every relevant function, department and capability and all backed by assumptions and workings in a financial model (more on that later). The hardest part of strategic planning is often the process (particularly stakeholder engagement) and the deliverable is often straightforward once everything is agreed.
3. Business Case
A business case is the most common deliverable, in my experience. As a strategy manager you’ll often get approached by a colleague who’s looking to make an investment in people, process, technology, or some other asset. They need documentation that supports that investment and justifies the return on investment, shows why it’s a priority and includes an implementation plan and a plan to mitigate any risks.
You’ll do hundreds of these. Here’s my go to structure:
- Current State
- Case for Change
- Future State Options
- Recommendation and Benefits
- Implementation Plan (Including Risks)
The most important part for me is nailing the case for change. Which essentially addresses the question: “Why should we do anything in the first place?” If you get through this barrier and convince decision makers to act, the rest tends to fall into place.
Read my in-depth interview on writing a business case.
4. Commercial Due Diligence
Strategy (and therefore strategy managers) usually sits under the same umbrella as Corporate Development, and if not, very close. That’s why it’s common for a strategy manager to be pulled in on the due diligence for an acquisition the company is making. Normally, they’ll focus on the commercial side of the due diligence with the main questions: “Does this fit our strategy?” and “What will be our return on this investment?”
Commercial due diligence is not as scary as it appears. It’s just:
- Market: A market deep-dive
- Competition: An analysis of competition
- Valuation: Making sure the financials justify the price
This is all achieved through analysis of company provided materials, research you conduct on the market and competition and a series of interviews and surveys (surveys are the special sauce that is often overlooked). Then packaged into a neat document with those three sections.
Read my in-depth interview on commercial due diligence.
5. Business Review
A business review is much like a commercial due diligence, but for an existing business that your company owns. Your exec might be looking at which businesses to invest in to grow, look for business improvement opportunities, or might be thinking about divesting a business.
Conducting a business review and producing a document much like the commercial due diligence will help the exec understand the market and competitive landscape. Using this they will determine whether you have a competitive advantage and the business forms part of your overall portfolio.
6. Financial Model
A financial model is a dedicated deliverable that backs the analysis and work done in a strategic review, business case, commercial due diligence and business review. Sometimes you’ll even develop a financial model as a stand alone deliverable if your project sponsor has a very specific question they are trying to address.
Keep your financial models clean, well structured and easy to follow. Make sure all assumptions are clear and the structure follows a driver tree for the underlying business. It’s always best practice to develop a template financial model for the business and industry you’re working in. This is a huge time saver and ensures your analysis is consistent across projects.
7. Market Entry Study
Whether it’s for a business line or a specific product or service, companies are often looking for growth and a frequent request of strategy managers is a market entry study. Sometimes this is narrowly framed into geographies (whether local or global) but also needs to include the customer and product dimensions as well. Think of the classic BCG growth matrix.
The key to nailing a market entry study is in the design. You’ll use a framework like market attractiveness vs. ability to win to set up your deliverable, but within this you want to make sure you choose measurements that align to your company and strategy. The output of your market entry study should be a clear recommendation in which markets to enter, which no to, and why.
8. Implementation Plan
Often a standalone project, sometimes a stakeholder needs a quick implementation plan spun up to show activities, dependencies, stakeholders and roles and responsibilities. You should have a 5 slide template ready to go. Often just sending a clear and easy-to-use template through to your colleague can be enough to stop this request in its tracks, and they’ll do it themselves.
I recommend that you go for this approach, and thank me later.
9. Risk Assessment
There will be situations in your career as a strategy manager where you become aware of projects happening across the business that are off track. Sometimes miles off track. When you see it, your experience kicks in and you want to catch it before it becomes worse.
Just talking through it with heavily invested stakeholders often won’t work. You need a piece of work that stops the project in its tracks, so it can be fixed. This is where a risk assessment comes in handy, so you have an evidence-based document to show to the exec that outlines the problem and your proposed solution. It’s a super handy deliverable to have on the ready.
Don’t get me wrong, you’ll have a risk assessment slide on just about every deliverable on this list that shows the key risks you’ve identified and mitigations. This is best practice. What I’m talking about here is a different beast. Call it a pre-mortem. But having it written down in a logical document is all important so everyone can get on the same page.
10. Status Report
A mainstay of the strategy manager toolkit the status report is a workhorse much like the work plan, just used during a project rather than exclusively at the start. Providing a well-written status report at key milestones of your projects will keep the exec informed, key stakeholders accountable and increase the changes the the overall project remains on-track. Definitely worthy of its spot in the top 10 strategy manager deliverables.
If you can master these 10 deliverables, you’ll have a complete toolkit to excel as a strategy manager. I hope this helped you round out your skill set.