Strategic Planning! Why do I need to do that?

Why is strategic planning so important?  The straightforward reason is to ensure that all your organisation's resources are focussed on realising a common vision - that all of the component parts of the whole are working towards the same end.

There is no fixed methodology behind how to create strategic plans.  We have seen examples where organisations have started at the end and worked backwards and examples where they have started at the beginning and worked forwards!  But which is better? We would suggest that getting a clear understanding of your end vision is far and away the best place to start.

What is your end vision?  Your end vision is a new and improved way of running your whole organisation which delivers significant improvements, or even step change, to your key measures of success.

If that's what you're aiming for, you definitely need to understand what your key measures of success are!

True measures of success are those quantifiable factors by which you, and everyone else, will know how well you have realised your vision. Using the right ones will ensure that you can keep your finger accurately on the pulse of your business or organisation - using the wrong ones could mean that you lose direction, understanding and control.

Defining your key measures of success is critical to the successful creation of the strategic plan?  We find that the best place to start is by identifying who your main stakeholders are.  In other words, those people that you want to be pleased with the end vision. Typically this list will include customers, shareholders, suppliers, employees plus others more specific to your organisation.

Once identified, these stakeholders need to be prioritised as they will not all be of equal importance to you.  We have a great tool for simplifying the prioritisation of lists & groups.  This can be found at :

It's important to take time to understand the true importance of each stakeholder, as this will be crucial when you come to test your vision later in the process. The better focus you can get at every stage of developing your vision the stronger its definition.

The next step is to establish what will delight your stakeholders.  Asking them is always a good [but very often missed] way of doing this! Never forget to include yourself - always take time to stand back and identify what it is about the vision that would make you happy.  Ask your stakeholders to prioritise and quantify their measures of success - again getting more focus.

Now you know your key measures of success but how do you set about designing your end vision?

We find that it really helps to get as much expert opinion as possible regarding the possible alternative options which will deliver significant improvements in your key measures of success. We recommend using experts that exist within your current organisation as well as those that exist outside - tap them all for their knowledge. There is often a reluctance to open  up discussions with internal or external experts because of the fear that the options already in mind will be challenged or modified.  We would say don't be afraid!  If the initially preferred option is strong it will stand up to challenge.  If not, then this expert discussion will, more often than not, result in a stronger and more robust option [or series of options].

Knowledge areas that need to discussed are:

  • Organisation mission

  • Product and market scope

  • The basis for differentiation

  • Core competencies

  • Strategic assets

  • Core processes

  • Customer information and insight

  • Customer fulfilment/service interfaces

  • Pricing structures

  • Supplier interfaces

  • Partner interfaces

Obviously this is not a trivial exercise and should not be rushed or given only superficial attention.  The more rigour that is applied here, the more likely that the vision will succeed

With all this input gathered, someone has to create a straw-man design of the future vision. That someone has to be you or your trusted visionary.

How do you know your vision is robust?  Simply, you must test, test and test it again.

Explain the vision to the experts and ask them to pull it to pieces. Encourage criticism, search for the risks and avoid defensiveness. A robust vision will survive tough challenges. This phase is the most important and yet probably the most difficult to undertake. None of us find it easy to ask for and receive criticism of our 'baby'.

At the end of testing you must decide if the vision is indeed robust or not. If you are not convinced, then go back to the design stage and repeat the process all over again.

Once you have a robust vision - how do you make it a reality?

In order to realise your vision you must plot a route from the current position of your organisation to the new destination - and this poses a whole new set of questions:

  • Is the journey feasible?

  • How long will it take?

  • Do the benefits of realising the vision justify the risks of the journey?

  • Can you realise many of the benefits of the vision without incurring the larger risks of the journey?

  • How likely is it for someone else to realise the vision if you do not?

  • Would it be better to start afresh rather that trying to change the current organisation?

These are difficult questions to answer. However, answer them you must, in order to decide the actual destination you are going to aim for.

With the destination agreed, you now need to create the detailed plan for the journey. This can be achieved, again by using your experts, this time including experienced change facilitators such as those from the advocus team.

We find that planning workshops are an excellent means of combining the knowledge of your internal and external experts to produce credible plans with high levels of internal and external buy in.  If you'd like to find out more about our planning workshop methodologies why not give us a call.

At this point you should have created your strategic plan with a whole raft of associated actions and timelines - all you need now is to do the hard part and implement it!  Good luck.


Does your business need a Content Management System and, if so, what’s the best method to select the system that is best suited to your needs?

Firstly, what is a Content Management System [CMS]? A Content Management System is an application that utilises a database to facilitate the creation, editing, and storage of content to be published. Content includes product data, digital assets [product images, logos, page furniture etc] and publication specific data [page hierarchies etc]. In these days of multi-channel retailing, “published” refers to any of the following channels - store POS and ticketing, catalogues, other printed materials, pseudo-print [page turning .pdf apps], web, email and even SMS. A CMS allows the content to be created, managed and held in one place and then manipulated in diverse applications in order to publish via one or more channels.
Why use a CMS?
The main reason for using a CMS is to provide a single and easily managed environment in which to create, edit and manage product content for publication, thereby providing a master file of data that can easily and speedily be re-used and/or re-purposed for multiple propositions or multiple channels. There are many benefits of CMS usage which include having a single, consistent data repository; improved data accuracy; reduction in published errors; reduction or removal of duplication of effort in data creation and management and also significantly increasing the speed at which products and offers can be brought to market. Using a CMS makes it very difficult for product content or digital assets to fail to conform to your standards. All content and digital assets must pass through appropriate stages of setup and sign-off before the system uses it for publication. The resulting audit trail shows accountability and a timeline for each action taken.

Content Management Systems allow you to operate teams distributed across different locations and employ workflow technologies that make collaboration easy and significantly increase productivity. The CMS can notify a team member by email, by SMS, even by auto-generated letter and because all the major commercial systems have a web interface, team members can perform their tasks and view results from anywhere in the world using web access and appropriate security permissions.

In addition, employing these systems makes it easy to publish products in more than one channel [catalogue, web, retail etc] with the ability to make changes in one place and cascade those changes seamlessly to the web or catalogue pages in production, ensuring consistency of pricing and information to your customers.

Do these scenarios ring any bells?

  • You realise that your catalogue’s visual design isn't working, but it will take a month to wrap a new design around the same words and images.
  • Your production team / agency insists on all content being passed over and signed off months before the print date... and then when your catalogue is published you discover that some of the copy has been keyed incorrectly and your late amends have not been actioned.
  • Your Marketing team, Product Manager, Page Make Up agency and you all have local copies of spreadsheets containing product and image data with what you hope is the same information but in your heart of hearts you know it is not consistent
  • You receive product updates from suppliers and have a complicated process for updating everyone who needs to know - and it still seems to go wrong
  • You’re employing an army of expensive, skilled people just to update changes to your catalogue and web pages.
  • The cost of making changes to catalogue and web pages is a significant proportion of your total cost per page.

If the answer to any of the above is ‘yes’ then you should be using a CMS

How big should my business be before I use a CMS?
This is a question I’m often asked, and my usual answer is “Once you need more than one person to create, manage and maintain your product data and digital assets, you probably need some form of CMS”
In reality it’s not always that clear cut. However, once there are multiple users with, potentially, multiple versions of data stores [spreadsheets, image folders etc], then you should be looking to put your data into a CMS

Isn’t it expensive?
Historically, the answer to this would have been yes. However, these days, CMS vendors offer a wide variety of options from fully owned and integrated systems operating on your own server infrastructure through to ‘pay as you go’ offerings where the vendor does all of the hosting and configuration and you simply pay for as much processing and bandwidth as you use - usually referred to as Software As A Service [SAAS].
Another alternative is to use a production company that has its own CMS installed and negotiate a deal whereby they host your data [you still own it, access it and manage it] and charge you a fee for the hosting, either as a separate one off charge or a flat rate addition to the standard page rate. This applies equally to catalogue and web production.

Ok, so I’ve decided to have a CMS - how do I choose the right one?

Step 1 - understand your current situation and what your requirements are:

(a) What content / data and assets do you have? These will include:
Product copy - both technical and marketing copy
Product prices
Digital images
Digital video
Instruction manuals
Data sheets
Promotional info
Page furniture - promotional imagers, logos, images and diagrams
Legal info - Ts and Cs, terms of trade etc
Multi-language requirements
Multi-currency requirements

(b) Where is this content / data and assets currently held? These will include:
Internal systems
External suppliers
Spreadsheets - internal / external
External photographers image database(s)
External production companies
Paper based systems

(c) Where is this content / data and assets going to be used? These will include:
Store POS and ticketing
Other printed materials
Pseudo-print [page turning .pdf apps]

Step 2 - Look at your organisation structures, look at the relationships between the internal teams and also their relationships with external 3rd parties - and map them.

How do they work now? Are the current workflows ideal or are they flawed. Is every piece of data only touched once? Where are the sign-off points in the process? Where are the hand off points in the process? Who owns what content / data /assets?

Given a blank piece of paper, what would be your ideal way of working. If you’re not sure what the ideal should be, then do research, go visit non-competitor companies, seek the advice of independent consultants and trusted advisers. This is a very important stage - don’t skip it. This mapping will become important when selecting the best CMS for you and will also speed up the configuration process once you start the implementation.

Buying a CMS is not like buying other kinds of software, even if you think your requirements for using the software are fairly simple. A content management system will have an impact on your organisation at many levels. It will affect your internal team, your customers, your approach to communication, and your suppliers.

Step 3 - Create a list of CMS vendors to investigate

There are a huge number of Content Management Systems available these days and due to the wide variety of pricing options you shouldn’t be looking at price at this stage.

Create a list of potential vendors using your industry network and contacts, trusted advisers and of course the web .......and contact them all. The good ones will be able to provide demonstrations, advice, tools and resources to help you to create a Request for Information (RFI) or Request for Proposal (RFP).

Remember, when compiling your RFI, you need to ensure that you specify functionality that you MUST have and also functionality that you WANT to have. Ensure that you compile these 2 lists rigorously and make sure that you keep them distinctly separate. The inclusion of a specific set of MUSTS may well eliminate some potential vendors from your list straight away.

Once you have a completed your RFI, using all of the information you pulled together in steps (1) and (2) above (remember to get input from your 3rd party partners too), then send it to everyone on the list. It’s important that you send a single, consistent RFI document to every vendor, in order to ensure that all of the replies you get are answering the same questions.

During the evaluation process :
  • Make sure you see the product working in a real environment - not a demo version
  • Ask to see existing customers for reference visits - learn from their mistakes!
  • Evaluate each vendor’s system directly against all of your key requirements - paying particular attention to how well it satisfies your ‘MUST’ criteria. Any that don’t pass all of the MUSTS should be excluded. For detailed evaluation, I always find it useful to give my WANT criteria an importance weighting of between 1 and 10. I then score each application out of 10 against each of the ‘WANT’ criteria. It’s then easy to create a weighted score for each vendor, by multiplying the score for each of the selection criteria with it’s importance weighting, to generate a weighted score. Summing all of these gives you a weighted total evaluation score for each vendor - see example table below
Criteria Importance Vendor A Score Vendor A Weighted Vendor B Score Vendor B Weighted
Criteria A MUST    
Criteria B MUST    
Criteria C MUST    
Criteria D 10 3 30 6 60
Criteria E 8 3 24 8 64
Criteria F 5 4 20 9 45
Criteria G 7 7 49 2 14
Criteria H 2 8 16 7 14
Weighted Total   139 197

  • As discussed earlier, there are many different payment models available these days. Don’t be afraid to ask the Finance team help you in evaluating the various payment models and how they stack up against potential headcount savings, cost per page savings etc However, don’t let them choose your vendor or package!! Include the cost of ownership in your evaluation criteria
  • Talk to existing customers, for each vendor, about their implementation experience. How good was the support? How good were the vendor implementation team at linking the CMS to their legacy systems? Did the implementation team take time to understand the issues or did they just install the system?
With all of the above completed. you should now be in a position to make your final vendor selection and proceed with creating an implementation plan.
Finally, try not to make these common mistakes :
  • Don’t let your IT team choose the CMS - you have to use the CMS on a daily basis, they don't

  • Bigger is not always better - smaller vendors often have the capability to be more flexible.

  • Cheapest is not always best - no matter how much money you save up front, it’ll never seem worth it if the system doesn’t do what you want and makes day to day operations unworkable

  • Don’t skimp on research and reference site visits - this is a big change that you will live with for a long time, make sure that your research is thorough

In summary, as with most things in life, the more preparation and thought that you put into deciding whether to use a CMS or not and then choosing which one to buy the more successful will be the outcome.
  • Understand your internal processes and map them - involve the whole of your team plus 3rd party partners
  • Understand your requirements in detail
  • Be thorough in creating a definition of requirements to give to prospective vendors
  • Research each vendor thoroughly. Visit existing customers and see the system in action in a ‘live’ environment
  • Use a robust scoring process to make your purchasing decision

Tony Bishton
07768 500902