An interview with Dr. Stefan Pastuszka, lecturer at Steinbeis University
Typically, it is impossible to know upfront whether a strategy will be successful or not. Only time will tell. This is why it is all the more important for organizations to look carefully into strategy development. An expert who works intensively in this area is Dr. Stefan Pastuszka, lecturer for the online M.A./MBA (USA) general management program run by the Graduate School at the department of Leadership and Management at Steinbeis University. He teaches students and shares know-how and methods required to conduct projects in the field of strategy and foresight management. In a recent interview, he joined Nick Lange of the School of International Business and Entrepreneurship (SIBE), also at the Business School in the department of Leadership and Management, to talk about the challenges of agile strategy development.
Hello Dr. Pastuszka. The complex area of strategy development appears all over the place in your resume. What made you focus on this subject?
Strategy is one of the topics that have been with me all the way in my career. During my work for different companies, I learned to know plenty of different markets, business models, and strategic approaches. Meanwhile, I am active as a strategy and innovation consultant, helping people and organizations to bring clarity and structure into complex subjects so that they can gear themselves up properly for the future. It is a really good fit with my lecturing at the Graduate School in the Leadership and Management department at Steinbeis University, because my teaching focuses on strategy and foresight management.
What motivated you to publish yet another book on this topic?
When I was writing my first book, I had the idea of a canvas-based approach to strategy planning, similar to the well-known business model canvas. Actually, at that time there were quite a number of different canvas methods around, but not a single one dedicated to strategy, a topic that’s so central and relevant to companies. There were two things that motivated me to publish a book on this topic. One had to do with the way people work with canvas models, which I find fascinating and productive. For instance, I’m constantly inspired by the way you can map and develop business models with the business model canvas. The second thing was my enthusiasm for the future and innovation. That inspired me to pull the two together and create an intuitive method in tune with modern thinking and ways of working – a tool that makes it easier to improve decision-making for the future.
How important would you say a good strategy is for a company? What are the consequences of a “bad” strategy?
Actually, the most important thing is that companies have a clear strategy at all. Especially when looking at small and medium-sized enterprises, there are some that do not spend much time on formalized strategy development. Frequently, top managers do have a strategy in their heads, but often there is no structured and documented discussion about it.
Whenever companies pursue a certain big goal, there are typically several possible paths that could be taken. Some of those paths may take them on detours, and some may turn out to be dead ends. On the wrong path, companies therefore either don’t reach their goal quickly enough, or in the worst case they do not get there at all – and the available resources are not used properly. But it’s only afterward that you can judge whether a strategy was “good” or “bad”. Therefore, one has to concentrate on the path that looks most promising from the current standpoint.
What is the typical approach to strategy development? And what’s the difference between conventional strategic planning methods and your model, the Strategy Explorer?
In my experience, the approach to strategy development strongly depends on the individual company. Big companies often use elaborate processes for developing strategies. These include certain cycles in which strategies are created, modified, presented, and signed off. But of course that requires the right resources, which smaller companies often cannot afford. And more often than not, they do not have dedicated strategy experts to spend time looking into topics in detail. In many cases, people who are not strategy professionals have to do the main work. In terms of tools, they select singular methods from from the big box of strategy development tools and combine them for their own purposes. But even that takes a certain amount of expertise, otherwise it becomes noticeable in the results. If all you have is a hammer, every problem might look like a nail. The M.A./MBA (USA) seminars I run for the Graduate School degrees at the department of Leadership and Management at Steinbeis University allow students to learn the different tools of strategy planning, and apply these directly to their own management projects. I think it is a good starting point for transferring this knowledge into companies.
The Strategy Explorer is basically constructed around well-established standard methods, although in a compact format and embedded into an overall process. One of the difficulties with using disconnected tools in companies is that, for example, different teams conduct assessments based on different premises in the process. The difficult bit is to then to re-connect these results. With the Strategy Explorer, this problem does not arise because from the very beginning the team draws an overall strategic picture – so the overarching goal and chains of reasoning are always clearly visible for everyone.
The Strategy Explorer encourages strategy development in a diverse team, mapping all key findings on a single page. This gives people clarity and structure, and it forces them to focus on the essentials. In principle, you can see this new kind of strategy canvas like drafting a game plan in sport. For example, you have a long-term goal and look at the strengths and weaknesses of your own team or the opponent. The Strategy Explorer takes you through the process of strategy development in six steps. These start with defining the subject, cover the vision and mission and continue with analyzing the business environment and understanding your strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, and threats, as well as their implications. Finally, you pull everything together and prioritize potential big steps and strategic options that could be taken. As a result, you formulate the most promising way forward: your strategy. By allowing companies to work out everything on a single piece of paper, the Strategy Explorer ensures they don’t get bogged down by details. Instead, they maintain an overview and stay on the right strategic flight altitude.
How does your model help companies going forward?
The Strategy Explorer is a method that helps companies identify promising strategies for the future – within different areas, within a compact time frame, and based on active participation. These strategies can be created quickly and flexibly, looking at things from a number of different angles. In many cases, teams finish the work within a day. Depending on the mode of work, and potentially additional research that may be needed, the initial results can be seen as a kind of strategy prototype, and this can be taken forward and checked again, fine-tuned, and translated into concrete actions.
Stefan Pastuszka describes his new strategy development tool in his recent book, “Strategy Explorer – das Strategiewerkzeug für Teams. Für jedes Business die passende Strategie entwerfen” (German). For more information, go to www.strategy-explorer.xyz .