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Caveat: This piece is ‘not’ for the strategy and forecasting experts, just for those with some limited or little knowledge in these areas… Nor is it intended to be all-inclusive, otherwise it would be a book.

Forecasting and making strategic decisions or strategizing efforts are large subject matter areas, and I hope I shed a different perspective on it for some readers out there. This writing is only the tip of the iceberg in these fields. This is a huge subject matter, forecasting and making strategic decisions or strategizing efforts, and I hope I shed a different perspective on it for some readers out there. My intent is to contribute my fair share for others who are not as cognizant in the areas of strategy and forecasting.

With all the many, many books on strategy, on forecasting, on future casting out there, I am submitting viewpoints from my MBA days (early 2000s), my time learning, studying and using during my cybersecurity work (past & current) and my Intelligence Analyst/Officer work (past & current).

And as to my mentioning Intelligence in the title, it plays the same role in business intelligence as it does in national security intelligence (i.e. CIA, military, State Department) with the same needs in getting the job done.

 

Definitions:

First, a couple of definitions and the variability within those definitions…

Forecasting (multiple definitions)

  • The process of making statements about events whose actual outcomes (typically) have not yet been observed. A commonplace example might be estimation of some variable of interest at some specified future date
  • Prediction is a similar, but more general term
  • The use of historic data to determine the direction of future trends

All three might refer to formal statistical methods employing time series, cross-sectional or longitudinal data, or alternatively to less formal judgmental methods.

Strategy (multiple definitions)

  • Strategy is about attaining and maintaining a position of advantage over adversaries through the successive exploitation of known or emergent possibilities rather than committing to any specific fixed plan designed at the outset
  • A careful plan or method for achieving a particular goal usually over a long period of time. : the skill of making or carrying out plans to achieve a goal
  • A plan of action or policy designed to achieve a major or overall aim
  • Henry Mintzberg (1) defined strategy as “a pattern in a stream of decisions” to contrast with a view of strategy as planning
  • Max McKeown (2) argues that “strategy is about shaping the future” and is the human attempt to get to “desirable ends with available means”.

 

Strategy

Strategy is just that, planning for what you are going to do or need down the road. You use strategy every day, especially when driving – i.e. you plan, or should, the path of your car as you drive down the freeway (highway or interstate). You plan on which cars to dodge, you plan on which vehicles you want to avoid being near due to the precarious driving of the occupant (texting, eating, young inexperienced drivers or oldest).

In strategy, you have to rely on multiple factors to be successful. You have to think about the various needs you have in mind. You think and plan for the needs of your:

  • Team
  • Company (management at all levels and other departments)
  • Customers
  • Investors

You are laying out the needs and desired effects for mile markers along your path to project completion or success. You have to plan on what you will need at what point and it could be:

  • Additional funding, for R&D, for rainy days, for unknown disasters,
  • Information to complete an intelligence report on your competitors or military buildup (say, Russia),
  • Space for additional workers and the requisite computer equipment if in an office or in a plant, more assembly line floor space for the new workers and their equipment,
  • Newer, more advanced computing equipment in order to be more efficient and productive rather than older, slower computer equipment,
  • Increased corporate bandwidth to speed up corporate data processing (from staff to remote sales members or techs out in the field)
  • Etc., etc., etc….

Risk

You must take the long view in looking down the road and weight the risk you may have to take against the gains you hope to achieve. You should also be very aware that without some risk, you cannot grow – you’ll instead stagnate, losing your customer base.

As you strategize, you should be laying out the various risks that each step of your plan will or may encounter. Use a wide open lens as you consider the risks of financial difficulties, attracting and retaining the right mix of staff for your effort, or more importantly whether you want to get into the arena you are choosing and all the many other risks that I could enumerate but won’t due to trying to keep some brevity going for this article.

 

Forecasting

Forecasting, or future casting, boils down to where you and your firm plan to be down the road, tomorrow, next week, next year – anything but ‘right now.’

You have to work on numerous targets;

  • Customers – those folks you want to do business with         
  • Supply Chain – what you will need to ensure speedy and/or timely deliveries to those customers – you’ll want to look at any seasonal delays, such as unexpected snow falls delaying train cargo shipments – you might want to look at where some of your more precious minerals are coming from (i.e. Russia or China) if you need some such exotic materiel in light of any future potential political and/or economic blockages
  • Insurance – to cover unknown situations that may crop up, even for brand/reputation repair efforts (which many should know that your brand is your life – if it is tarnished, your biz may never recover)
  • Technology – what you must have in place to support and aid your customers (and your employees) with the best tools to enjoy their experience with you (and to do their job for your customers and you)
  • Revenue/Budget – adequately forecasting the revenues you need to expend to successfully run the business/project and the revenues you are predicting to gain as profits for each cycle or quarter

Forecasting is not easy, it does take some diligent thought processes and one person alone cannot successfully make continual predictions of what target to strive for and then actually hitting those targets every time.

You have to determine what most of the impacts will be or could be affecting you now and tomorrow.

 

Perspective

You must have the ability to look down the road for the long view rather than a myopic ‘in your face’ view that could be horribly short lived.

In other words, I am saying that you need to have, or should have a broad background in multiple areas pursuant to the work you do. If not you, yourself, then your team should have an adequately broad area of knowledge to work from.

But, you should have some knowledge of what has transpired in the past as well as being conversant with what is current. You do not need to be ‘THE’ expert on everything but being knowledgeable and aware of the various areas you are working on will help you out tremendously.

Try leading or working on something you know very little about while everyone else knows a great deal. It could be very uncomfortable and/or embarrassing.

 

Collaboration

If you do not know it or if you are just oblivious to it, you have got to put a great deal of faith into collaboration. Collaboration, today, is ever more important because it can help you with resources you do not have. It can help you with newer, better or at least, fresher ideas to get past your own stumbling blocks or hurdles.

You may not wish to but you have to use collaborative efforts at various times and stages of projects. You may have to engage with junior people for their fresh/new perspectives. You may have to engage with more senior people for their experience and broader backgrounds so you don’t have to necessarily re-create the wheel. You may have to engage with interdepartmental teams for their needs/desires/input to ensure that what is being created or produced will also meet their needs – especially if you have work and schedules with tight timelines.

You do not know everything. And you should not be afraid of admitting that in getting the assistance you require to complete what you’re working on. It will make you look human when you put your hand out for help. In return, people will find that you may know something they do not and will in turn reach out to you when they need help – that is, if they are also open minded and also collaborative minded.

You must take the opportunity to listen to or read things you ordinarily would not do. You have to read/listen to contrarian views – your enemies (or competitors) might have a nugget or two of information (knowledge) that you can glom onto and use yourself – “especially” if it is something better than what you are doing…

Collaboration is something you must work on, continuously. If you do not collaborate and prefer to silo your efforts, you will likely die as a business. That is, unless you have very deep pockets, massive timelines to work on your project and have good people who are deeply knowledgeable and can keep their mouths shut.

Diplomacy

With collaboration comes diplomacy. Just because you are in charge or are spear heading some effort, it does not necessarily make you the best leader. You have to gain some decent levels of diplomacy in interacting with subordinates, colleagues/peers, superiors, investors and customers (in another writing, I mentioned that most everyone is your customer in one fashion or another).

Gay, straight, different color, male, female, old or young – these are all old fashioned hurdles that should have been struck down many years ago. These various groupings should not have negative impacts on your success. These groupings should show up as diverse talent pools throughout anyone’s organization and ‘YOU’ must either have or learn to be a diplomat in working with any and all of the people in these groups. To be a successful entity, you should be willing to engage and listen to folks from these diverse groups – you do not know in advance how much talent lies in any one of these groups. You could learn something. What you learn could be something so significant that it could add a great deal to your bottom line, your reputation (adding to the bottom line) and the firm’s longevity.

I am not saying that everyone has something worthy of using but you should be listening to as many people and groups as you can and then using your knowledge, your experience – to separate the chaff from the wheat, keeping the best content/information.

As a leader, you have to also be an honest, up-front diplomat to be successful. Fraudulent diplomats do not last long…

 

World view

You should have a broad knowledge of what is going on in the world, not just in your locality but in your state, your region, your country, your hemisphere and around the globe. You need to have reference markers on what is happening with your government and other governments (allies, enemies and developing nations). Political, economic and military dynamics play significant parts globally for the business world.

 

Business view

Similar to the world view above, the business view plays a major role in what occurs in governmental (political, economic, military) affairs. Sometimes, businesses push world views to change and/or grow.

You have to be very aware of, if not very knowledgeable of, multiple business processes so you are not working in a silo in your thinking process as you plan, or forecast, what needs to be done to be successful.

You need to draw from your broad background of knowledge of other areas (work, education, experience and applicable hobbies) to use in your current and future plans. You should attempt to think of alternate ways of using past knowledge and experience for current and future dual (or more) purposes.

You have to try to be more creative and innovative in getting more successful results, in as many ways as possible to stand out. But don’t do so at the expense of being too far ahead of everyone else, especially if they don’t get it because they will only turn their backs on you. And certainly don’t be too innovative at the expense of diluting your firm’s revenue too far into the red.

 

Primary Focus Areas

Intelligence

Some aspects of Intelligence, gathering, analysis and usage of information, are similar, whether it is for Business Intelligence or for National Security.

a) You have to gather information, from multiple sources (you cannot, unless it is completely unavoidable, solely rely on only “one source”) – casting nets as wide as possible throughout multiple domains (business, economic, social media, political) – you need to stay aware of newer innovations in the market place or in the pipeline coming up, you need to keep an eye and ear open for newer creative ways of doing some process or activity (so you can incorporate it for your use)

You will definitely want to look at old history (data, information, outcomes) as you consider your way forward.

b) You have to analyze that information – not just for your needs but also according to your customer’s needs and when you analyze it, you should be doing so with specific goals in mind for what you want to achieve

c) You will ‘not’ want to get into any illegal corporate espionage because if you do that will mean your ethics and integrity are shot, invalid and just not worth anyone working with you (sorry but ethics and integrity to me are the holy grail).

Reasoning

Another important part of perspective, to me at least, is the use of abductive and deductive reasoning skills – both are necessary.

Abductive – the lesser known of the two is a form of logical inference that goes from observation to a hypothesis that accounts for the reliable data (observation) and seeks to explain relevant evidence. The American philosopher Charles Sanders Peirce (1839–1914) first introduced the term as “guessing”. I.E. the lawn is wet. But if it rained last night, then it would be unsurprising that the lawn is wet. Therefore, by abductive reasoning, the possibility that it rained last night is reasonable. (My alternative – the lawn sprinklers kicked in during the early morning hours…)

Deductive – is the process of reasoning from one or more general statements (premises) to reach a logically certain conclusion. Following is one of the better known examples of deductive reasoning:

All men are mortal.

  1. Aristotle is a man.
  2. Therefore, Aristotle is mortal.

Other examples:

  • In mathematics, If A = B and B = C, then A = C.
  • All apples are fruits, all fruits grow on trees; therefore, all apples grow on trees.

You have got to use or learn to use either or both of these lines of logical reasoning as you strategize. As you outline your strategies and forecasts, you have to be able to show the line of reasoning you are going with, especially if you are working on some new innovative and/or creative product or process.

 

Competitors

It will not matter what kind of product you are working on, whether it is:

  • Networking security devices (firewalls, routers, VPNs),
  • Newer AI software for better hotel management and efficiency,
  • Computer system User Interfaces for nurses and doctors to streamline hospital patient tracking and scheduling,
  • Mobile devices to simplify user experiences or even
  • Some kind of strategy software to help you with your corporate efforts

You have to figure out who your competitors are. You have to figure out where your competitors are – are they local, national and/or multinational conglomerates. You are going to have to know whether these competitors are market leaders in their field or if they are leaders in multiple fields – or if they up and coming from the lower levels of competition rising to the top…

You are going to have to perform your due diligence to find out or know if your competition has deeper pockets than you to initiate new product development in order to take over a market. You have to determine how effective their marketing is and whether they are outsourcing that effort. Next you will have to determine how good their sales distribution is. Of course, a lot of this falls under the intelligence umbrella above.

 

Supply Chain

You most definitely want the best supply chain possible to ensure you can eke out all the speed and efficiencies of that supply chain.

You also most certainly want a methodology/process in place to track all of your supply chain assets – while on the various production lines, to shipping, to distribution and to the customer’s door step.

 

Details

As many of the smart and knowing set know, the devil is truly in the details. You should be sweating the small stuff because if you do not, it becomes large stuff and it will bite at a later date. And it will bite hard.

Obtain and use the best dashboard software you can afford to do data and/or visual analytics, for “what if” and other scenarios. You will want to do multiple versions of data mining in multiple areas for information to help you with the ‘details’ you need to resolve.

If you cannot get your hands on that kind of analytics tool, you will have to find a very good substitute – even your own white board (in a place where you can save it) to work through various permutations.

 

Finance & ROI

This could have been combined with Risk, above, but your finances should be above board, it should be adequate to keep you moving in the direction you and your team has lain out. You don’t want to be too lavish with spending revenue but you also do not want to be a tight wad in parsing out revenues/budgets for each affected team so they can operate successfully.

You do not want to be skimping or being stingy (cheap) in helping your team(s) being successful because that attitude will bleed through, from the skimper-in-charge all the way down the pipeline to the customer. That is just human nature.

If you come across as skimping with your employees ‘and’ with your customers, negative attitudes set in, presenting itself as unmotivated and unenthusiastic employees and that is difficult to overcome to be a successful company.

If all goes well in pleasing your customer(s), you will have earned a decent or ‘very’ decent ROI…

 

Conclusion

Strategizing and forecasting does not have to be difficult, you just have to have a good and solid plan with as many steps in the process(es) covered as possible. It is also not that easy but with patience and actually thinking through the hard and easy steps, it is doable.

But just because a portion may be easy, it does not give you leeway to not think your way through that portion – the easy portion can trip you up. You need sounding boards – talking it through, writing it down in different permutations, letting someone else you trust look it over, providing you with “constructive remarks” and not just shooting down your braining storming ideas right off the bat.

Strategy and Forecasting is truly a team effort. Even if your star strategists and forecasters are loners, they still need to come together at some point to talk to other members of the team in getting to a successful endpoint.

 

Definitions

AI – Artificial Intelligence

Firewall – A software or hardware-based network security system, which is part of a computer system or network that is designed to block unauthorized access while permitting outward communication — A firewall establishes a barrier between a trusted, secure internal network and another network (e.g., the Internet) that is not assumed to be secure and trusted

Routers – an electronic device and/or software that connects at least two networks and forwards packets among them according to the information in the packet headers and routing tables– Routers perform the “traffic directing” functions on the Internet.

VPN – A virtual private network that uses a public telecommunication infrastructure, such as the Internet, to provide remote offices or individual users with secure access to their organization’s networkwhile maintaining privacy through security procedures and tunneling protocol by encrypting data at the sending end and decrypting it at the receiving end – basically, a VPN extends a private network across a public network

 

References

1 – Henry Mintzberg – Professor at McGill University- https://www.mcgill.ca/about/history/mcgill-pioneers/mintzberg

2 – Max Mckeown – Behavioral Strategist- http://www.maxmckeown.com/post/11111347706/your-strategic-self

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