What is a strategy anyway?


Most of us recognise we will need a strategy to achieve our objectives, but while that seems a familiar enough idea, it’s actually quite important to understand a few nuances.


Strategy is particularly important in procurement as we have to deal with suppliers - they don’t share our objectives and have their own strategies. Apparently it was Trotsky who said "you might not be interested in strategy, but strategy is interested in you". In procurement a lack of strategy doesn’t mean we stand still, it means we are allowing our suppliers to push us backwards.


We know from our research at Procurement Leaders that too little time is dedicated to the development of procurement strategies, this is just down to day-to-day priorities marginalising work that can easily be postponed. We also know that many category strategies are really just to-do lists, and while they may lead to the achievement of their planned objectives, they do not produce the results a true strategy could have.


Most people agree that a strategy is a plan to achieve a long term or ultimate objective. My preferred description of strategy is "manoeuvring for a future advantage". This is how the air force describe it.


So, what differentiates a strategy from any other sort of plan in practice? I’ve come up with a list of features that typify a strategy:


  1. It takes in to account the future behaviour of others. A procurement strategy will need to deal with supplier behaviour in particular, but also the changing needs of stakeholders.
  2. You won’t know how the strategy unfold. As the strategy will take different paths depending on the actions of others, at the outset we won’t know for sure how things will develop.
  3. You will want to keep it confidential. If others know the strategy they will be able to minimise it’s effects or prevent it working entirely.
  4. Some parts of the strategy might not might make no sense on their own. Gaining an advantage in the future may involve taking actions that don’t make sense in their own right.
  5. There will be multiple steps, and multiple decision points, which naturally means strategies tend to take a long time to execute. A plan to achieve an objective in one step tends to be labelled tactical. Some consider tactical to be the opposite of strategic, I’d say they are just different, not all objectives require a strategy.


Those are some basic, but essential, building blocks, next I’ll be having a look in to the process of developing a strategy and executing it. In particular I’ll be investigating the importance of intelligence in the development and execution of procurement strategies.


Tom Seal is head of research for Procurement Leaders


This article is a piece of independent writing by a member of Procurement Leaders’ content team.

Tom Seal
Posted by Tom Seal

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