Imagine, your task is to complete a 1000 piece jigsaw puzzle with one of your kids, but the puzzle is an old one, in a bag, so you do not have a picture of the end result to work to.

It is further complicated, as some of the pieces in the body of the picture  are also missing, some are faded beyond recognition, and others have been bent to be ‘force-fitted’ to other pieces that they were not designed to fit.

Not easy.

Building a strategy is not dissimilar.

The jigsaw is a good metaphor, because the steps to solve the jigsaw puzzle are the same as solving the strategy development puzzle.

Have an objective. Start by knowing what the end result should look like, or in the vernacular ‘start with the end in mind’. As they say, ‘without a clear destination, any road will get you there’. Without the picture of the completed jig saw, you are working in the dark.

 Find the foundation pieces. In a jigsaw they are the 4 corner pieces, in a commercial strategy they are your Customer Value Proposition, cash flow management, profit and loss account, and break even point.

Define the limits of activity. These are the sides of your jigsaw, obvious because one side is straight, and defines the edge beyond which there is nothing, but you still have to define the manner  in which they fit together. For your strategy development exercise, the side pieces are determining who your ideal customers are, how will you engage and service them, the manner in which you will be paid, what offer you will deliver them. In other words, your business model.

Functional grouping. The next step in assembling a jigsaw is to group like pieces together, Even without the picture, you can put together all those that seem similar, for example the blue of the sky, green of a field. It will take some experimentation and shuffling to get it right, but slowly, a few pieces will  start to be fitted together. Developing and executing on a strategy is again similar, but the pieces are generally functional. The manufacturing pieces all go together, as do the financial, sales, marketing, and other functional pieces, they fit together, but they also progressively fit as groups into the larger picture.

Build the whole. As the jigsaw picture emerges in front of you, it becomes possible to fit groups of similar pieces together, and you see the ranges of possibilities opening. Those 3 that you found that were blue, and fitted together, are not sky, they are the blue of the house that is emerging on the other side. Again the strategy development process is the same. You will progressively find points where groups of pieces fit together, where sales and marketing merge, the financial reporting systems  are adapted to offer performance metrics on the factory, and you measure customer retention and share of wallet.

Make it scalable. Throughout the construction of the puzzle, once you have found two pieces that fit together, that are a part of the bigger picture, you never take them apart, you move them around until you find others that similarly fit and together make the picture easier to see. In a business this process is more like the development of procedures that are repeatable and scalable. Once you know something works, don’t take the risk of breaking them up and losing a piece, make sure they stay together. Creating standard operating processes for everything that gets done regularly, so it is done the same way every time, is the commercial equivalent. Standard procedures remove variation, creating stability and predictability.

Of course, when you have the picture of the completed jigsaw in front of you, the task is 10 times, perhaps 100 times easier.

Strategy development is exactly the same. Start with the picture, define and progressively build on the foundations, then fill in the holes as you go.

Be prepared to iterate and experiment as you go, just like testing the fit of the jigsaw pieces until you find 2 that are just built for each other, then another 1, then group of several.