Setting strategic growth objectives – what could be SIMPLER?

Research seems to indicate that increasing the capacity for strategic thinking is a significant development task for many organizations these days.

What leaders seem to want is a capability within their teams to think beyond the day-to-day and create thriving visions for the future that are connected to the reality of the present.

Not just incremental shifts, or undeliverable fantasies (over)dressed up as logical analysis. But cogent plans that are based in a well-understood current situation and that move through an outcome-based plan in order to describe a future that has well-defined benefits. To ultimately provide a platform for new growth.

Creating compelling objectives 

For over 20 years, I have been working with teams that have looked to create compelling objectives for their work, be it program delivery, new strategic growth platforms, or as part of formulating new directions for their line organization.

One of the most interesting aspects of this challenge is the difficulty that many have with setting and articulating ‘strategy’.

This short article aims to describe some aspects of an approach that was developed by a co-worker, Alaric Naiman, as part of a project management training course that we co-delivered over a 10-year period starting in the 90s. His underlying thinking draws from nearly four decades of experience across diverse areas of technology, business and organization.

Applying the model

More recently, I have gone on to use the model with teams to develop insights for program definition, strategic growth planning and many other contexts such as innovation, and the creation of new business models that challenge the status quo of the current organization.

Space only allows for me to touch on a simplified and partial description of how I use the approach in my current work, some basic aspects of mechanics – and there is more to tell – a little on ‘how you can work it’, and a suggestion of at least one way as to ‘why’ it works effectively in the context of strategic thinking.

The comments below are primarily my observations of how people have used this tool; the original design of the tool has much broader underpinnings.


First of all, the tool: SIMPLER

  • S – situation, in other words, what is ‘true’ right now, what has led us to a realization that we need to create a new strategy for the future
  • I – intention:  a cogent statement of what we want to achieve
  • M – methodology: what shape of approach will we take, for example, outsourcing, change business model…
  •  P – plan: not a detailed MS Project plan, but an outline of the key (and important) steps, including timing of things like major milestones
  • L – logistics: who’s involved, how much money is required
  • E – evaluate: how will we know that we are succeeding?
  • R – ramifications: what will we have once we have achieved our goal. What is possible now?

How to work the model

A quick note on ‘how to work’ this model. Patience, attention to detail and some openness to the option that there are, perhaps, alternatives tools than SMART for generating compelling objectives.

There is a lot more that can be said about how to create really compelling objectives, however, for now, I want to share something that I have found particularly fascinating about the structure of the model. And it relates to stakeholder management. Something that can be particularly challenging for teams in any organization; so here is a little snippet on ‘why it works’.

Each of the points below are somewhat of a caricature…

If I am an executive, it’s likely that I only hear about the program periodically and my main interest is in “why is this an important project, and what do we get out of it?” – S and R.

If I am the program manager, or functional manager charged with leading change and new growth, I am particularly interested in making sure that the work achieves its objective, in both qualitative and quantitative terms – I and E.

For those working in the team, the focus is often on the mechanics of delivery – MP and L.

What this means is that we can tie together broader considerations of context and future intent, with a good definition of goals and success factors and a strong dose of key operational mechanics.

So, no matter what audience you are working with, the goal statement works as a whole. That enables the senior executives to help the PM and team with direction, and likewise for the team to inform the PM of potential course corrections, and so on.

Different contexts

A corollary to this is that the model works across contexts and can be used, for example, to define meeting agendas or write proposals. More effective meetings and clearer statements of work, these are things that I think that many of us would like see occur a lot more frequently.

Whatever your situation, I’d encourage you to play with this model. Feel free to ask questions, or let me know if you’ve used it in a way that was transformative. If you do use it, all I’d ask is that you acknowledge the model author in any work that you do –

What could be simpler?

– This post has been abstracted from a model developed by Alaric Naiman, TransitionStates®