Book Review: Navigating Strategic Decisions: The Power of Sound Analysis and Forecasting

    By: Teresa Jurgens-Kowal, PhD, NPDP on Jun 16, 2015

    navigating-cover.jpgNavigating Strategic Decisions:  The Power of Sound Analysis and Forecasting by John E. Triantis.  CRC Press, 2013.  405 + xxix pages.  US$104.95 (hard cover).

    Working in new product development (NPD), we are faced with decisions and trade-offs on a daily basis.  Moreover, we are challenged to ensure that product features, target markets, and technologies align with overall business and strategic objectives.  Projects are advanced based not only on technical merits but also sales, revenue, and profit forecasts.

    Beginning to shed light on the complex field of strategic decision forecasting (SDF) is John Triantis’ new book, Navigating Strategic Decisions.  A clear goal of the text is to identify SDF as a field of professional study.  The book is organized into four parts.

    Part I

    In Part I (Chapters 1 through 3), the author defines strategic forecasting, comparing these decisions to other typical business results.  SDF is “a broad discipline focusing on the analysis, development, and validation of long-term forecasts that form the basis of management or business decisions” (pg. 3).  Strategic forecasts are contrasted with shorter term, tactical decisions and lifecycle management.

    Although confusing at first, the author uses the term “project manage” as a verb to drive the point that SDF requires special skills, a trained team, and high levels of stakeholder communication.  As detailed in Chapter 3, SDF identifies “what needs to be known, what is known and unknown, what is knowable and what is not” (pg. 24).  A proper strategic forecast will reduce uncertainty and risk, and often involves a timeframe of 10 to 20 years.

    Part II

    Comprised of four chapters, Part II focuses on the general activities of the SDF team.  For instance, good communication skills with and active involvement of the client helps to clarify objectives of the forecast.  The organizational culture, mindset, and processes all frame whether the SDF team can freely and honestly accomplish their business objectives.  Phases of the SDF work include:  preparation, evaluation, option development, and monitoring/updating (pg. 73-76).

    Chapters 6 and 7 describe tools and techniques recommended in preparing an SDF.  Many of these will be familiar to new product development professionals (NPDP).  Some of these tools include:

    • Cause and effect diagrams,
    • Six thinking hats,
    • Total quality management (TQM),
    • Competitor analysis, and
    • SWOT analysis (strengths, weaknesses, threats, and opportunities).

    Additional techniques to assess the strategic forecast include RACI (responsible, accountable, consult, inform) models, Gantt charts, decision tree analysis, and staged/gated methodology.

    Part III

    More than half of the text is dedicated to Part III, “SDF Applications”.  Note that the book supports the establishment of an SDF function, so the applications described in Part II are generally theoretical and do not include specific case study examples from industry.  However, several chapters are noteworthy to support innovation.

    Chapter 9, for example, focuses on new product development.  Triantis cites failures in NPD as a result of unclear roles and responsibilities, untested assumptions, poor communication, marketing optimism, project teams and turnover, and focus on speed of execution.  Figure 9.1 attempts to overlay Cooper’s traditional stage-gate process with the author’s SDF model (Cooper, 2001). 

    Additionally, Chapters 10 through 12 address topics of interest to NPDPs:  new market or business entry, merger and acquisition or joint venture projects, and product and technology licensing.  The recommended SDF approach is similar in all cases ensuring needs are identified, assumptions are validated, and risks are understood.

    Part IV

    The final three chapters of the book (Chapters 20 through 22) comprise Part IV.  Triantis discusses characteristics of the best-in-class SDF teams and again touches on the organizational themes introduced in Chapter 2 (culture, mindset, and attitudes).

    Summary

    Navigating Strategic Decisions is a difficult book to read cover to cover.  The author’s goal appears to be to present a case for establishing industry SDF functions, so much of the material is repetitive and duplicated in multiple chapters.  There are oddly phrased sentences and some clear editing errors (“this type of projects”).  Many figures do not appear to be self-consistent (e.g. Figures 8.1 and 11.2) with no apparent way to exit the illustrated processes.

    Most significant is a lack of practical examples.  New product development practitioners will be disappointed to not find case studies or success stories of SDF teams documented.  On the other hand, Navigating Strategic Decisions is geared toward theory, and academics will find much utility in the approaches described.  NPDPs may find it useful to read Part I as background and then choose the appropriate subject matter from Part III to ensure that project analysis and forecasting is complete for innovation projects.

    Overall, there is a lot of valuable information in Navigating Strategic Decisions and individuals involved in long-term planning for business growth, including new product development, will find this book to be a good reference.  For extended discussion, this book was featured in The Innovator’s Book Club, a LinkedIn group.

    Works Cited

    Cooper, R. G. (2001). Winning at New Products, 3rd ed. Cambridge: Perseus.

    Reviewed By: Teresa Jurgens-Kowal, NPDP

    Global NP Solutions, LLC

    Released: June 16, 2015, 10:05 am | Updated: June 16, 2015, 10:27 am
    Keywords: PDMA Blog


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