am 2. August 1998
Throughout the history of quality management, practitioners have had to be knowledgeable and conversant in the areas of most interest to their respective organizations. In most years, this has involved dealing with issues surrounding how to run a better project to build a better information system. The quality practitioner has always had a role in developing methodologies, deploying tools, measuring processes and quality, and facilitating organizational change. The basic assumption that the information technology function exists to build systems and operate data centers in which to run those system was rarely challenged. The advent and proliferation of personal computers, and the more recent shift toward client/server computing, represented only variations on the common theme. Quality professionals have been seen as adding value to the extent that they have been knowledgeable and conversant in these key areas.
More recently however, information technology organization! s have been forced to question their own very existence. Many of the issues have been around for quite some time: decentralization of processing power and application knowledge, outsourcing of development and operations functions, growing maturity of the purchased package application arena, etc. Large systems integrators have created value adding umbrella functions over these service domains, and in the process, have created very real competition for once confident and embedded information technology organizations. Information technology managers are struggling to think about, and correctly act upon, these strategic changes in the industry. Today the quality practitioner must become conversant and skilled in the strategic skills of planning and implementing organizational change in order to continue to be perceived as value adding by information technology management.
To say that the quality practitioner must develop skills in strategic planning can raise more than a few eye! brows in most organizations. The idea of "strategic pl! anning" carries many negative connotations among managers who have historically seen strategic planning reduced to a bureaucratic maze of meetings and reports that are quickly filed away once published, allowing work to return to the pre-planning norm. [Quality professionals will note that many similar connotations have begun to be attached to TQM.] In THE RISE AND FALL OF STRATEGIC PLANNING, Henry Mintzberg offers an extensive discussion of the roots of the various strategic planning models and his well-documented explanation for the failures and bad feelings associated with strategic planning. His conclusion is positive as illustrated by his subtitle, Reconceiving Roles for Planning, Plans, and Planners.
"People called planners can sometimes do strange things, just as strategies can sometimes result from strange processes. We need to delineate the word carefully if it is not be eventually dropped from the management literature as hopelessly contaminated." [p! g. 7] Mintzberg seeks "to characterize planning by the nature of its process, not its intended result." In looking at this process, he finds what he believes is an underlying contradiction in planning, namely, that "the assumption underlying strategic planning is that analysis will produce synthesis: decomposition of the process of strategy making into a series of articulated steps, each to be carried out as specified in sequence, will produce integrated strategies." 
Traditional strategic planning literature recognizes strategy in two forms. "Intentions that are fully realized can be called deliberate strategies. Those that are not realized can be called unrealized strategies."  What typically goes unrecognized "is the third case, which (he calls) emergent strategy, where a realized pattern was not expressly intended."  Because emergent opportunities fall outside of the formal planning process, and would violate the publis! hed plan, key ideas and opportunities are not only missed, ! they are actively avoided in the interest of implementing the plan. These missed opportunities, in hindsight, discredit the entire strategic planning process and profession.
Mintzberg encourages a combination of strategies. Management can "pursue what may be called umbrella strategies: the broad outlines are deliberate while the details are allowed to emerge within them. Thus emergent strategies are not necessarily bad and deliberate ones good; effective strategies mix these characteristics in ways that reflect the conditions at hand, notably the ability to predict as well as the need to react to unexpected events." 
Some of the central premises that Mintzberg feels have led to the current negative perception of strategic planning include: that the "management of strategy can be sharply separated from the management of operations, and the strategy formation process itself can be programmed."  In an argument currently echoed in the quality litera! ture, strategic planning isn't something that can be done separately from line management, it constitutes the most important part of line management. If so, the role of the separate planner, or planning function, is drawn into question. Mintzberg's "contention is that many of the most important roles played by planners have nothing to do with planning or even plans per se."  He offers three "nonplanning roles of planners: as finders of strategies, as analyst, and as catalyst."  Like the quality professional, the professional strategic planner adds value to the organization by focusing a specific skill set on the need to facilitate an organization-wide process of change.
Mintzberg's work offers a transition piece between the traditional bureaucratic strategic planning processes, that have earned much disdain in the management community, and the modern emerging role of strategic planning and value-added planners. It is in THE RISE AND FALL that M! intzberg goes beyond this negative characterization to disc! over the emerging and positive role for strategic panning and planners.
The Rise and Fall of Strategic Planning is an important book, whose significance goes well beyond its subject. Most leaders, managers, and companies have adopted methods of deciding what to do and how to implement them without considering the fundamental assumptions and experiences with those methods. In essence, this important knowledge work is back where the planning of manual work was before Frederick Taylor. What he says has implications for quality, production planning, capacity expansions, new product design, IT, and many ohter functions, processes and activities.
Before you dismiss this point as being merely of academic interest, consider several of Mintzberg's more telling points: Forecasting is seldom accurate for long; creating intense alignment in the wrong direction can make a company vulnerable to sudden shifts in the market; formal staffs can simply create political games; and thinking that is not linked into the important processes of the company will have limited impact. If those points are right, what does it mean about how work should be performed in your organization?
Having been there and done that as both a strategic planner in the early 1970s and a strategy consultant before that, I recognize the disease as he diagnoses it. In fact, many of the people he quotes and evaluates are people I know. I also saw many of the companies improve themselves by doing less planning.
You can only cover so much in one book, but the potential of strategic work is to improve significant communications, thinking and action in the enterprise. That can help eliminate the significant stalls that delay progress. If Professor Mintzberg decides to do a second edition of this book, I hope he will do more with those subjects.
What has been disappointing to me and others who are familiar with the problems that strategic planning has experienced is the lack of alternatives being proposed. Mintzberg has proposed one, but it is pretty primitive. It just gets rid of some of the wasted motion in strategic planning, without building on success.
One of the few advanced processes that I know of is one that I co-authored in the soon-to-be-published, The Irresistible Growth Enterprise. If you are interested in that subject, take a look at that book's introduction.
I was pleased to see Mintzberg challenge Michael Porter to choose a method for selecting among paths for a business or company. When I first read Porter, I felt he waffled on that point, too. My research and experience strongly suggest that paths that leave you better off regardless of the unexpected changes you could experience work best. To locate those paths can be made systematic, as a way of helping people apply both analysis and intuition to finding better alternatives. That is what strategic planning should have focused on. I agree with Mintzberg in assigning importance to the generation of new and better alternatives as one potential benefit of strategy work, whether done by the line executive, a staff person, a consultant, or all of the above together.
I especially liked his awareness of the need for commitment. Involvement is a necessary part of gaining commitment, and the strategy processes that many use misses that important connection.
The book could have been improved, however, by doing some field work with companies which developed strategies that prospered well beyond their peers and seeming potential. What did they do that helped to create these results? Or was it a case of a stopped clock being right twice a day? Without answering that question, Mintzberg leaves us back in the pre Frederick Taylor days, except with a better idea of what does not work.
I have done substantial unpublished research on just that question. It is clear that there are several models that companies have used successfully to develop better strategies, implement them well, adapt to changes in a timely manner, and build systematically on success. I suggest you consider Clear Channel Communications as a company that focuses on rethinking the basic business model, Southwest Airlines as a company that achieves a superior cost position and efficiently transfers benefits from that to all stakeholder groups, and Linear Technology as a company that follows a strategy that should allow it to prosper regardless of the shifts in things it cannot stop or control.
No review of this book would be complete without noting that Mintzberg's persistent skepticism makes for some pretty humorous reading (unless you are one of the writers or planners he is questioning). Be sure you take time to enjoy the subtle humor in his writing.
Well done, Professor Mintzberg! I think this is the best work about how managers should manage their fundamental thinking that I have seen in the last 20 years.
You should be sure to read this book both to understand the lessons of strategic planning and what that implies for other thinking processes in your enterprise. You management education will not be complete until you do.