What we do and how we do it: Oak Moon Consulting's strategy development model
Early stage technology firms often struggle to define their objectives, scope, and competitive advantage as they organize, build, and grow. We provide an analytical framework in which firms can test their strategy decisions before implementing them. Our objectives are: to develop strategies that create, capture, and deliver value based upon your firm's unique capabilities and ethos; and to identify, grow, and sustain your firm’s competitive advantage.
How do we do this?
We prepare. We get to know you, your firm, and the competitive environment in which you operate. Our preparation flattens our learning curve and allows us to collaborate faster and more effectively.
There are two types of preparation we engage in: general and specific. Generally, we stay up to date on latest research and thinking in the areas where we most frequently find ourselves engaged – strategy, technology commercialization strategy, organizational design, marketing, and fundraising. We also participate in as many webinars as we can manage. Our reading list includes Harvard Business Review, MIT Sloan Management Review, and MIT Technology Review. For webinars, we’ve found excellent content being offered at The University of Michigan Ross School of Business, Harvard Business School, and MIT Sloan School of Management.
Our specific preparation relates to the firms we serve. We try to have a basic understanding of who we will be working with before our first meeting so that we can make a quicker assessment of how best to operate within your firm’s environment. Our focus for the most part, however, is on the firm, industry, and competitive environment in which it operates.
We listen. We come to each engagement with an open mind so that we know your objectives, your impediments to sustainable growth and value creation, and how we can help.
We like to schedule a two-hour initial meeting with founders and leadership teams. This initial time investment typically allows us to get up to speed much faster. We ask our client to walk us through the company’s history, current state, and short and long-term objectives, scope, and advantage. During this initial meeting, our intention is to let the founder or team do most of the talking. We take a lot of notes!
Here is what we’re listening for: Can the firm tell us why they do what they do, what they do, and how they do it? This is straight out of Simon Sinek’s Start With Why, and a useful tool to help us understand the purpose of the firm. We like to dive a bit deeper, and want to know why they believe they can create value, what they do to create it, and how they do it. We like to work with client teams that have a strong belief in themselves and their firms, and knowing these things helps us craft strategies that reflect who they are as much as what they do and how they do it.
What is the firm’s competitive advantage? We use the classic competitive advantage framework presented by Michael Porter in his Five Competitive Forces that Shape Strategy. We find this essential to obtaining a baseline readout of the firm’s current state.
Can the client team state its strategy in 35 words? This is an arbitrary standard, but one designed to force client teams to think hard about how to articulate their objectives, scope, and competitive advantage.
We question. We are naturally curious and ask a lot of questions to help us clarify objectives and to identify the best strategies for achieving them.
There likely won’t be a meeting, call, or videoconference where we won’t ask questions to help further our understanding of the firm’s current state, immediate problems or impediments, desired outcomes, and how we can help.
We research. We identify appropriate models, or frameworks of analysis, within which to explore a firm’s specific needs. We use them to develop hypotheses and create models designed to optimize your decision-making, mitigate risk, and remain consistent with your values.
The research we do always is driven by the problems and objectives we identify during the initial meeting and throughout our engagement. The intent here is to identify models that we can use to develop hypotheses about the optimal series of choices a firm may make to define their strategy.
A good example of the models we frequently use with early stage companies can be found in The Innovator’s Dilemma by Clayton M. Christensen (and may of his other works). Another outstanding example can be found in The Essential Advantage by Leinwand and Mainardi. Information Rules by Shapiro and Varian and The Business of Platforms by Cusumano, Gawer, and Yoffie are other “go-to” books we like to recommend. These are some of the seminal works on strategy, innovation, and technology commercialization and provide robust frameworks of analysis that drive competitive advantage. They are particularly useful in the startup and early stage company context. We’re happy to share our reading list, which seems to grow daily.
We investigate. We use investigative interviews with key personnel to populate our strategy models with more facts and data. This allows us to hone our thinking as we continue developing our strategy recommendations. It is an iterative process, and often involves some of the experimenting and analysis we describe below.
We experiment and analyze. We conduct tabletop exercises to play out potential strategic decisions. We want to predict and understand the potential outcomes of each strategy under consideration. This allows us to assess potential strategies against your firm's objectives. We then are able to generate a set of strategic choices tailored to those objectives and your competitive environment.
This all sounds quite scientific, but our experiments often require simple quiet consideration of the possible combinations of causes and effects that could yield an optimal (sub-optimal) decision. We reduce all of this to notes and diagram the decision-points using the model(s) we’ve chosen and the firm’s stated objectives.
We counsel. We deliver our strategic analysis in a collaborative workshop setting. We present the best alternatives we have identified, invite discussion, continue to ask questions and investigate, and begin working toward a decision about which strategy or combination of strategies the firm should pursue. During our workshop we present and revise a comprehensive strategy statement mapped to the firm’s objectives.
More often than not, our workshops often take place as focused weekly or bi-weekly standing meetings rather than in a single culminating strategy workshop. We have found that our standing meetings can help firms meet strategic and competitive challenges in real time. They also help us create a relevant and lasting strategy statement that fits a firm’s objectives as they evolve during our engagement. We welcome, and encourage, this type of routine collaboration.
We check our work. Strategy cannot exist in a vacuum. It has to be translated into action. This requires alignment of a firm's resources, processes, and values. We help firms achieve alignment as we begin to measure the impact strategy has on operations. We then identify adjustments designed to optimize performance.
Implementing decisions can be quite difficult especially if organizational change has to occur. We help client teams troubleshoot decision implementation and continue to work with them solve the smaller, yet still critically important, problems that arise. We make it a point to be available and accessible as quickly as possible to help them remove impediments – internal and external – to achieving their objectives. We often find our work shifting from mostly core business strategy and decision-making to mostly implementation and execution.
Our “go-to” resource for executing strategy on an operational level is Getting Things Done Right by Pascal Dennis. When we help firm’s manage change, we lean heavily on the work of John P. Kotter and the companion book, The Heart of Change Field Guide by Dan S. Cohen.
Our strategy development model is designed to create, capture, and deliver value and to sustain competitive advantage. Our purpose to maximize your purpose and accelerate your growth.
Oak Moon Consulting primarily serves early stage technology companies in the process of defining their objectives, scope, and competitive advantage. For more information about what we do and how we do it, contact Brian Laliberte at firstname.lastname@example.org.