The Power of Visual Strategy

Like compulsive hoarders, many organizations collect goals and objectives. These compete for resources. There are no clear priorities. There is no sense of purpose. I use the analogy of a coin jar. We keep throwing coins on the pile.

Can we make sense of the confusion? Yes, by connecting the dots.

Outcomes can be linked to show how they depend on each other. Realizing the highest, first-order outcome (the dollar coin) depends on achieving second-order outcomes (half-dollars). Realizing second-order outcomes requires achieving third-order outcomes (quarters), and so on. The highest-level outcome is the organization’s strategic goal.

Connecting the dots reveals the relative significance of each outcome, and clarifies what the organization needs to do first. Outcomes become more aspirational in the cascade from left to right. I call this a ‘Strategy Roadmap.’ The Integral Strategy Roadmap™ model is the cornerstone of a larger methodology for transformative change.

I have modeled strategy this way for the last 15 years, working with organizations in all sectors. Stakeholders from more than one sector frequently come together to create roadmaps for challenges that cross sector boundaries. The visual model has been used for business transformation; government program delivery and policy making; system alignment and integration in health care, innovation, and education; and community-based initiatives for place making, service delivery, and economic development.

Roadmaps dealing with these complex challenges are highly nuanced.

The example below is a strategy for active transportation. The goal was to increase the number of children walking and biking to school in Canada’s Greater Toronto Hamilton Area — an area that includes the City of Toronto and its surrounding region. The GTHA encompasses numerous cities and is home to more than 7 million people. Stakeholders from the provincial government, regional governments, school divisions, and non-government organizations all participated in creating a collaborative strategy.



Honoring the principle in Simon Sinek’s book Start with Why, creation of the map begins with the purpose of the strategy and the goal to be achieved. Detail on the left-hand side of the map is then added to show how the goal will be realized.

In the example, the benefits of children becoming more active are shown as a cascade of impacts (darker orange circles) on the right. These include improvements in child and family health, stronger community connections, reduced congestion, and benefits to the environment from the reduced use of cars.

Outcomes required to achieve the strategic goal in the middle of the map are represented by the numerous circles on the left. Boxes define the actions required to create these outcomes. The shaded clusters on the left-hand side are meaningful, representing high-level functional capabilities required for the strategy to be successful.

The Strategy Roadmap illustrates complex strategies graphically on a single page, bringing clarity of purpose to an organization (and to many organizations collaborating in a larger system) and harmonizing the efforts of multiple stakeholders to achieve a common goal.

This article is an excerpt from a book in progress on collaboration and transformative change. It was first posted on October 3, 2017, on LinkedIn.

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David Forrest

David is the founder of the Integral Strategy Network. He is a writer, futurist, strategist, and facilitator of systemic change.

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