What the iPhone can teach you about strategic planning

I am an iPhone junkie.  I am also a strategic planning junkie.  And the two passions are related.

I'm one of those crazy people that regular checks Apple's App Store, looking for newly released apps that might be useful.  I have become dependent on the platform for more than just personal stuff like email and calendars.  I run much of my business via Apps: my business development (Salesforce app), accessing my files (SugarSync app), keeping track of finances (Chase Mobile app), doing the occaisional fax while ditching the old clumsy appliance (Turbo Scan app), keeping track of to do lists on a project (Paperless app), and so much more.  So a given strategic planning project we do for one of our clients is likely going to involve multiple apps.

But the connection between apps and strategic planning is conceptually deeper than that.  There's an underlying principle that unites a good app with a good strategic plan: namely, you do better by doing less.

The fascinating thing about the development of smartphone apps is that they reversed the historical trajectory of software.  Up until the unveiling of apps, the trend was toward software becoming suites.  Think of the Microsoft Office suites: the programs took on more and more functions until they became bloated entities with ever expanding menu options that few people ever master.  The popularity of smartphone apps is precisely because it rescues people from that bloat: good apps focus on its one purpose in an elegant, specifically designed fashion.

My firm also been in the midst of a string of strategic planning process where we have been trying hard to nudge our clients to shed off entire parts of their programming menu.  These are organizations that started by doing one thing very well.  Then, because they did that one thing well, they felt they had to grow by doing more.  This happened either because they saw the ever greater needs out there, because they wanted to go after new funding streams to fuel growth (the "tail wagging dog" dynamic we see so much), or just because people entered the organization with their own ideas and passions.

In many cases, though, what resulted were organizations that look like bloated software suites.  They become overly complex, ill-connected to each other, with features that are not really integrated in an elegant fashion.  Most of all, they're not doing that original one thing nearly as well as they did before.

There's no absolute rule in nonprofit consulting; sometimes taking on new features and expanding into new areas is appropriate.  But more often than not, a leader should be asking, "Can we do less but do it better?"

Go be an app. 

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