Courses of Action

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When you have decided on a set of beginning Objectives, it is time to look at the possible Courses of Action that can be taken to fulfill those Objectives. Sometimes the best Course of Action will be obvious. Other times you will have multiple Courses of Action to consider and weigh against each other.

When you choose a Course of Action to take you will be able to determine what Capabilities you will need to have, what Resources you will need, and what you will need to do. Different Courses of Action will mean different sets of needs. The goal is to find those Courses of Action with the lowest set of needs, which meet the Objectives.

Let’s go back to the example of Jack and Jill for a moment. Their Objective is to make $50 by providing fresh lemonade to their neighbors and friends. What are some of the Courses of Action available to them?

 

The obvious Courses of Action might be as follows.

  1. Jack and Jill can set up a lemonade stand in front of Jack’s house.
  2. Jack and Jill can set up a lemonade stand in front of Jill’s house.
  3. Jack and Jill can set up a lemonade stand in front of both Jack and Jill’s house.

 

Some less obvious Courses of Action might be available like

  1. Jack and Jill can set up a lemonade stand in front of a local store.
  2. Jack and Jill could provide fresh lemonade to the juice stand down the street and take a cut of sales.
  3. Jack and Jill could provide fresh lemonade deliveries to local companies for their employees to enjoy.

 

Each Course of Action will have its own unique set of needs as well as a unique Environment that has to be taken into consideration, which we will discuss later in detail. For now let’s take each of the examples we used when developing Objectives and determine two Courses of Action for each. Remember that these sets of Objectives are not limited to two courses of action. In fact I encourage people to develop many Courses of Action for each Objectives. Increasing the number of Courses of Action available often can lead to a more successful and lower need fit. Courses of Action will be limited to a single Objective in the examples below. The Objective is in Italic.

 

Example 1 OBJ: Bill will start and operate a wine bar in Toledo, Ohio. He will specialize in providing the largest selection of California varieties, which are underrepresented in the area. He will make at least $80,000 a year in profit from his wine bar.

Course of Action A: Bill will start and manage an independent wine bar under a brand he develops.

Course of Action B: Bill will open a franchise of a popular wine bar chain that specializes in California wines.

 

Example 2 OBJ: Kevin will build a decorative two story shed in the backyard of his house. It will have at least 100 square feet of space upstairs for storage which will reduce the clutter in the house.

Course of Action A: Kevin will build the shed by himself.

Course of Action B: Kevin will hire the services of a carpenter to work on the shed.

 

Example 3 OBJ: Abigail will organize a fundraising dinner for the Doe family. The dinner will be prepared by a local restaurateur and there will be fun and games for everyone. The fundraiser will raise at least $10,000 for the Doe family.

Course of Action A: Abigail will gather a small group which will undertake all preparations.

Course of Action B: Abigail will enlist the services of an event planner.

 

Example 4 OBJ: Susan will manage a project to improve productivity by at least 5% in the company. The project will focus on introducing soft improvements which require minimal resources to implement.

Course of Action A: The project will introduce new incentives to reward higher productivity.

Course of Action B: The project will redesign certain processes which inhibit productivity.

 

Example 5 OBJ: The average student test scores will improve by a total of 10%, from 76% to 86%, over the next three years.

Course of Action A: Supplemental study sessions will be introduced to ensure students are keeping up.

Course of Action B: The course will be redesigned so that more time is spent on traditionally weak areas.

 

Example 6 OBJ: ACME will be the lowest cost provider of computer services in Dayton.

Course of Action A: ACME will focus on a select range of computer services in order to provide efficiencies of scale and keep prices low.

Course of Action B: ACME will focus on maintenance agreements and other long term relationships to keep prices low.

 

Example 7 OBJ: The Jaguars will win at least 8 games this year.

Course of Action A: The Jaguars will focus on improving their offensive capabilities.

Course of Action B: The Jaguars will focus on improving their preseason training.

 

Example 8 OBJ: Scott will ensure that the team continues to produce 50 widgets per week and keep the quality scores above 95%.

Course of Action A: Scott will retain the previous methods and processes practiced by the team.

Course of Action B: Scott will improve production to 55 widgets per week and improve the quality scores to at least 97.5%

 

Many of the examples above could have several additional courses of action while others are limited by logic or reasonableness. If Kevin wants a shed built in his backyard than he is really limited to the options of doing it himself or hiring someone to do it. The objective of having 100 square feet of space would exclude the ability to buy a shed at the local home improvement store.

If you find it difficult to come up with more than one or two courses of action, then it could be that the set of Objectives is limited in logical Courses of Action. Remember that multiple Courses of Action provide flexibility whereas few apparent Courses of Action can speed up the Strategic Planning process.

Each Course of Action will have its own set of benefits and cons. Identifying these will help you to decide which Course of Action would be most preferable to pursue. The Course of Action you choose will then determine the likely Activities, Capabilities, and Resources needed to pursue that Course.

 

Example 1: Bill wants to own a wine bar. 

Course of Action A: Bill will start and manage an independent wine bar under a brand he develops.

Benefits: Bill will have greater managerial flexibility and potentially higher profits as he determines pricing and promotions.

Cons:        Bill will have to invest and work harder at marketing his business since it will not have the recognition of an already developed brand name. He will also have to develop managerial processes and practices.

Course of Action B: Bill will open a franchise of a popular wine bar chain that specializes in California wines.

Benefits: Bill will have access to best practices, the benefits of established relationships with suppliers, and the recognition that comes with a well known brand name. This should speed up the road to profitability.

Cons:        Bill will have to adhere to the restrictions and procedures put in place by the franchisee. He will also have to pay a portion of his revenues to the franchisee lowering his potential income.

 

Example 2: Kevin wants a shed in the backyard.

Course of Action A: Kevin will build the shed by himself.

Benefits: Kevin will save money by not having to hire a carpenter to build the shed. He will also be able to customize the shed while building if he desires.

Cons:        Kevin will have to learn how to build a shed and spend a lot of his time on the project. He may make mistakes that increase the cost of the project, both in time and resources.

Course of Action B: Kevin will hire the services of a carpenter to work on the shed.

Benefits: Kevin will not have to spend time building the shed. He will have a fixed cost and the project will have a predictable outcome.

Cons:        Kevin may have to pay far more than he would have if he had completed the shed himself. Any changes or customizations after agreement would most likely incur additional costs.

 

Example 3: Abigail and the Doe Family fundraiser.

Course of Action A: Abigail will gather a small group which will undertake all preparations.

Benefits: By managing the event with a small group of volunteers, Abigail will keep the costs down, ensuring a higher return for the fundraiser.

Cons:        Abigail will have to commit a lot of personal time and effort into ensuring the fundraiser is a success.

Course of Action B: Abigail will enlist the services of an event planner.

Benefits: Abigail will reduce the amount of personal time and effort that needs to be spent on the fundraiser. The benefits of the event planner’s experience will also increase the chances of success.

Cons:        The cost of the event planner may cut into the event’s return for the Doe Family.

 

Example 4: Susan needs to improve productivity.

Course of Action A: The project will introduce new incentives to reward higher productivity.

Benefits: Incentives tied to improved productivity may motivate employees more than other measures. Incentives that are non monetary in nature may improve productivity at a low real cost.

Cons:      Monetary incentives are going to require resources, both monetary and administrative.

Course of Action B: The project will redesign certain processes which inhibit productivity.

Benefits: By examining processes for possible improvements, the project can improve productivity over the long term. These efforts may yield low cost improvements that can be made.

Cons:       Administratively, these kinds of changes can be a hassle. The project team will have to examine and prepare for unintended consequences of process change.

 

Example 5: Test scores will improve by 10% over the next three years.

Course of Action A: Supplemental study sessions will be introduced to ensure students are keeping up.

Benefits: This will allow the teacher to work directly with students at a high risk of doing poorly on the test, thus improving their chances and bringing up the average scores.

Cons:       This will require a lot of resources in terms of teacher time.

Course of Action B: The course will be redesigned so that more time is spent on traditionally weak areas.

Benefits: This will allow the teacher to redevelop the course so that it is more in line with testing. By focusing more course time on traditionally weak areas in testing, the scores should theoretically improve.

Cons:       There is a risk in redesigning the course that the teacher will lose the familiar teaching routines. This presents the possibility that the test scores will not increase but may actually decrease until the teacher can become familiar with the new course structure.

 

Example 6: ACME will be the lowest cost provider of computer services in Dayton.

Course of Action A: ACME will focus on a select range of computer services in order to provide efficiencies of scale and keep prices low.

Benefits: By focusing on a limited range of services, ACME can potentially limit the costs commonly associated with a wide variety of service offerings. Hiring can be limited to those with knowledge of the offered services. Diagnostic tools and hardware costs can be limited to the lower number of services offered.

Cons:       ACME will miss out on potential revenues for those services not offered. Customers may choose to utilize one provider for all their needs rather than split them between different providers.

Course of Action B: ACME will focus on maintenance agreements and other long term relationships to keep prices low.

Benefits: By focusing efforts on long term agreements with clients, ACME can limit the administrative costs associated with managing a large number of smaller clients.

Cons:       ACME will miss out on the potential revenues that come from a wider variety of clients. The risk of losing one client will be considerably more severe with a few clients than with several.

 

Example 7: The Jaguars will win at least 8 games this year.

Course of Action A: The Jaguars will focus on improving their offensive capabilities.

Benefits: By focusing efforts on improving offensive capabilities the Jaguars hope to offset their traditional weakness in defence.

Cons:       Additional training and resources that are provided for offensive training run the risk of diminishing the weak defence further.

Course of Action B: The Jaguars will focus on improving their preseason training.

Benefits: A balanced approach to both offense and defense in the preseason will improve both sets of capabilities.

Cons:       Additional training in the preseason will require both monetary and non monetary resources.

 

Example 8: Scott will ensure production remains above 50 Widgets per week and quality scores of 95% are maintained.

Course of Action A: Scott will retain the previous methods and processes practiced by the team.

Benefits: Resource expenditure and other requirements should remain constant. Limited need for change management since it will essentially be business as usual.

Cons:       The potential opportunity to improve production and quality scores even further will be missed.

Course of Action B: Scott will improve production to 55 widgets per week and improve the quality scores to at least 97.5%

Benefits: Higher production and quality requirements may precipitate positive changes for the team. Long term improvements might be identified and realized.

Cons:       Additional improvements in quality and production might require more resources than the benefits are worth.

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