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Book Review: Strategy Builder

Strategy Builder Cover

Title: Strategy Builder: How to Create and Communicate More Effective Strategies

Author: Stephen Cummings and Duncan Angwin

Publisher: Wiley

Publication Date: April 2015

ISBN 13: 978-1-118-70723-4

Formats: Hardback

Rating: 2.5/5

Strategy Builder by Professors Stephen Cummings and Duncan Angwin promises a visual and interactive guide to building and communicating strategies that actually work. The problem the book sets to answer is that: ‘people like strategy but feel overwhelmed by it or un-involved in it. Organisations subsequently underperform due to poor strategic engagement and implementation’ (p.5). The authors’ answer to this problem is ‘drawing strategy’. There are seven reasons why the authors recommend this approach:

  1. It enables greater memory retention
  2. It promotes more effective decision-making and action orientation
  3. It encourages grounded innovation
  4. It promotes prototype building
  5. It helps you see your thinking
  6. It aids collective engagement
  7. It is an alternative to conventional approaches to strategy (i.e. strategic plans and PowerPoint presentations).

So what do you draw? Pages 25 to 206 of this 248-page book reproduce many of the already well-known strategy tools that many boards and managers already use to design their strategy as well as some that are less well known. For example, SWOT analysis, the Power/Interest Matrix, Porter’s Five Forces, the Ansoff Matrix and Blue Ocean Strategies. There are also several strategy tools developed by the authors that will likely be new to readers.

The culmination of whatever tools those designing the strategy use should be a ‘strategy-on-page’ that can be easily communicated and understood by those charged with implementing it. Sadly, I do not think this book provides clear or comprehensive enough instructions for doing so. It seems to take a shotgun approach to setting out the models and then there is a vague chapter about setting them out using stratographic principles (Part 3 of the book).

Annoyingly, the book gives two websites where the reader is supposed to be able to download some of templates shown. The two websites are www.wiley/go/strategybuilder.com, which does not work; and www.strategicplan.com, which takes you to www.strategyblocks.com/. The Strategy Blocks site offers an app that can be used to do everything the book discusses – it does not, however, provide any of the aforementioned templates. Cynically, I see this as more of way to get customers for the app rather than a resource for book purchasers. I also question how the authors’ focus on drawing strategy on whiteboards, etc. is enhanced by an app.

The idea of designing strategies using tools such the SWOT analysis etc. is hardly new nor is using a whiteboard to gather ideas. Indeed, neither is the importance of putting your overarching strategy on a page novel. Overall, I was not impressed and I cannot help but think that the Strategy Builder would have been better as a four to five page Harvard Business Review article. If you want a book that actually is new, I would recommend Business Model Generation by Alexander Osterwalder and Yves Pigneur (2010, Wiley), which also promotes using visual techniques.