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Book Review: Key Strategy Tools

By Jennifer Tunny

Title: Key Strategy Tools: The 80+ Tools for Every Manager to build a Winning Strategy 
Author: Vaughn Evans
Publisher: FT Publishing
Publication Date: 2013
ISBN: 978–0-273-77886-8
Formats: Paperback; Electronic
Rating: 3.5/5

Key Strategy Tools by Vaughn is the latest addition to the Key series of publications from Financial Times Publishing, which includes Key Management Models (2008) and Key Performance Indicators (2013). This book delivers sound guidance on 88 tools boards and management can use in each stage of strategy development in a practical and accessible manner.

The 88 tools, which are classified as either ‘essential’ or ‘useful’, are slotted into the appropriate place in one of the book’s 9 sections:

  1. Knowing your business
  2. Setting goals and objectives
  3. Forecasting market demand
  4. Gauging industry competition
  5. Tracking competitive advantage
  6. Targeting the strategic gap
  7. Bridging the gap: business strategy
  8. Bridging the gap: corporate strategy
  9. Addressing risk and opportunity

For each tool, the author discusses the tool itself, how to use it, when to use it, and when to be wary – an important topic, since some strategy tools will not be relevant to all organisations and using them could waste the time of both the board and management, while other tools have serious flaws or need to be used in conjunction with another tool to be useful. For example, the much loved SWOT analysis (Tool 6, pp. 30-33), which was developed by Kenneth Andrews at the Harvard Business School in the 1960s, can become ‘a depository, a jumble of random observations and issues, fluffy and meaningless’ (p. 33), if no key issues are drawn from the analysis.

The references for each of the tools are provided at the back of the book (pp. 340-346). However, this reference list is by no means comprehensive, as it does not source the criticisms of the tools. The reader is left to ponder whether the views are those of the author alone, or have some basis in academic research or normative practice.

While the list of tools in this book is extensive, it is surprising to see the ones that were not included. For example, the author did not see the value of Hambrick and Fredrickson’s (2001, ‘Are you sure you have a strategy?’, Academy of Management Executive, 15(4), 48-59) ‘Integrated Choices’ framework, which is an excellent frame of reference for strategic planning in that it uses five key elements to consider when composing a strategy:

  1. Arenas: where will we be active?
  2. Vehicles: how will we get there?
  3. Differentiators: how will we win in the marketplace?
  4. Staging: what will be our speed and sequence of moves?
  5. Economic logic: how will we obtain our returns?

Hambrick and Fredrickson also offer six criteria to evaluate your strategies and as such it is a useful tool.

Overall, Key Strategy Tools, like the other volumes in the Key series, is an excellent reference source, but like the tools discussed in the book, it is not without its flaws. For example, Vaughn’s categorisation of tools as either essential or useful is subjective – what is useful to the ‘big end of town’ where the author seems to operate, is less useful to small to medium enterprises or not-for-profits. As an example, in section 4, the widely used PESTEL (political, economic, social, technological, environmental, legal) analysis is relegated to the useful category, while Porter’s five forces is regarded as essential. These categories will also depend on whether the user of the tool is a member of management or a director. For example, the more complex tools such as the Delphi method (see Tool 20) or expected value and sensitivity analysis (see Tool 86) are less likely to be used in board strategic planning activities than tools such as the PESTEL analysis. As the author notes, this is due to the fact that the book is for managers and most of it is about business strategy rather than the higher-level, corporate strategy. That said, the same tools can be deployed for both corporate and business strategy.

Recommended as a reference guide to the many strategy tools available: both the recent additions to the strategists toolkit such as Rumelt’s Good Strategy/Bad Strategy (2011) (Tool 77) to more established models such as Michael Porter’s value chain (1985) (Tool 31).A word of warning though, while it is good to know about these tools, you will likely only ever come across a few of them being used on a regular basis and in most cases mastering them is no easy task.