Strategic Planning: Prometheus Process

Strategy – The Sine Qua Non of Success*

In all the history of competition - military and business - the ability to create and execute good strategy has been the hallmark of winners. As important as strategic thinking and action have always been, in today’s hyper-velocity world they are more important than ever. The Prometheus Process is a comprehensive methodology for creating and executing good strategy throughout an organization; it applies to any kind of competitive environment - from business to war. If you want success in today’s world, you need strategic thinking and execution throughout your organization - not just at the senior executive level. Wolf Management Consultants can help you develop a great strategy that should significantly increase your return on the people, ideas, and capital that are already part of your organization.

Welcome to the world of Prometheus!*

It may surprise you to learn that you witnessed the birth of a powerful business process Prometheus - on global television. It was the evening of January 16, 1991 when the launch of the first hyper-war was broadcast live on CNN. Developed at warp-speed and designed for overwhelming victory, the Desert Storm air campaign lit up the skies of Baghdad and changed strategic thinking forever. Now, this breakthrough concept has been applied to another kind of intense competition: the fast changing world of 21st century business.

The Prometheus Process*

The Prometheus Process is a mindset and a methodology for rapid, decisive strategic action. Its essence is simple: think strategically, focus sharply, and move quickly.

  • Prometheus delivers a powerful message. You can control your destiny - if you are willing to shed yesterday’s thinking about business strategy and make the future what you want it to be!
  • Transform your organization into a nimble, market-leading winner!
  • Design and execute a Grand Strategy that everyone from the boardroom to the front line will share, understand, and execute!
  • Shape Tomorrow before it shapes you!

The Prometheus Process is all about strategy. There is no other time in the last two decades of American business history where strategy was as essential as it is now. To use Andy Grove’s phrase, we are clearly at a strategic inflection point in technology, time, and geopolitics; there are now opportunities that previously did not exist and, conversely, processes that worked for years are no longer attractive. It is through mastery of strategic thinking and execution that individuals and companies alike are able to determine their destinies and rise above the uncertainties around them.

The Prometheus Process allows you to create and execute a uniquely encompassing strategy - one that carries you from concept to end game. It helps you choose the right things—your internal and external centers of gravity—against which to put your energy. It shows you graphically why the normal serial approach to business has such a low probability of success; it provides you with concepts and tools to move to parallel operations, with their high probabilities of success and accompanying low risk. Finally, it shows you how to recognize and deal with the points of diminishing return in your products and business concepts.

Why is the Prometheus Process needed?

If you want to be more profitable, to see more results from your hard work, and to get greater satisfaction from your enterprise, you need to create and execute good strategy, for it is strategy more than anything else which gives you sustainable success. The Prometheus Process is a proven approach to developing and executing strategy throughout an organization. It helps organizations and individuals stay ahead of change and profit from it. It is a necessity for any organization or any person wanting to maximize opportunities, minimize risk, and see good returns on investments of people, time and money. In some situations, it may even be your key to survival.

You won’t win by following the rules of yesterday. Use Prometheus to create your own rules with a winning strategy—an integrated plan that will take you from concept to execution to completion.

The Promethic Laws

The Prometheus Process is built on a group of natural laws of strategy as follows:

  • Every action affects the future
  • Specific actions create a specific future
  • Every thing and every action happens in a system
  • All systems have inertia and resist change
  • All systems have Centers of Gravity
  • Systems Change when their Centers of Gravity change
  • The extent and probability of system change is proportional to the number of Centers of Gravity affected, and the speed at which they are affected
  • All known systems and things have a beginning and an end
  • Specific actions produce specific ends

The Four Imperatives of Prometheus

Strategy is all about guiding the outcome of individual effort and events to produce success. In strategic terms, success is producing a sustainable outcome that is valuable and satisfying over time. Strategy, then, is not winning battles; rather it is winning wars and more particularly the peace that follows them. Focusing only on battles at the expense of wars and the subsequent peace is dangerous in the extreme and almost never leads to long-term success.

Many people think that strategic thought and execution are very difficult. To the contrary, almost everyone can learn to do both. The operative word, however, is “learn.” We all grow up in a tactical world, where looking both ways before we cross the street is a necessity for survival. Likewise, in our education, we spend the overwhelming majority of our time learning details, while we spend little time trying to integrate what we have learned.

So, unfortunately, strategy is foreign to most of us - we have had little exposure to it, and we are normally rewarded for tactical, not strategic, prowess. If, however, we really want our efforts to produce sustained success, then we must learn strategy at both an organization and a personal level. Fortunately, despite the mysteries surrounding strategy, learning to think and act strategically is not too difficult, but it does require you to view the world in a different way.

The Elements of Strategy

At its most basic level, strategy has four simple components:

I. Knowing where you want to end up
II. Knowing what to put your energy against
III. Knowing the methodology of applying your energy
IV. Knowing parameters for the inevitable end games

Any strategic system that does not deal with all four of these elements is deficient and not likely to lead to sustained success.

In the Prometheus Process, each of these necessary elements is addressed by an “Imperative”, or key step in the process.

Imperative I: Design the Future

The first (and importantly first) step in strategic thinking is to identify the future that you want to create. In the Prometheus Process, the desired future is called the Future Picture. It is a very hard, very objective, very measurable picture of the future you want to create. In the Prometheus Process, you break the Future Picture into 12 separate, very descriptive elements that ensure a balanced future embraced by all.

Accompanying the Future Picture are Strategic Measures of Merit—those measures that tell you when you have achieved your Future Picture, or when you are on the right course for it. They are normally not the same measures you use at a tactical level. In fact, tactical measures can be quite dangerous when applied at a strategic level.

The third key part of designing the future is deciding on the Guiding Precepts which will apply to the organization. Guiding Precepts describe the essence of the organization (e.g., Nordstrom’s extreme customer focus), and the boundaries you intend to accept regardless of the circumstances (e.g., the opposite of the Enron Executive Committee waiving its conflict of interest rules for off-book deals).

The Prometheus Process assumes that the people in an organization generally know more about their business than anyone else in the world. It also assumes that people in an organization will make and execute smart plans if they have a disciplined process which takes place in an Open Planning environment. The more people who are involved in the planning process, the faster it goes, and the more likely that the plan will be well executed. In general, it is good to have at least three echelons (Management Layers) involved in the Open Planning process. Having three echelons ensures that there will be good knowledge and experience in the room. It also means that as the planning merges into execution, there will be very few errors made as a result of confusion over direction, or disagreement with the plan.

Imperative II: Target for Success

There are a very large number of things against which an organization can put its limited resources. You know intuitively that some of those things will have much higher impact than others. The organization which targets the right things, the Centers of Gravity, will be far more effective, at a much lower cost, than the organization that has no disciplined way to choose and affect its targets.

The Prometheus Process recognizes that everything takes place in the context of a system and that systems have such annoying characteristics as inertia and resistance to change. But they also have Centers of Gravity—the handful of things in a system that produce disproportionate impact when affected. The Five Rings model—exclusive to the Prometheus Process—provides a real-world way to understand organizations and markets as a system, and to find their Centers of Gravity. The best way to change a system (your organization, your market) is by affecting its Centers of Gravity.

If you want to put your organization or market on a new track, it is necessary to create rapid and hard-to-reverse system change. To create hard-to-reverse system change, you must affect system Centers of Gravity in a compressed period of time. Doing so greatly reduces the ability of the system to resist what you want it to do, and the changes tend to stick. This leads to the third of the Prometheus Imperatives—Campaign to Win.

Imperative III: Campaign to Win

With the Future Picture standing before everyone as a clear beacon to guide actions, you begin to attack the Centers of Gravity previously identified. You do this with Campaign Teams drawn from across the organization, and consisting to the maximum extent possible of those who participated in the creation of the Future Picture, and the identification of the Centers of Gravity.

It is the objective of the Campaign Teams, continuing to work in an Open Planning environment, to affect the Centers of Gravity in Parallel, which means to affect them all in a very compressed time frame. Compressed, Parallel Operations have far higher probabilities of success than do stretched-out serial operations, and paradoxically cost much less.

Imperative IV: Finish with Finesse

In the real world, every business cycle and product has a beginning and an end. Even though we know this to be the case, very few organizations plan for the back side of the inevitable cycle. The failure to plan in advance means that too much energy is devoted to the wrong things. In the Prometheus Process, you plan so as to exit cycles and products with maximum gains.

Cardinal Rules

The Prometheus Process incorporates a number of “Cardinal Rules” that generally apply across the board in any kind of competitive environment. They flow from historical and modern experiences in business and geopolitics. Applied to every phase of planning and execution, they simplify and expedite decisions at all levels. They also apply in everyday personal life. When you follow them, you improve your probability of succeeding. The following are illustrative of the dozen plus Prometheus Cardinal Rules:

  • Think Like An Architect, Not A Bricklayer
    An architect would never begin a design project by limiting himself to the pile of old bricks and wood in his scrap yard. He begins with the concept, the design, and works backwards. You must do the same thing.

  • Plan In The Open, And Use A Red Team
    Open Planning means including as many people as physically (or virtually) possible from all levels in your organization in every phase of planning. Strive to include at least three echelons in planning and decision meetings. Open Planning leads to expeditious and timely planning and execution that is strategically aligned across the organization.

    A Red Team methodology is a necessary adjunct to good planning and execution at any level. When people work together, they inevitably make compromises and they also have a tendency to fall into a “group think” mode. Compromises in themselves are not necessarily bad, except they are generally made during the course of a planning session, and are rarely understood in the context of the entire plan. “Group think” might turn out to be fine, but the chances are that as the group homes in on one approach, it tends to discard all the rest of the options without careful thought.

    I t is the job of the Red Team to attack the plan in order to expose weaknesses in it. They can be a dedicated group, or the whole planning team periodically putting on its ‘red hats’ and reversing roles. Not only does the Red Team approach almost always find flaws that need repair, it also gives people confidence to allow planning to proceed along lines with which they may have some discomfort, because they know there will be a second look from a different direction.

  • Execute Good Enough Plans
    Good enough plans rapidly and aggressively executed are far superior to perfect plans too long delayed
    . You may find that data that were correct and relevant today may be incorrect and irrelevant tomorrow. In today’s world, the advantages of high velocity are enormous.

  • Maximize Friends, Minimize Enemies
    Enemies and friends are always a choice
    . Friends are good and you cannot have too many of them. Enemies are bad, and no one can afford very many, if any. There is a tendency to think that we are issued our fair portion, and that not much can be done about it. The fact is that friends and enemies are all optional, but the impact of not having enough friends, or of having too many enemies is certain.

The Prometheus Process Differentiators

Unlike most strategic planning methodologies, the Prometheus Process provides a means for start to finish strategic planning and execution to be used at every level of an organization. It emphasizes: Objective Descriptions of the organization’s Desired Future with accompanying Strategic Measures of Merit; understanding organizational values through the creation of Guiding Precepts; a real world Systems Approach to find Centers of Gravity within an organization and in its markets; Flexible Organization; Open Planning at every level; Rapid System Change, and preparation of End Game Plans for every facet of the business. Specifically:

  1. Prometheus is designed for fast and dramatic success in the digital age, not the industrial age.
  2. Prometheus provides a complete strategic framework - from concept to execution to termination.
  3. Prometheus uses the best people in the world to build strategic plans and operations—the organization’s own people.
  4. Prometheus focuses everyone on the future.
  5. Prometheus accelerates execution because many people (sometimes all) are involved in planning and are committed to success.
  6. Prometheus enables people to make smart decisions because they know the strategy and because they have developed Strategic Measures of Merit at every level.
  7. Prometheus enables people to understand the differences between tactical measures and Strategic Measures of Merit.
  8. Prometheus focuses energy on the Centers of Gravity that will make a real difference.
  9. Prometheus takes an organization out of the high risk serial world, and puts it in the low risk parallel world, where probabilities of success are very high.
  10. Prometheus promotes an efficient, aligned organization that works in a fast-time learning environment.
  11. Prometheus allows an organization to be highly flexible, within agreed strategic boundaries.
  12. Prometheus helps an organization to become a learning organization, capable of transmitting key information to everyone in near real-time.
  13. Prometheus provides the methodology and discipline to get out of projects that are not working.
  14. Prometheus creates hard-to-reverse market and organization change.

* “Strategy- The Sine Qua Non of Success”: Strategy Presentation by John Warden to The Company Grade Officer's Group, Gunter AB, AL May 2003

* “Winning in FastTime” – John A. Warden III and Leland A. Russell, 2002 - Venturist Publishing; ISBN 0-9711591-4-9

* The Prometheus Process was created and developed by John Warden of the Venturist Corporation and is licensed to WMC through Wolf Management Consultant; James R. McCarthy.

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