The one thing you need to know – The SCQuARE way to better business planning and decision-making By Ross Lovelock
(Summarised by Paul Arnold – Strategic planner, Facilitator and Trainer – firstname.lastname@example.org)
IN A NUTSHELL
The best ideas are useless if they cannot be sold-in. Successful people tend to be more successful than others in their ability to persuade. The SCQuARE model helps you put together a compelling argument to get everyone to ‘Yes’.
The SCQuARE model:
S = Setting
C = Consequence
Qu = Pivotal Question
A = Answer
RE = Recommendations and Evidence
1) The underlying principles of SCQuARE
The 7 principles of SCQuARE:
If you want to get your boss to say yes then you must….
1. Share the same big picture and the same corrective actions.
2. Define the scope (including only relevant information to lead to the right decision).
3. Focus on the consequences.
4. Continue the analysis until you have defined the right question.
5. Sell the problem first (until they see the issue the same way).
6. Present your ‘What?’ and ‘How?’ before your ‘Reasons Why?’
7. Plan your story
Cutting through the corporate Maze – Every minute great ideas are lost and careers crushed due to poor selling-in. The best ideas can easily fail if you cannot persuade others of your ideas. You succeed when you align expectations and goals – and fail when you don’t. One of the key issues is over-complexity – you need to keep things simple so people understand the idea.
The SCQaRE model helps develop a proven way of selling-in your ideas. It’s a bit like building a jigsaw – at the start there is a muddle of confusing pieces that do not sit together. At the end, you create a clear picture. You first start by creating the frame. You then collate together similar bits of information whilst all the time trying to see how they fit together and what is the overall ‘bigger picture’. At some point a route through (i.e. the strategy) becomes clearer.
Analysis leads to insight – Lack of analysis can lead to poor insights, a weak presentation and inappropriate decision-making. Analysis also helps to simplify complexity.
Focus on the consequences – To properly assess the situation, you need to dig deeper into the underlying causes – and then identify the consequences. If you don’t understand the consequences then you don’t really understand the issue.
Define the principal question – Every issue tends to pivot around one key question that condenses all the analysis.
First sell the problem – SCQuARE drives focus on the core problem. Once this has been identified, then it keeps the presentation on-track by demanding a clear strategy to resolve the problem. To sell a solution you need to first sell a problem. This is achieved through the development of a crystallised ‘key question’.
Ask ‘How?’ before the ‘Why?’ – To fully test your strategy before exposing it, you need to ask ‘How?’ and ‘Why?’ This will help you uncover any weaknesses. Likewise when presenting, tell the ‘How?’ before the ‘Reasons Why?’ otherwise they may come up with their own ‘Hows’. The more you focus on the ‘Why?’ the greater the chance of people rejecting your ‘How?’
Build your case on data – The case gains credibility when the structure is framed around irrefutable data. Each stage prompts the search for certain data/information. For example defining the situation demands certain data and the consequences another set of data. It’s also possible that as you populate each stage, it forces a re-evaluation of the key issue or strategy. What is key is to start with the aim of the presentation – otherwise you run the risk of drifting aimlessly through a sea of data.
2) The SCQuARE model
S – The setting
The first thing to do is to define the entity – i.e. the subject, scope and time frame of your plan. This forces a focus on what is important and prevents you from getting distracted.
Once the entity has been defined then you need to give it focus by defining the aim – i.e the aspirational (yet achievable) vision of the project. It often helps to state this as ‘To be…’. It is important that all stakeholder are aligned around the vision/aim as this becomes the ‘North star’ that gains buy-in at a higher level (even if there are some disagreements at the lower executional levels). Often there will be some pre-set objectives already in play and these need to be taken into account as any activity must be aligned with these.
First start with the ‘setting’ – i.e. the context of how things are right now. This stage focuses on the positives as helps keep people aligned – i.e. what is going right e.g. strengths, assets, skills and successes.
Below is a checklist of potential factors to explore:
-Factors about setting: performance, political, historical, organisational etc
-Factors about successes: organisational, product, individual, significant results etc
-Factors about strengths: resource, skill, brand, marketing etc
To keep on-track, you must check these are all relevant and important to the aim of the project.
C- Understanding the consequences
The C of SCQuARE is all about what has changed, the resulting complications and critically its consequences (including the consequences if nothing is done about it). If the last section was positive, this is more negative.
The consequences often takes hard facts and extrapolate them into the future. If you do not fully understand the consequences then you have not grasped the real issue. To do this you need to create a logical causal chain as this helps identify the underlying issue (which then drives your strategy for resolution). At the root of the change and resulting consequence will be some underlying cause that you need to identify – e.g. Change = Sales are falling. The Consequences = Profit drop. The underlying cause is the Product is at the end of its life cycle. Thus the solution will be around New Product Development.
If you do not identify the real underlying cause then your strategy will fail. Often there are a number of interlinking factors that need to be taken into account. Furthermore there may be hierarchical levels of causes. Stop when it starts to move outside your immediate locus of control – stopping government legislation is not really possible!
Focus first on what has changed, then what could change. For each factor, identify the complications for the change and finally the consequences of the change.
Clearly there may be some positive changes as well (which should be exploited – but if not seized upon could lead to a loss of competitiveness etc).
Like with the first section, it’s good to test your logic by asking the question, ‘So What?’
Ensure you add-in only those factors that are directly relevant and important. Resist the temptation to add in more stuff as this only leads to further confusion that could de-rail your overall proposal.
Qu – Defining the pivotal question
This is arguably the most important stage as it defines the key issue that your strategy intends to resolve. If this is not sold-in, then the strategy will be irrelevant. It lies at the very heart of your presentation. It creates focus and structure for the whole presentation. Every element leads up to it and away from it (if an element doesn’t then cut it out). Thus the question needs to be both critically important and demand an answer – i.e. it creates the vacuum that your strategy will fill. Clearly the question needs to be succinct yet capture the wholeness of the situation and consequence, Getting to the right question often takes time and a number of iterations – rarely will you get it right first time. The Situation and Consequences will be your primary source of defining the question. Thereafter it is about honing it down to create simplicity out of complexity.
A suggested exercise is to try to fill in this template:
How can I take …………….(main action) to ………(overcome any issue) and ……… (exploit an opportunity) so that I will meet ………..(pre-set objectives) and I will achieve my ………(stated aims)
The example the author uses is:
How can The Family Grocers Division combine the best of alternative distribution options in order to: 1) overcome the loss of product availability from ceasing direct deliveries, 2) the threat of negative PR from main competitors, 3) the need to save £15m costs over three years, 4) the loss of in-store control and 5) slow market growth and exploit: 1) alternative third-party distributors & 2) some reinvestment of the £15m cost savings to achieve 1) annual volume growth of 8% to 65m cases, 2) grow PBT by 10% to £22m and 3) £15m cost savings to continue to be the brand leader in all its market segments.
This was then simplified into :
How can we combine the strengths of the alternate distribution options to retain our 80% market coverage and current in-store control, counter the threat of negative PR whilst exploiting our cost savings, ensure we meet our preset objectives and achieve our aim to continue to be the brand leader in all market segments?
A = Finding the Right Answer
The right answer essentially answers the pivotal question. It is the core strategy that resolves the issue and/or exploits the opportunity. Your answer needs to be clear, concise and without ambiguity. At this stage you only provide the key building blocks of your strategy (without the ‘How?’ or ‘Why?’) rather than a detailed exposition of every stage (as too much detail will confuse).
In providing the right answer, you need to address all sections of the pivotal question, such as the aim, the pre-set objectives, the issue and/or opportunity.
Rarely will there be only one line of strategy as often it takes a number of actions to address an issue/opportunity.
In developing your strategies you need to ruthlessly interrogate each option against consequences, complications and the pivotal question.
RE = Recommendations & Evidence
In the Recommendations and Evidence section, you flesh-out the strategy outlined in the Answer. This is the point where the plan becomes very specific so people know exactly how the strategy will be actioned. It also reinforces the credibility of your plan.
Critically, this is the section where you answer the two key questions – the ’How?’ and the ‘Why?’.
Continually ask the ‘How?’ question at each level helps to dig down into the implementation plan and provides the detail of the recommendation. Each answer to ‘How?’ leads you into greater detail of exactly how the strategy will deliver against the aim and pre-set objectives.
Also keep asking ‘Why?’ at each level as this provides the rationale behind your strategy (that helps convince people to support your plans). It builds the foundation of the rationale.
By asking ‘How?’and ‘Why?’ you test your strategy so it can withstand not only the test of interrogation but that it will actually deliver.
Before presenting, ensure you play ‘Devil’s advocate’ as these test your strategy against some ‘fatal flaws’.
Some questions to ask:
-Are the strategies clear and succinct?
-Are the objectives well-defined and clear?
-Are the priorities well-defined and clear?
-Have you considered all the critical factors?
-What are the risks if problems arise?
-Do you have adequate resources for the task?
-Are your financial expectations realistic?
-Will your plan meet investment and cash objectives?
-Have you identified all the important constraints?
-Could a constraint become a limiting factor?
-Could a constraint become a down-size risk?
-Do you have the right team?
-Does your team have the right skills?
-Is your team committed to the objectives and strategy?
-Have you considered all important stakeholders?
-Do you have a communication plan?
-What are your plans for managing change?
-What are your plans for involving all affected?
-What problems can you foresee at this stage?
-Are there matters ahead that are critical?
-What are your contingency plans?
Telling a powerful story
The SCQuARE process helps develop the basic logical structure of your presentation – but you need to bring it alive in a compelling way. You now need to wrap a compelling story around it.
Your presentation needs to hold onto their attention step by step. In building your presentation you need to bear in mind three things:
- Information overload – a person only has a limited amount of ‘bandwidth’ (cf George Miller principle that a person can only hold onto only on average seven bits of information – too much information and you confuse/switch them off. Hence the need to keep it short, clear and with a logical flow. Each slide should have no more than three points on it.
- Present it inductively not deductively – A deductive argument presents the data then deduces a conclusion. This can lead people to deducting a different conclusion. You are more likely to hold onto your audience if you present your conclusions first and then use the data to support it.
- Use the headlines to tell the overall story – The headlines are key as they focus attention. The headings themselves should help tell the overarching story. Ideally headlines should be pithy – six words or less.
An outline shape of your presentation
(These may take more than one chart each):
1: Set up: Introduces the hook – the dramatic point of the document – often a benefit – and the agenda
2: Situation (1): Overview of the entity, aim and pre-set objectives.
3: Situation (2): The meat of the analysis – these should be factually positive
4: Consequences: Addressing the complications, consequences and issues/opportunities. 5: The pivotal question
6: The Answer to the pivotal question – top line only
7: The Recommendation – this fleshes out the strategy in more detail. This answers the ‘How?’ question.
8: This provides the evidence to support the’Why?’ questions. You also need to address the preemptive equations.
9: Final slide: This summarise the core of the presentation and reinforces the main benefits.
3) The Breaker Process
The sell can often be let down by a weak ‘Right Answer’ or an idea that has been tried before. Thus it is important to use creativity to generate a wider range of alternatives. The Breaker Process helps leads to braver, more imaginative solutions.
There are five stages: Focus, Chunking, Generating, Landing and Activating:
Focus – As Einstein once said, “The mere formulation of a problem is far more essential than its solution”. The pivotal question helps drive this process as it is about identifying a tightly defined area to focus your creative solutions on.
Chunking – Chunking helps further focus attention. Often a problem is too big so needs to be chucked down (or chunked up). For example ‘Internal communications could be chunked up to ‘Corporate communications’, chunked down to ‘Departmental communication’ or even chunked across to ‘Consumer communications’. It’s recommended to give it a fun name to the chunk as this also helps stimulate creativity.
Generating – Four techniques can be used to help develop fresh ideas:
-Play with words – You start with a word linked to your chunk, then think of another word that is linked to that word. Then do the same again, and again and again. This word association helps break through to new ideas.
-Play with facts – This process questions the facts associated with the area of focus and contradicts (or challenges) it. For example, What happens if I modify it? What happens if I put it to another use? etc. This ‘constructive disruption’ also helps break through our normal constraints of thinking.
-Play with the context – Look at where the same problem has been solved in a different area. Another way is to express the issue through a different medium (e.g. drawing, a sculpture, a song etc) to see if this helps unlock new insights.
-Play with stimulus – Select random objects and force associations.
Landing – Landing is about visualising and bringing to life the ideas (as this helps you more fully assess them).
Activating – Assess the ideas with the ‘Brutal’ selection criteria:
B = Is the idea big and brave?
R = Is the idea relevant?
U = Is the idea unexpected?
T = Is the idea transformational?
A = Is the idea ambitious?
L = Is the idea liberating?
Throughout the book the author encourages the reader to embed the learning by running through a real exercise. Here are the key stages:
- Think of a real project you have to undertake. Define the entity – i.e. Its subject, scope and time-frame. Ensure it is within your decision-making accountability.
- Take the entity that you have identified above. Define the aim (e.g. To be…. – What is the aspirational end-point?), the key metrics (i.e. how will know you are getting there?) and time frame.
- List out the pre-set objectives of the project (likely to have been agreed with your boss and stated using SMART).
- Create the context by stating the facts. Try to group the facts together. What are the positive factors? Check the facts are directly relevant to the aim.
- Test your ‘context’ by asking the question ‘So What?’ at each stage.
- What has changed? What caused the change? When did it change? Is it a positive or negative change? what are the consequences of the change? What happens if nothing is done about it?
- What could change? (and ask similar questions to those above)
- What are the complications of these changes?
- Bring together onto one page, your entity, aim and any pre-set objectives.
- Review all the factors in your project and identify the main negative factors that will impede the progress towards your aim.
- Review all the factors in your project and identify the main positive factors that can be exploited in order to progress towards your aim.
- Refer back to the causal diagram and clarify the main actions.
- Use the template to build (from the bottom up) your first attempt at the pivotal question.
- When finalised, simplify it into a motivating pivotal question.
RECOMMENDATIONS AND EVIDENCE
- Evaluate the strategic options developed against a number of criteria:
-Does it address the aim?
-Does it address the pre-set objectives?
-Does it address the key issues identified?
-Does it exploit the key opportunities identified?
-What are the complications of each strategy?
-What are the consequences of each strategy?
-Is the strategy compelling and believable?
-Is the strategy achievable?
-Does the strategy have clear benefits?
-Is the strategy clear and succinct?
For each level ask ‘How?’ and ‘Why?’
Address the pre-emptive questions (see the main body of the text)
Outline the timings and responsibilities
This summary lacks the case history (that is in the book). This really helps bring this conceptual framework to life.
The book’s great strength is how it has been boiled down to a simple easy to remember (and execute) methodology that keeps you on track. I have often used this process myself in my own presentations.
That said, from when I was first introduced to this model many years ago, it has become more complex (no doubt to handle the many different scenarios the model has been used for). I personally feel the pivotal question needs to be kept shorter (almost single-minded) as then it is more likely to lodge into the audience’s mind.