Strategy – what is this and how can statisticians apply strategic thinking

What is a good or bad strategy?
What is the difference between strategy and goals?
Has strategy something to do with vision or long-term thinking?

Strategy is a buzz word that is all around. Everybody talks about it but I didn’t know what it is for a very long time. I recently read a nice book about this and in this episode, you’ll gain knowledge about what I have learned from this book.

What is a strategy?

  • Diagnosis of the problem “What is going on here?”
  • Strategic pillars – guiding policy
  • Tactical plan of coherent actions

But there is a lot of bad strategy around:

  • Fluff – just lots of buzz words
  • Failure to face or define the challenge
  • Mistake goals for strategy
  • Bad strategic objectives in a sense of not addressing critical issues or are impracticable

Book recommendations:

Listen to this episode and share this with your friends and colleagues!

Transcript

Alexander: You’re listening to the effective Statistician Podcast. A weekly podcast with Alexander Shacht, Benjamin Piske, and Sam Gardner designed to help you reach your potential lead, great science and serve patients without becoming overwhelmed by work. Today, we are talking about strategy. What is this? And how can statisticians apply Strategic Thinking? So stay tuned, and now the music.

Alexander: Statistics and Strategy, everybody talks about strategy, but I didn’t know what it is for a very long time. I was only thinking about what it has to do with long-term thinking, and it has something to do with vision probably? And it has something to do with how we get there. But what’s the difference between strategy and goals? What is a good strategy? What is a bad strategy? So I recently read a really nice book about it. “Good strategy, Bad strategy”. And here you learn a lot about what I learned from this book. And if you want to read it, head over to our homepage, theeffectivestatistician.com to find something much more content to help you boost your career as a statistician in the health sector. I’m producing this podcast in association with PSI. A community dedicated to leading and promoting the use of Statistics within the Healthcare Industry for the benefit of patients. Join PSI today to further develop your statistical capabilities with access to the video on demand Content Library, free registration to all PSI webinars and much much more. The reduced rate is only £20 for non high-income countries. And also only £95 for high-income countries. Visit the PSI website at psiweb.org to learn more about PSI activities and become a PSI member today. 

Alexander: Welcome to another episode. Today. I’m talking again with Benjamin, hi Benjamin, how are you doing?

Benajmin: Alexander, very good. We got a strategy for today, Alexander? 

Alexander: Yes, we have a strategy for today. The strategy on strategy, strategy is this kind of password that is all around, they say “We need to be more strategic”. Oh, we need to have a seat at the table, when the strategy is discussed. You need to think more strategically. You need to act more strategically. Yeah. It’s probably one of the passwords that is all used. You know, there’s probably no executive presentation that doesn’t have that word somewhere.

Benjamin:  Absolutely. I think in Australia, everyone also feels like having a strategy and probably it is part of a strategy. But for, you know, whenever I say for when I start my day, I try to kind of make up a strategy for the day. So kind of ideas or what do I want to achieve and kind of do something about it, but it’s really not a lot of strategy in the way that we, you know, in the biggest sense of creating a plan and having a lot of discussion around and really thinking. It’s more like just a plan. 

Alexander: So it’s just a plan of actions. Yeah, but you know, I think strategy also has this bad connotation quite often in a business sense. Oh, yeah, someone presents a strategy and that’s a series of buzzwords. We will use big data and AI to leverage our machine learning capabilities to expand and also their capacity to have a superior influence on the drug development process, to satisfy the needs of our stakeholders and increasing value for patients. 

Benjamin: Good school.

Alexander: Yeah. I think I can become a CEO based on that. 

Benjamin: Absolutely, leader and Business Development, sometimes when you prepare for some strategic meeting, I do feel so naked sometimes because I don’t use these passwords usually. So when I try to put something in, sometimes it just aligns. Like an empty slide with just one point that I would like to mention. That’s the point, that’s the strategy, It’s not a lot of words, but yeah. I know it’s late, we can really fall for strategy, its misuse. The word strategy is often misused in with just putting smaller commercial objects on it, and marketing and all these things. 

Alexander: Yeah, but there’s also other areas where it’s what can be a bad strategy, and I’m taking a couple of these examples from books that I had to look into and found really, really helpful some time ago. It’s called “Good strategy, bad strategy”. The link to it is in the show notes, I highly recommend you reading at least some parts about it. There’s lots of examples and maybe you don’t need to read each example in detail, but I highly recommend it or at least listen to this episode until the end and quite a lot of it. One of the other examples of bad strategy on the list is failure to face or define the challenge that is really there. So it’s kind of, yeah we want to be great. Okay, what do we need for greatness? And then, you know, come up with all kinds of different things. But understanding what really is happening, what are the shifts of your organization compared to all the others? Yeah. What really the problem is, is not addressed. And then you come up with all kinds of different action items but these are useless, because they don’t really address the problem because you have never really defined it. 

Benjamin: Yeah. Now that’s absolutely correct. And it’s also kind of the way of thinking, when you say you would like to grow. You know, you’re not growing by hiring more people. I mean, you do grow but it’s not the strategy. Yeah, you may realize that you need to hire new people in order to successfully grow. But hiring people to grow is not a strategy. 

Alexander: Yeah, it’s an action. The other point is, the mistake of goal from strategy. Yeah. Oh, we want to be a high performance Growth Company, that’s a series of passwords. Yeah, and and want to double the size by that time all we want to deliver this project 6 months ahead of time or whatever. That is a goal, but that’s not a strategy.

Benjamin: Yeah, absolutely. So it may be part of a strategy though. 

Alexander: Well, it can inform the problem statement for the strategy. 

Benjamin: Yeah don’t mistake this for strategy. 

Alexander: Yeah, and the last part is, you have lots of so-called strategic objectives, but this kind of stand-alone. Yeah, they’re not directly linked to the critical things that you want to address. Like we have this training objective, we want to train everybody to really do good in their job. Great! But how does that help you with your objective? Or what’s a problem that you want to solve here? And training can mean lots of different things. Yeah, what specifically do you need here? Do you need training to become better in planning face to face studies? Or do you need training to become better in terms of having flawless executions? Or do you need training to better communicate with your stakeholders? Or do you need training to get into this data science field? Yeah, what is training? Well maybe a strategic pillar, if there is no crisp understanding of it, it doesn’t help.

Benjamin: All the things that we sometimes use as a strategy are probably part of a strategy, like underlying reasons sometimes. But the strategy itself is far more than that. 

Alexander: Yeah. 

Benjamin: So I think that  we should have goals, but we shouldn’t talk about strategies there. So it’s not incorrect to have goals. It’s more about. We should better try to align the goals and create a strategy. And I think that is the step that everyone including myself is kind of lacking in some cases. Because you do have a goal, like I said before, I have my day but what is the strategy behind it? So I think that is where the book and the experience really tells us that there’s more.

Alexander: The first part of the strategy, I think that is the most important part is a good diagnosis of the problem, or answering the question, “What’s going on here?” So really digging deeply into what are the different sources, what are the different data that you have? What are the different facts? What are the different hypotheses that you have? What are the different goals that you have here? What’s your competition? What are the constraints that you have? Yeah, so, what’s the goal that you have? So if you think about, for example, your personal development, yeah, you could have a goal of, I want to be an expert in this field in five years. Yeah. Okay, that’s your goal. Then you need to have a thorough understanding of where you are, and what are the gaps to that goal? And what are the constraints? Yeah. Is your current job helping you to achieve that goal? If you already have some network, and can you work on projects that help with that? Do you have any limitations that you have? Yeah, maybe you don’t have a good network with the people in this area, well maybe the experts are. I don’t know, maybe you are working in the wrong company or whatever. All these kinds of different things have a very good and deep understanding of the problem. 

Benjamin: I think that the key in one of the problems that we usually face in this field or in asking or answering this question is to take yourself the time to answer it. Because usually you are quite quick in saying, yeah, I want to be an expert. So in having strategy, any training whatsoever. So that’s it, five minutes or even less and you have a strategy, but actually you could spend probably on a question and becoming an expert in something. You probably spend just a week or two only preparing to answer the question. So what’s going on is where I am, you know, where am I at the moment? What are the gaps? What is the network? What does my company offer and so on. So all the things that you just describe, is just really something where you could spend days to transfer this question. And that is something we are really lacking. I mean, depending if it’s like a Personal Life goal, then you should spend probably more time than to have a strategy for the day. 

Alexander: Yeah. All strategies need to start with a very deep understanding of some problem. Then the next part that you can work on is, what are the Strategic Pillars? What are the guiding policies that you need to have in place that have these broad areas that you need to work on? Yeah, so if we go back to the example of personal development, yes, and it’s surely kind of increasing your knowledge in this area. Increasing your visibility to your authority in this area would probably be to strategic objectives.

Benjamin: We also like having practical involvement in it or something which could answer the question, whether you’re in the right company or not.

Alexander: Maybe you have just these two strategic pillars. Yeah, having knowledge about the regulatory area for that area. Yeah with its base or adaptive design or multiplicity or whatever. Yeah, maybe that’s another strategic pillar. So think about it in these terms and you need to be clear about what are these important areas that you need to play in? And then the last part, the third part of the strategic pillar beyond a strategy beyond the diagnosis of the problem, and the strategic pillars are the tactical plan of coherent actions. So now it comes into getting more into the details. Yeah. It’s about the tactics, so if you want to grow your expertise in this field, maybe start with a literature review of what’s there? Yeah, make a plan to connect with all the experts in the field. Find out about rather than conferences and attend them. Yeah, look for projects that you can work on and apply these. Talk with your supervisor to get it into your goals. All these kinds of different things. Yeah, all these would be then. You know, a tactical plan and you can, you know, this tactical plan can go over, it will always be more fuzzy the longer you look into the future. Yeah, but it needs to be so concrete that you know you can. Basically for you to say, okay, today I need to do A, B, and C to move in that direction. 

Benjamin: Yeah. It’s kind of building the basis for your day-to-day work. Not necessarily, but at least to day-to-day plan for the strategy. 

Alexander:Yep.

Benjamin: Yeah, I think I mean it could be depending on what it is. I mean, obviously it does not necessarily have an impact on each and every day. It could also be that this is someone on a weekly basis. So, on a wider range, however, this feeds into the planning and the whole discussion that we already had around, putting time aside for you to really work on your goals. And in this case, on the tactical plan of the actions that you have to do in order to reach the goals. So to kind of build the strategy and work on the strategy on an ongoing basis. And I think when we see the three points, there shouldn’t be anything really new in a way. Overall It’s not exciting, something newly discovered. I think it’s really more of a reminder of saying just make sure, if you plan a strategy, if you have a strategy, take the time to do the steps for the straight for successful strategy. Because one doesn’t go without the others. So it’s like a very tiny thing, if you say you’re hungry, you have to understand you’re hungry. And otherwise, you wouldn’t get some food because otherwise it would just get some water and you are still hungry, but, you know, get some water. And it’s really about the whole plan of defining the problem. Understanding the problem and defining it then the pillars and at the end really break this down into action points that we can do on a day-to-day or a smaller piece at the time. 

Alexander: Yeah. And so I encourage you to think about that when you work on your projects. Do you understand these different parts of the strategy of the project you’re working on? Yeah. So if you’re working, for example, on the product development of a new compound, do you understand what is the strategy behind it? You understand how this product will be positioned in the market. How will it differentiate from its competitors? How will it win in the market? Is it a me-too product that will be sold based on price? Is it Innovative product that has a special feature? And you need to, you know, maybe it especially improves sleep. And sleep is one of the different features of this disease that is affected. So maybe you need to stress the irrelevance of sleep in this video. Yeah, you need to make sure that Payers, Physicians, Patients they use that and see that and recognize that and understand that. Yeah, so that might be an important thing or maybe It doesn’t have a certain side effect that the competition has. Then you need to show this side effect is really bad. It has a high impact on quality of life, or it leads to discontinuation of the treatment or leads to follow up costs or whatsoever. Yeah. So do you understand what the strategy is? And how  all these different studies, these publications, literature review projects, whatsoever. How do all these feed into the overall strategy? That’s really good for you to get a better understanding of what is going on. What is the big picture? There’s another episode that I recorded some time ago with Stephen Bungay, who is the author of “The Art of Action”. And In this episode we also discussed a little bit on strategy. So I highly recommend you just kind of scroll back in your podcast player and look for that. And of course, will also link it in the show notes and it’s also a great book, “The Art of Action”. Yeah, it comes from a completely different area. It more understands why certain big organizations are more successful in the past compared to others. And it especially looks actually at the military space that you can learn from that space a lot about strategy. You can learn a lot about planning. You can learn a lot about how good strategy can help you to succeed overall. Oo kind of get everybody on the same page. If you have such a good strategy, then that drives everything that you do. And it’s flexible enough so that when something changes you can look into the strategy, you will understand the problem. You have a good diagnosis, you have the strategic guiding policies, and then you just need to adapt your action plan. That makes it so powerful. 

Benjamin: And again, as you described it quite nicely. It’s when you work on a study, just a normal study. There is a strategy behind it. There should be a strategy behind it. I’m just trying to get to the question as to, why do I need this strategy? Because, you know, I am quite simple because I have to finish a document. I have to finish this, that’s true. So these are your plans for the day, but actually these should be as we said, you should be part of a strategy. So riding out asap without having a strategy, you know, understanding of the study and the background it is, especially if you’re working in the pharma side of the business and not on the zero side. Because zero usually has a limited information flow to the whole strategy of the company. There are and some have more and less and depending on the experience you do understand things better than others. But working on the pharma side, this gives you a great example, a great advantage of being part of the strategy. For example, if it’s outsourced pulling the zero in, into the strategy only to the pieces that they should understand. I mean, obviously they don’t get the full picture usually, but anything that you do on the study on the trial on the compound should be just a piece of the strategy. So it’s very good if you have an understanding of what the strategy is, and what the pillars are. And make yourself the technical plan for the actions that you are responsible for and really put this into. Rethink the understanding of the strategy.

Alexander: And in any company that you’re working, understand the strategy of your company, understand the strategy of your department. And hopefully there’s a good one. So we talked a lot about strategy today. We talked about what is bad and what a good strategy is. The strategy consists of these three parts. Diagnosis, the Strategic Pillars and the Tactical Plan. And we also looked into a couple of different examples. If you have experiences with good or bad strategies we’d love to learn about it. Yeah, so write us back, connect with us on LinkedIn and let us know what you think about this episode. Have you seen something that is really, really good? Do you know a better idea of what your personal strategy is to your personal development for your personal growth? Yeah. Well, maybe you have a strategy that is outside of work. You can apply it to all kinds of different things. Let us know, we love to learn from you. 

Alexander: This show was created in association with PSI. Thanks to Reine who helps with the show in the background and thank you for listening. Head over to effectivestatistician.com to find the show notes, the link to the book and much more. We have a couple of different resources, there are past webinars and things like that to boost your career as a statistician in the Health Sector. Reach your potential, lead great signs and serve patients, just be an effective statistician. 

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