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A strategy map is a diagram that is used to document the primary strategic goals being pursued by an organization or management team. It is an element of the documentation associated with the Balanced Scorecard, and in particular is characteristic of the second generation of Balanced Scorecard designs that first appeared during the mid-1990s. The first diagrams of this type appeared in the early 1990s, and the idea of using this type of diagram to help document Balanced Scorecard was discussed in a paper by Drs. Robert S. Kaplan and David P.Norton in 1996.
The strategy map idea featured in several books and articles during the late 1990 by Robert S. Kaplan and David P.Norton and others, including most notably Olve and Wetter in their 1998/9 book Performance Drivers.
Across these broad range of articles, there are only a few common attributes. Strategy maps show:
- Each objective as text appearing within a shape (usually an oval or rectangle)
- Relatively few objectives (usually less than 20)
- Objectives are arrayed across two or more horizontal bands on the strategy map, with each band representing a 'perspective'
- Broad causal relationships between objectives shown with arrows that either join objectives together, or placed in a way not linked with specific objectives but to provide general euphemistic indications of where causality lies.
The purpose of the strategy map in Balanced Scorecard design, and its emergence as a design aid, is discussed in some detail in a research paper on the evolution of Balanced Scorecard designs during the 1990s by Lawrie & Cobbold.
Origin of strategy maps
The Balanced Scorecard is a framework that is used to help in the design and implementation of strategic performance management tools within organizations. The Balanced Scorecard provides a simple structure for representing the strategy to be implemented, and has become associated with a wide selection of design tools that facilitate the identification of measures and targets that can inform on the progress the organization is making in implementing the strategy selected ("activities"), and also provide feedback on whether the strategy is having the kind of impact on organizational performance that was hoped for ("outcomes"). By providing managers with this direct feedback on whether the required actions are being carried out, and whether they are working, the Balanced Scorecard is thought to help managers focus their attention more closely on the interventions necessary to ensure the strategy is effectively and efficiently executed.
One of the big challenges faced in the design of Balanced Scorecard based performance management systems is deciding what activities and outcomes to monitor. By providing a simple visual representation of the strategic objectives to be focused on, along with additional visual cues in the form of the perspectives and causal arrows, the strategy map has been found useful in enabling discussion within a management team about what objectives to choose, and subsequently to support discussion of the actual performance achieved.
Early Balanced Scorecard articles by Robert S. Kaplan and David P.Norton proposed a simple design method for choosing the content of the Balanced Scorecard based on answers to four generic questions about the strategy to be pursued by the organization. These four questions, one about finances, one about marketing, one about processes, and one about organizational development evolved quickly into a standard set of "perspectives" ("Financial", "Customer", "Internal Business Processes", "Learning & Growth"). Design of a Balanced Scorecard became a process of selecting a small number of objectives in each perspective, and then choosing measures and targets to inform on progress against this objective. But very quickly it was realised that the perspective headings chosen only worked for specific organisations (small to medium sized firms in North America - the target market of the Harvard Business Review), and during the mid to late 1990s papers began to be published arguing that other sets of headings would make more sense for specific organization types, and that some organisations would benefit from using more or less than four headings.
Despite these concerns, the 'standard' set of perspectives remains the most common, and traditionally is arrayed on the strategy map in the sequence (from bottom to top) "Learning & Growth", "Internal Business Processes", "Customer", "Financial" with causal arrows tending to flow "up" the page.
Links between the strategy map and strategy development
The strategy map is a device used to communicate context and illustrate the basis managers have used for choosing a subset of the available measures to report on an organisation's progress in implementing a strategy. As a device, it is not very helpful or appropriate as a strategy development tool. However over the years many have suggested that it could be used as a simple strategy development tool - including Kaplan & Norton in their book "The Strategy Focused Organisation" who argue that organisations could adopt 'industry standard' templates (basically a set of pre-determined strategic objectives) if the managers can't work out a strategy for themselves. This type of approach is fraught with problems (e.g. what is the competitive advantage arising from a strategy developed in this way?).
- Kaplan, Robert S.; Norton, David P. (Fall) , "Linking the Balanced Scorecard to Strategy.", California Management Review 39 (1)
- Olve, Nils-Goran; Roy, Jan; Wetter, Magnus (1999), Performance Drivers: A practical guide to using the Balanced Scorecard, John Wiley & Sons
- Lawrie, Gavin J. G.; Cobbold, Ian (2004), "Third-generation Balanced Scorecard: evolution of an effective strategic control tool", International Journal of Productivity and Performance Management 53 (7): 611–623, doi:10.1108/17410400410561231
- Kaplan, Robert S.; Norton, David P. (Jan-Feb) , "The Balanced Scorecard – Measures that Drive Performance", Harvard Business Review 70 (1)
- Butler, A.; Letza, S. R.; Neale, B. (1997), "Linking the Balanced Scorecard to Strategy", International Journal of Strategic Management 30 (2)
- Kennerley, M.; Neely, A. D. (2000), "Performance Measurement Frameworks – A Review", Proceedings, 2nd International Conference on Performance Measurement, Cambridge, UK
- Kaplan, Robert S.; David P. Norton (2004). Strategy Maps: Converting Intangible Assets into Tangible Outcomes. Boston, Massachusetts, USA: Harvard Business School Press. p. 7. ISBN 1-59139-134-2.