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Use this framework to achieve quality strategic plans

Quality is at the heart of strategic planning. It doesn't matter if the strategy is low cost, differentiation or focus on a niche, it must be done well.

The quality theme has always been recognised by engineers. The concept of Six Sigma is a set of techniques and tools for ensuring high quality and was introduced by Bill Smith, an American engineer working at Motorola in 1986.

Six Sigma uses measurement methods to ensure there is minimum variability in a manufacturing process. This statistical drive towards almost perfect quality more than pays for itself. There are fewer or no failures during production. There are no failures of the product when in use by customers. The high quality and reliability of the products improve customer satisfaction, customer loyalty and lifetime sales.

In his first iteration of Six Sigma, Bill Smith proposed a problem-solving approach with four stages – Measure, Analyse, Improve, and Control. This became known as MAIC and later as DMAIC after it was decided the first stage should be "Define".

The DMAIC framework lends itself nicely to business and marketing planning.

  • Define: The starting point for developing any strategy is deciding what is the problem or the opportunity. Problems and opportunities don't exist everywhere, they exist somewhere. So where do they exist? Who is the target audience? And crucially, what do we hope to achieve in the proposed strategy?

  • Measure: The Six Sigma process is data driven. The old adage is highly relevant here – what can't be measured can't be managed. This means we need to know what to measure to show we are on track. How will we measure it? How often will we measure it?

  • Analyse: The measurements need interpreting. What do they mean? Do the measurements tell us that we're good to move forward? What are we doing particularly well? What are our weaknesses? What is the frequency of any failures?

  • Improve: Following the measurements it ought to be fairly obvious what needs improving. Here we need to know how we can improve it and whether the improvement is justified?

  • Control: The final step in any process is to check that everything is moving as planned towards the goal. Here we need to ask are we on track and on budget? What course correction is required? When will we achieve our goal?

Managing a strategic marketing plan is very different to managing a production process. In the business world there are outside forces that sometimes come from left field. Competitors can disturb the market. Customers can go bust. Governments can impose legislation and taxes which affect demand. This means that we must constantly be measuring and monitoring in order to determine if something is temporary and will disappear or more permanent and needs attention. Deciding what needs attention requires experience and here we can't emphasise enough the importance of reading the market in as many ways as possible. Feedback from customers, salespeople, journalists and pundits, and suppliers will all be worth listening to. As Bill Smith said – “If you want to improve something, don't forget to involve the people who are doing the job.”

Some things to think about:

  • Do you fully understand your target audience and their needs? Define who they are.

  • Your strategy for meeting customer needs must be based on quality. What this means is your offer must always meet customers' expectations (whatever they are). The only way you will know this is if you have measurements. These will tell you what you are doing well and what you need to improve.

  • Make sure that you are constantly checking to ensure that you are on track. Where necessary, make course corrections.

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