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What is a Strategy Map?

Patrick Roland
Patrick Roland

A strategy map is a visual interpretation of an organization's goals and the steps needed to accomplish these goals. These maps allow companies to better delegate responsibilities and plan for problems through visual communication. Bubbles, boxes and other shapes are linked together in the map by arrows representing progress. Used in a variety of industries, strategy maps showcase thoughts, plans and intentions. There are many ways to create maps, ranging from using a computer to simply drawing freehand.

The strategy map was first conceived in 1992 by Robert Kaplan and David Norton as the Balanced Scorecard. During the following decade, the team altered the scorecard significantly and emerged in 2001 with what is known now as a strategy map. The new management tool is designed to help organizations balance focus and alignment with goals.

Businessman giving a thumbs-up
Businessman giving a thumbs-up

The traditional strategy map lists all of the current people, processes and strategies of a company on one end of a chart and the ultimate goal or outcome on the opposite side. These charts normally are a single page but can take up several pages and flow either side-to-side or up and down. The creator has the freedom to designate the directional flow and the symbols used. There can be any number of symbols used between the start and finish of the result, but all steps will be linked together by arrows, showing readers each step in the process.

Concept development and process engineering are important elements in building a strategy map. Building a map means learning every job in the map and knowing how each one logically progresses and works with the other jobs on the board. The result will be a blend of timelines, corporate strategy and job description. The ideal result will be a quick reference sheet to stay on task during a job.

Strategy maps can be used in any setting but traditionally are used to express four major business objectives. Financial goals are the most common, and the map shows the steps needed in order to improve a company's financial standing. Customer perspective is another common use, because it shows what customers want and expect in a company as well as how those goals can be met. Internal process is another key use because the map will show how a company currently performs one or more tasks and will detail either how those tasks can be done more efficiently or a change in structure. Learning is also a common use of maps because it shows a skill that needs to be attained and the steps needed to understand it fully.

There are a variety of ways to create a strategy map. There are several computer programs that allow users to draw maps from a variety of templates and make fast changes. A strategy map also can be drawn by hand on an overhead projector or on a sheet of paper. No matter how the chart is created, its simplicity and visual communication help readers better understand goals.

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