Is the Staircase Model a Strategy?

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by Mark Blackwell, Arkaro (

Staircase models are popular for breaking an overall high-level aspiration into sequential milestones, sometimes yearly. Staircases are a type of roadmap.

The following figure shows a staircase for the launch and then the success of a new product line X. Staircases like this, however, could apply to any endeavour.

staircase model strategy
the Staircase model Strategy

Sometimes organizations present staircases as their strategy. Can they be strategies? Try the disqualifiers to test the strategy;

  1. Is the opposite of the statement absurd?
  2. Does the statement include numbers?
  3. Is the statement a duplicate of the parent organization?
  4. Does the statement exclude anything or anyone in the organization?
  5. Is the statement a list?
  1. Opposite?
    • Three of the four items have absurd opposites; the fourth has no opposite because of the numbers.
  2. Numbers?
    • The dates are aspiration dates (they say to do something in the future); the growth numbers are aspirations as well.
  3. Duplicate?
    • While there is no information about the parent (for example, the business, under which this product group exists), the specificity of the staircase almost certainly applies only to this specific organization.
  4. Excluded?
    • Pass, if this is the only product line, but fail if there are other product lines to manage that are not part of this staircase.
  5. List?
    • Even though the goals and plans are sequential, it is still a list of goals and plans.

Staircases are not strategies because they fail three, and possibly four, of the disqualifiers. They are sequential high-level goals and plans. Therefore, as the disqualifiers reveal, staircases provide little real-time guidance and are not free choices. There is no information on how to achieve these goals. (For more information another article in the series provided more insight to the definition of a strategy. )

Even though staircases cannot be strategies, they can provide value. Like all roadmaps, staircases are simulations of the future. These simulations can be reality tested during strategy framework design by asking, for instance, if the various function such as R&D, production, and marketing can meet these timelines. Achievement of the staircase can also be tracked with milestone metrics. These are elements of the Strategy Framework to be covered in future articles!

Arkaro is the first affiliate partner to deliver Dr Pete Compo’s Emergent Approach to Strategy™.  By facilitating strategy development with your team Arkaro’s approach accelerates its implementation. Please contact Arkaro to discuss more.

Dr. Peter Compo author of The Emergent Approach to Strategy
Dr. Peter Compo

Dr. Peter Compo, author of the Emergent Approach to Strategy™ —scientist, engineer, and corporate veteran—spent twenty-five years at E.I. DuPont in a wide range of positions in R&D, product management, supply chain leadership, and business management—including director of DuPont Display Materials and Director of Corporate Integrated Business Management. Coupled with a background in music, Dr. Compo began to see the same adaptive patterns of innovation and successful change in all these areas. He also saw the need for a new approach to strategy and spent seven years integrating the science of complex adaptive systems with strategy theory and practice. The Emergent Approach to Strategy™ is the book he wished he had had at the start of his career.

Mark Blackwell - independent consultant Arkaro
Mark Blackwell

Mark Blackwell founded Arkaro in 2016 following a career in both large and small organisations, covering a wide range of industries across agriculture, food and chemicals. As Global Sales and Marketing Director Mark led the growth of the animal health company Antec International to its acquisition by DuPont. Leadership positions in DuPont developed expertise in Business Development, Innovation, Product Line Management, Integrated Business Planning, Business Productivity and Six Sigma Black Belt Project Management. At DuPont Mark worked with Pete Compo as the ideas forming the Emergent Approach to Strategy™ were developed.  In recent years Mark has been involved in the preparation of the Emergent Approach to Strategy and is the first affiliated partner to deliver to help product line and business teams design and implement adaptive strategies.