Why you need to stop planning and start designing

Its the reason why you dont see outcomes you desires

Ahmed Bousuwa
6 min readFeb 21, 2024

Why do we create a strategy? To achieve goals

You make a choice on how to reach a desired goal — you choose a path. The path you have chosen may or may not lead you to your goals.

The question is: What components are required to support your chosen path?

Achieving goals represents your desired future state. Everyone aspires to reach a higher stage in their life, whether as individuals, companies, or governments.

Each entity has a desired state — where they want to be.

These desired future states differ among individuals, companies, and governments, but the concept remains the same.

The desire to reach a different state comes from within. There is a need behind any desire — a need to advance or external factors that force you to change; otherwise, you stay behind.

Things that compel you to desire a better future state include current challenges, problems, outdated approaches, models, processes, or technologies.

When setting goals, it’s crucial to understand and research your current state. This allows you to reach the desired future state without encountering bumpy roads or failures.

Now, this is the stage where you and those in charge begin to think about strategy. However, what often happens is that you start planning strategy to reach your desired goals. Planning is the cause of bumpy roads.

Difference between planning and designing a strategy

There is a lack of understanding between designing and planning strategy. Strategic planning is responsible for mediocre delivery.

You don’t plan; you design strategy. Planning involves surface-level work full of surprises, while design aims to minimize those surprises as much as possible.

Planning involves laying out main steps horizontally, with no vertical work for each step. That lead to a failure to achieve a specific goal.

Design involves understanding the necessary steps, tasks, and systems under each step, and figuring out how to connect them all together to achieve a specific goal.

Ahmed Ali

Why projects end up with mediocre results or failure

A key reason is the adoption of strategic planning and best practices — an outdated consulting approach that creates staggering amounts of issues post-delivery. This is because the strategy you put together lacks key components that make it work.

You and I wouldn’t know how the desired future will look when strategizing. By default, you are optimistic that it will lead to success.

In fact, the future goal is in the unknown state, and it becomes a known state once you implement the strategy and deliver the project. This is the stage where you discover whether it’s a failure or success.

According to MIT, companies launch new products and features to generate new revenue, but 95% of them miss the mark.

Take, for example, McDonald’s salads that failed to sell. In 2005, they decided to launch their ‘healthy’ salad range, but the salads didn’t sell well. They’ve only managed to make it up to around 2% of McDonald’s overall sales revenue.

After their launch and subsequent failure, they learned that McDonald’s customers simply didn’t enjoy the taste of the salads as much as they did the traditional burgers and fries.

Aligning strategic planning with the trend of growing healthy food and pressure didn’t help; it wasted resources and money. The right approach would have minimized the damage or informed how to proceed.

That’s why conventional companies outnumber innovative companies.

With the old consulting approach, the key issues that arise post-delivery are significant; it’s considered a failure. You will be running around, trying to put out fires in many corners of the house.

From the start, resources have gone to waste, and there’s even more waste incurred by fixing every corner of your project life cycle.

Unintentionally, many factors are ignored and not accounted for while strategizing, again due to the approach and mindset. This is another reason companies fail to innovate and deliver goals as desired.

It’s worse when it comes to complex challenges that involve cross-functional teams and systems. The strategic mindset lacks the design mindset.

Ahmed Ali

Design skills and mindset in strategy & innovation

First, many people have a design misconception. It’s perceived as looks, feel, colours, patterns, etc.

Here is my own definition of design:

To design is to solve any strategic challenge, or problem by creating something that works better. Creation is the outcome of understanding, discovering, analyzing, insights, and finding opportunities. Only when priorities and capabilities are clear can you roadmap and stitch together a solution or strategy.

Strategy is simple in its meaning but requires significant mental effort in its creation. Any strategy will face challenges and barriers, which become apparent when implemented.

What if those challenges and barriers were avoided or minimized?

Design aims to understand stakeholders, activities, systems, and experiences at each step, enabling you to build a holistic picture of the current environment. Then, it involves designing the building blocks and tying them together to create a strategy that will help you achieve your goal.

Each strategy has capabilities, systems, and support systems. The role of design is to identify and determine them. The lenses of designers and their mindset are best suited to find them.

Strategy in business differs from the military. In business, it has depth, requiring a deep level of dissecting and building before making a choice. You need to apply design thinking principles and tools to create the best choice.

Innovation is born after designing the strategy. When you reach the clarity stage, you know how to move forward. Innovation takes shape to achieve goals by introducing new ideas, products, or processes. Strategy and innovation are intertwined and start with a design mindset.

Ahmed Ali

The value of design in business

Design is a broad discipline with principles and methodologies, which I refer to as design in business. This discipline covers topics such as design thinking, business design, user experience design, strategy design, and value proposition design.

The design discipline is a must in the following areas: solving complex challenges, designing strategy, meeting customer and business needs, continuous improvements, and transformation and innovation.

All these types of projects represent goals that every company is trying to achieve. Reaching goals costs time, money, and resources that no one wants to see go to waste. To avoid failure, first, you need to apply design at the strategy and tactical levels.

This is where you reduce surprises and risks at the unknown stage once the project is delivered (operational level), guaranteeing a high rate of success.

Design will build a guide on how to proceed, what’s needed, and what barriers to avoid, or whether to proceed or not. This enables you to reach the desired state on time, with estimated cost, and right delivery.

Some of the benefits design brings to a company:

  • Offers an opportunity to the audience to share their perspective by looking at the challenge from different lenses.
  • Learning the pain points, wants and needs of the audience and business with in-depth clarity
  • Provides insights from users and customers to increase audience satisfaction.
  • Drives business decision in shaping the future solution
  • Enables ideating or sourcing the right solution to the business.
  • Makes the innovation process efficient.

What differentiates designers from consultants is empathy and a centred mindset. Thats why Tech and consultancy firms have been acquiring a lot of design consultancies in the last 15 years.

Design is crucial for companies to reach their desired future and drive innovation, bidding on the future with confidence.

When you tell yourself, ‘let’s plan’ your mind will plan at a surface level. However, if you tell it, ‘let’s design’ your mind will design at an in-depth and detailed level.

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Two things I can help you with:

1. Run a discovery process, finding opportunities and designing the blocks of solution. within any area: transformation, improvement, innovation, strategy, or product.

2. Coaching and advising you on a challenge you are working on.

Visit Neo Strateje and fill out a discovery form.



Ahmed Bousuwa

Design Strategist. Help companies & ventures with complex challenges. Setting direction for strategic initiatives & desired goals. neostrateje.com