min read

What Is A Strategy Map? How To Make One And Why (Examples)

Article by 
Cascade Team
  —  Published 
September 4, 2023
April 24, 2024

Do you know where your business is going? More importantly, do your employees understand precisely how to get there? 

You might have a list of goals tucked away on an Excel sheet somewhere, but you won't reach the promised land if you lack something more important: a strategy map.

Whether you’re aiming for revenue growth or navigating through a complex change management process, your teams need motivation, clarity, and direction. Let's explore what a strategy map is and how it can empower your teams to help your organization achieve its business goals faster.

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Here’s what you’re about to discover:

What Is A Strategy Map?

A strategy map is a visual business planning tool that articulates and communicates an organization’s strategic objectives, highlighting the cause-and-effect relationships between them.

Strategy is everywhere. So, when building a strategy map, you can choose to keep it fairly high-level or drill down into a more detailed visualization.

Your strategy map could show the interrelations between the different plans in your organization:

alignment map cascade planner view
Cascade Alignment Map view—plan level.

Or it could show the relationships between your strategic objectives to deliver a specific outcome:

cascade alignment map view diagram 3
Cascade Alignment Map view—objective level.

In any of these scenarios, a strategy map will provide more context on how plans, operational goals, and objectives align with the overarching business strategy.

Why Is Strategy Mapping Important?

Ever felt like you're navigating through a thick fog when making strategic decisions? When uncertainty is the name of the game, clarity becomes your best friend. Here’s how a strategy map helps: 

Clarifying cause-and-effect relationships

A well-designed strategy map lays out how various strategic objectives are connected, making it easier to understand how achieving one objective can influence another. Such insights are invaluable in preventing operational bottlenecks and sharpening organizational focus.

Aligning organizational efforts 

Clear strategic objectives lay the foundation for unified action. With these objectives set, departments and teams can map their initiatives with the overarching organizational strategy. The payoff? Fewer goal conflicts, reduced redundant efforts and duplicated work.

Bridging strategy and execution 

It’s a known fact that most strategies die in the execution phase. With a strategy map, however, you can sustain momentum. It serves as a guide, ensuring work being made on the ground directly contributes to strategic objectives. This alignment also helps organizations monitor progress, understand where they are succeeding, and identify areas that need attention or adjustment. 

Effective resource allocation 

With a clear map of strategic objectives, leadership can better prioritize strategic initiatives, allocate resources, and ensure focus on the most critical areas. The result? Effective resource reallocation can deliver 30% higher total returns to shareholders (TRS) annually. 

Improving communication 

Here’s a fact: only 50% of U.S. employees understand their work expectations. A strategy map simplifies the complex web of strategic objectives, making it easier to communicate across all levels of the organization. Transparent communication ensures every team member understands where their efforts should be directed. 

Driving accountability 

A motivated workforce is the dream, but consider this: the global economy loses a staggering $8.8 trillion due to disengaged employees. Linking strategic objectives to specific outcomes and measures, the strategy map fosters accountability throughout the organization, cultivating a results-driven culture of ownership.

Types Of Strategy Maps 

There are thousands of strategy maps available today. While the original strategy map followed a fixed blueprint based on the Balanced Scorecard (BSC) framework, modern maps have evolved to be digital, adaptable, and often enhanced with advanced analytics tools. 

Balanced Scorecard (BSC) Strategy Map

balanced scorecard strategy map diagram

In the late 1990s, Robert S. Kaplan and David P. Norton introduced the strategy map to illustrate how an organization can convert both its tangible and intangible assets into desired business outcomes. This map visually connects objectives across four main perspectives, offering the big picture of an organization's strategy and key performance indicators (KPIs). These four areas are:

  • Financial perspective: Metrics such as cash flow, sales performance, operating income, and return on equity.
  • Customer perspective: Metrics like sales from new products, customer satisfaction, and net promoter score. 
  • Internal processes perspective: Metrics include unit costs, cycle times, and error rates.
  • Learning and growth perspective: Metrics like employee engagement scores, retention rates of high-performing staff, and skill increases of staff. 

📚 Recommended read: For a deeper dive into this methodology, see our article “How to Implement the Balanced Scorecard (Strategy Framework)”. 

Cascade’s Alignment Map 

cascade alignment map view diagram 2
Cascade Alignment Map view.

Our Alignment Map enables you to visualize how different organizational plans and objectives work together to shape your overall business strategy.  

With it, you can: 

  • Understand the cause-and-effect relationship between objectives. 
  • Monitor the health and execution of your key initiatives in real time. 
  • Identify misalignments to eliminate duplicated work and resource waste. 
  • Track cross-functional objectives to see which teams are working together and their progress.
  • Track the relationship between connected objectives and clear all roadblocks before it’s too late. 

Unlike other strategy mapping tools, Cascade’s Alignment Map is flexible and fully customizable to match your specific requirements. It can be adapted to various strategy frameworks, from OKRs to our unique Cascade model. Plus, it enables you to build a strategy map that integrates perspectives beyond the original four, such as sustainability or digital transformation.

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How To Make A Strategy Map?

Step 1: Choose your strategy building blocks 

Start by selecting a framework to structure your plans, or create a custom one that aligns with your organization's unique business approach. 

In Cascade, you can either rename these building blocks to meet your specific needs or opt for one of these pre-built strategic planning models:

📽Watch this short and informative video explaining the concept of strategy building blocks. 

Step 2: Formulate your strategy 

In this step, you’ll define priorities and main strategic objectives. Following that, outline the key initiatives or projects that will help you achieve your desired business goals. 

If you’ve opted for the balanced scorecard as your strategy model, begin with your financial goals. Then, work on customer objectives. Conclude by defining internal processes and learning and growth initiatives that will help you reach your financial and customer objectives. 

💡If you prefer a structured approach, you can use one of our strategic planning templates to guide you in the planning process. 

Step 3: Set metrics

If you don't track the impact of your initiatives, there's little point in doing strategy. Performance management helps you measure the data and use the feedback to figure out ways to improve the overall strategy.

When evaluating performance, use both lead and lag metrics. Lead indicators relate to future outcomes, and lag indicators tell you the actual results. Including these competencies on your strategy map helps to convey the causal relationships between your tactics and goals.

💡Dive deeper with this informative article on how to write KPIs, or take a quick 3-minute detour to watch our video on creating and aligning metrics within Cascade. Pro tip: If you’re a Cascade user, you can easily import your existing metrics from multiple Google Sheets or Excel spreadsheets and track them from a single place.  

Step 4: Establish cause-and-effect relationships 

If you manage a small business or a non-profit with a singular business plan, that's great. The complexity of aligning multiple business and functional plans, which feed into the organization's overarching strategy, won't be a concern for you.

But if you’re part of a larger organization, then this will be the most important step. To ensure successful strategy execution, you need to create vertical alignment. This means aligning with your business units and individual teams to ensure their strategic and operational plans are in line with overarching strategic goals and priorities. 

After building your strategy and setting all objectives in Cascade, you can easily map out cause-and-effect relationships with just a few clicks. 

how to set relationships in Cascade GIF
Example of how to set relationships in Cascade.
💡Want to take it one step further and learn how to achieve vertical and horizontal alignment in your organization? Watch this video for a detailed, step-by-step walkthrough, or this article on how to build organizational alignment.  

Step 5: Visualize relationships 

If you followed the steps above, your strategy map (also called Alignment Map in Cascade) should look something like this: 

cascade alignment map view diagram 1
Alignment Map view in Cascade.

This visualization, featuring a clear breakdown and arrows connecting contributing objectives, enables both you and your teams to understand how operational objectives tie into strategic outcomes. 

Step 6: Execute, monitor, and adjust as needed 

In larger organizations, strategy execution often becomes highly fragmented and siloed. As a result, leaders struggle with delays, unexpected risks, and wasted resources on duplicated efforts or even dead-end strategies. 

With Cascade’s Alignment Map and other features like Dashboards and Reports, you can keep a real-time pulse on the progress of your initiatives and metrics. With its drill-down capabilities, you can quickly evaluate the performance and get more context to make informed decisions before it’s too late. 

3 Biggest Mistakes To Avoid In Strategy Mapping

Here are a few common strategic mapping mistakes to watch out for:

You don’t know where to draw the line

Resist the temptation to get stuck in endless brainstorming and list every activity on the map. It should be short and sweet. A useful exercise is to confine your objectives to a single page, compelling you to prioritize. If you include over 50 objectives, you won’t have a strategy that clarifies what action people should take. Instead, you’ll have a daunting list of internal business processes and operations that make people freeze. 

You devise a strategy without an action plan

Moving from idea to action requires more than just a thought; it demands a concrete action plan. Develop a clear strategic roadmap to guide execution. This type of strategic thinking will allow you to identify roadblocks that stand in the way of progress, like inefficiencies in current operations, limited resources, or skills gaps.

You don’t get company-wide buy-in

The C-suite might have big dreams of explosive growth and increased shareholder value, but your strategy will not flourish if it’s kept in the boardroom. Frontline employees, whether in warehouses or interacting with customers, offer invaluable insights. That’s why you need to share your strategy map with stakeholders who will execute the strategy on the ground. 

Visualize And Execute Your Strategy With Cascade 🚀

Remember the days when "strategy" meant a 5-year strategic plan reviewed bi-annually or even just annually? In today's dynamic and unpredictable environment, relying on linear strategic processes and static tools can become your Achilles' heel.

Here’s some food for thought: Businesses that fully integrate technology into strategy development are 2.3 times more likely to outperform their peers in terms of revenue growth and return on invested capital (ROIC).

That’s where Cascade helps you. 

Cascade serves as a centralized hub for your strategy development and execution, accelerating the decision-making process. Whether you’re a mid-sized or enterprise-sized company, you can leverage Cascade to:  

  • Map out your strategy: Visualize how different organizational plans intertwine and see how your corporate strategy breaks down into operational and functional plans. 
  • Provide context: Increase motivation and engagement by giving team members a clear grasp of their responsibilities within the organization. 
  • Eliminate silos: Contralize all business data to establish centralized observability over your execution engine. 
  • Track and measure with ease: Gauge an accurate picture of your strategic performance and share it with stakeholders, suppliers, and contractors. 
  • Adapt at speed: Monitor the health of your strategic initiatives, spot risks, and make rapid adjustments while keeping everyone aligned. 

Are you ready to map your strategy? 

Start today for free or book a 1:1 product tour with Cascade’s strategy experts.

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