VMOST Analysis

Also known as:  MOST Analysis

What is it?

First proposed by Rakesh Sondhi in 1999,[1]  VMOST Analysis is a technique for evaluating an organizations [or any entity really] overall strategy and supporting activities, and determining whether they are all in alignment.[1]  The goal of the VMOST structure is to enable a view of strategy (the S) translated into meaningful terms for the benefit of employees, customers, and all other stakeholders by expressing it in the form of visions (the V), missions (the M), objectives (the O) and tactics (the T).[1]  By expressing the overall strategy in this way, it can be analyzed for alignment with the current environment and internal consistency.

Most commonly, VMOST is used to analyze the current strategy of an organization or organizational unit, but the VMOST structure and technique can be used for defining and analyzing current and possible future strategies of organizations, organizational units, projects, programs, or even individuals (both in an organizational and personal context).

One way to think of the VMOST process is to think of it as a series of “ends” that are more difficult to quantify, and a series of quantifiable “means” that are intended to achieve the stated “ends”.  The diagram below is my attempt to visualize this relationship in a simple way:

VMOST - Means and Ends

Why do it?

According to Sondhi, “VMOST is used to help determine the consistency and alignment of the strategy to its various components”.[1]  It “… enables us to see whether there is any strategic logic in what the company is doing and whether it is being implemented in the right way and in a consistent manner.”[1]

In Sondhi’s original concept, VMOST Analysis would be done after the organizational environment was analyzed through the PESTEL, Porter’s Diamond, and Porter’s Five Forces techniques (among others); and the organizations capabilities were analyzed through SWOT Analysis.  The results of those techniques could then be used in determining whether the current strategy was appropriate for the situation the organization was currently in, as well as the normal analysis for internal consistency and coherency that is support by the VMOST structure.

But the use of VMOST has expanded since the concept was initially published with VMOST now being used as:

  • A framework for defining future strategies
  • A framework for evaluating proposed future strategies, in addition to current ones
  • For evaluating sub-organizational units such as departments, teams, and even individuals
  • As a framework to support Enterprise Architecture Framework alignment with the business environment [6]
  • For personal growth and career planning [3]

Business analysts may see the most value with VMOST in project work, where two specific uses can be helpful.  These are:

  1. When a VMOST structure has already been defined and analyzed for the business unit(s) that are impacted by a project effort, that work can drive the goals and planning of the project effort to ensure alignment with the organizational strategy.
  2. The VMOST structure and analysis process can be applied to a program or project effort itself in order to help define the project mission(s) and objective(s), as well as the strategy and tactics the project will undertake to achieve them, and ensuring that they are all aligned.

 

How do I do it?

NOTE: This is an example process tailored largely to the organizational strategy level.  You should always tailor or modify the specific steps, criteria, and analysis to the specific situation you are addressing.

 

Step 1 – Identify the Scope of Analysis

The first step of any VMOST Analysis process is to determine the scope of analysis that will be undertaken.  Are you going to analyze the organizations strategy and activities as whole?  Are you going to just analyze a specific business unit?  Or possibly just how a particular project team or even individual contribute the achievement of the organizations vision.

Once you know your scope of analysis, you can proceed to the next step.

 

Step 2 – Identify or Formulate the Vision

Identifying, defining, and communicating a vision are at the heart of strategy because the vision provides the inspirational goal that the organization is trying to achieve.  This makes the Vision the key driver of the VMOST process because every other element should be oriented towards fulfilling the goal espoused by the vision.

But what is a vision in this case?  Sondhi defined a Vision as “… empower[ing] individuals through the provision of knowledge or expectations of the future, by focusing on a goal.”[1]  He also provided two other definitions of vision that he thought were extremely useful.  These were:

“An attractive and clear view of the future which can be shared.  It must motivate, be ambitious, and should stretch people to achieve more than they thought possible.”

– Sir John Harvey Jones, former CEO of ICIC

 

“Visions must be rational, but the must be emotional.  They are often distant.  They must engage and frighten.  They must be big.  Leaders of potential world class teams ask for sacrifices that are immense.  There has to be a reason for asking.  Only a vision can unite and invoke at the highest level.”

– David Kirk, former captain of the New Zealand All Blacks

However, I find that I also like the simplicity of the vision statement definition provided by the Society for Human Resource Management.  That definition is “A vision statement describes the organization as it would appear in a future successful state.”

From these concepts of vision, Sondhi then provided the key attributes that he thought any successful organizational vision should have.  These were: [1]

  • Provide a clear view of the future: The vision needs to be easy to understand and easy for its recipients to see the future being aimed for.
  • Be shared: The vision needs to be shared and believed by all of the people in the organization.
  • Be Motivational: Visions are the vehicle to motivate and inspire individuals to achieve more than otherwise would be possible.
  • Be Ambitious: Visions should be something force you to push yourself that little bit further, without necessarily ever reaching the ultimate goal.
  • Be both rational and emotional: Commitment is gained through latching onto the emotions of individuals.  Identifying the drivers that will switch the commitment on.
  • Both engage and frighten: Fear ensures maximum performance.  There is a boundary where fear can have a negative impact on performance.  However, fear is also a prerequisite for gaining a competitive edge.

An example of a good vision statement [in my opinion, not Sondhi’s] comes from IKEA.  Their vision statement is “to create a better everyday life for the many people”.[5]   It is simple, short, clear, rational, emotional, engaging, and hopefully shared by both employees and customers.

 

Step 3 – Analyze the Vision

Once the vision has been identified or formulated (if working to define a new strategy), the vision should be analyzed by asking such questions as: [1]

  • To what extent is there a vision?
  • How clear is this vision?
  • Who owns the vision?
  • Is the vision well communicated and shared by key people in the organization?
  • Is the vision emotional and engaging?
  • Is the vision distant, yet achievable?
  • Is the vision ambitious and stretching?

And most simply, is the vision stated in a future tense?

 

Step 4 – Identify or Formulate Mission Statements

After the Vision, the next component of strategy to analyze is the Mission Statements of an organization.  Sondhi indicates that mission statements “empower individuals by providing a force which directs individuals in a particular direction, by focusing on a behavior”.

I find that I again prefer the definition provided by the Society for Human Resource Management, which is:

 “A mission statement explains the company’s (or department’s) reason for existence. It describes the company (or department), what it does and its overall intention. The mission statement supports the vision and serves to communicate purpose and direction to employees, customers, vendors and other stakeholders. The mission can change to reflect a company’s (or department’s) priorities and methods to accomplish its vision”. [4]

It is important to realize that an organization can have several mission statements.  There is usually a more corporate or organization-wide mission statement that is strategic in nature and more public relations-oriented.  This is the “why does this organization exist” idea above.  But there can be other mission statements that usually exist at the subsidiary or department level [or even lower], that are intended to be more motivational and staff oriented.  These can thought of “why does my organizational unit exist in relation to the broader vision and mission of the organization”.  So when you are doing a VMOST Analysis, make sure to identify all of the mission statements that are appropriate to your scope of analysis.

It is also important to realize that the organizations missions will likely change over time.  Organizational success, changes in the environment, or even an expanded concept of what the vision entails may all cause an organization to change the missions that they operate under.  This change should not be thought of as a failure, and making sure that the organizational visions are current should be a critical task in all organizations because in theory every activity undertaken by those organizations should serve to help achieve the mission and vision.

Sondhi provided several key attributes that he thought a good Mission Statement should have.  These were: [1]

  • Purpose: The mission statement should indicate the primary justification for the existence of the organization.
  • Principle Aims: The mission statement should convey principle aims of the organization stated in terms of market share, profitability, pricing targets, or some other metric.
  • Identity: The mission statement may want to convey some inclusion of the organization into some sort of broader identity that it wants to be related to.
  • Policies: The mission statement should be based on the philosophy and style of leadership that organization wishes to embody or demonstrate.
  • Values: The mission statement should reflect the values of the stakeholders it seeks to address as they relate to the organization.

To follow-up on the IKEA vision statement example I used above, their mission statement [what they call their “business idea”] is “to offer a wide range of well-designed, functional home furnishing products at prices so low that as many people as possible will be able to afford them”.[5]

 

Step 5 – Analyze the Mission Statements

Once the Mission Statement(s) of the organization have been identified or formulated, they should be analyzed by asking such questions as: [1]

  • Is there an explicit mission in the organization or is there an implied mission?
  • Is the mission actually a mission or is a goal?
  • Is the mission appropriate and relevant for the vision and the environment?
  • What is the purpose of the mission? Is it for staff motivation or for PR purposes?  Is it successful?
  • Does the mission provide a realistic view, from the management’s perspective, of the capabilities of the organization?
  • Does the mission express the policies and values of the organization? Do these tie in with the actual values identified in the analysis of the culture? Are the policies valid and relevant to the environment?

Lastly, Sondhi makes the important point that “Organizations have to seriously question the value of articulating mission statements that employees have to remember through the use of cards and other visual means, rather than fully committing to a set of values that they believe in”.  So make sure you evaluate mission statements for brevity and emotional appeal over specificity and detail.  Those details can be captured in the Objectives that are analyzed next.

 

Step 6 – Identify or Formulate Objectives

The Objectives are the specific goals that the organization has identified that enable them to fulfill their mission(s).  Or more simply, they are criteria by which the organization knows a mission has been achieved or that identify specific steps on the path to achieving the mission.  Every mission should have one or more associated objectives, as without them a mission is just a generic goal that can never be attained with certainty.

Objectives should always be measurable in some way.  For example, an organization might have Objectives related to market penetration, sales, number clients served, number of countries or markets present in, pricing point in various markets, overall profit levels, or similar measures.

And there may be a series of objectives that build on each other over time that act as milestones or “steps” that show organizational progress in achieving its missions.  An example might be $500 million in sales by 2018, and $1 billion in sales by 2022.

 

Step 7 – Analyze the Objectives

Once the Objectives associated with each mission have been identified or formulated, they should be analyzed by asking such questions as: [1]

  • Are the Objectives SMART? Are they:
    • Specific
    • Measurable
    • Achievable
    • Relevant
    • Time-bound
  • Do the Objectives help fulfill the mission?

 

Step 8 – Identify and Formulate the Strategy

For each objective, there should be one or more strategies identified that act as guides for meeting that objective.  As an example, if an objective was “to reach $500 million in annual sales of our software by 2018”, a strategy supporting that objective might be “Offer our software for sale in a greater number of markets” or perhaps “Offer our software for sale in markets where Spanish is the predominant language used”.  You’ll notice the strategy does not have to say what specific markets, or what business or product changes might be needed to support sales to those markets.  It just has to identify a strategy that will be used to help achieve the goal.  And it may be only one of several strategies that will used at the same time in an effort to achieve the objective.  Those specific details are the area of Tactics, discussed below.

Additionally, keep in mind that one of the goals of a strategy should be to ensure that objectives are achieved through the optimal use of organizational resources; be they financial, physical, or human.[1]

 

Step 9 – Analyze the Strategies

Once the Strategies associated with each objective have been identified or formulated, they should be analyzed by asking such questions as: [1]

  • What are the basic elements of the Strategy?
  • How effectively is the strategy being implemented (if analyzing current strategy)?
  • To what extent does the current strategy address the issues that have been identified and prioritized in the current environment?
  • Is the Strategy relevant and appropriate to the objective it is trying to achieve?

 

Step 10 – Identify and Formulate the Tactics

For each Strategy, there should be several tactics that represent the specific activities the organization will undertake to move the strategy forward and enable the achievement of the Objective.

If we take the “Offer our software for sale in markets where Spanish is the predominant language used” strategy reference above, the specific tactics might include:

  • Ensuring the software interface can support a comprehensive set of characters used for the Spanish language and regional dialects
  • Hiring support staff who are fluent in the Spanish and regional Spanish dialects
  • Identifying and targeting potential use cases where neither our software or that of our competitors fully support situations common to the Spanish-language market
  • Adding features to our product to support concepts and relationships that are unique to the Spanish-language market
  • Identifying appropriate advertising channels to reach the new markets we are targeting and conducting experimental advertising buys in those channels to see which are most effective at driving engagement with potential customers

Tactics may be unique to specific business units, or may apply across the organization.  Most importantly, there should be some metric identified to evaluate their effectiveness so that they can be monitored and adjusted as necessary.

 

Step 11 – Analyze the Tactics

Once the Tactics associated with each Strategy have been identified or formulated, they should be analyzed by asking such questions as: [1]

  • How is the Strategy being carried forward on a day-to-day basis?
  • Do the tactics reflect the aims of the strategy?
  • Are the tactics coordinated between different parts of the organization?
  • Are the tactics being monitored for success?

 

Step 12

Now analyze how all five elements above are aligned with each other.[1]

  • Are they consistent with each other?
  • Do any elements conflict with each other?
  • Are there aspects of the Vision or Mission(s) that are unsupported by Objectives, Strategy, and Tactics?

 

Step 13

The last step is to determine if changes should to be made in the strategy or the elements of strategy based on the results of the analysis?  Those changes should address any issues that came out of the VMOST Analysis process.

 

What Should the Results be?

The end result of a VMOST Analysis should be, at a minimum, an understanding of whether the strategy being analyzed is internally consistent across all of its elements and relevant to the current environment.

If being used as aid for formulating strategy, then the output should be a strategy that is both internally consistent and relevant to the current environment.

In the best scenario, you should be able to answer all of the following questions: [from 2, with slight modifications by me]

  • Is there a defined VMOST for the organization or unit being analyzed? Is it complete and consistent?
  • Does the VMOST results set out a clear direction and plan that will drive the organizations development and work?
  • Are the staff of the organization aware of the VMOST and is it applicable to their work?
  • Do the staff agree with the content of the VMOST and are they supportive of its intent?

If the answers to any of the questions above is “no”, then this is a potential weakness in the organization.  If the answers to any of the questions is “yes”, then these are potential strengths.[2]

 

How do I document the results?

The end results of VMOST Analysis can be represented in a number of ways.  The most basic output is simply a set of narrative text paragraphs for each of the strategy elements.  For a more visual representation, the VMOST Canvas approach [7] places the end results into the form of two artifacts, the VMOST Mission Board and VMOST Mission Planner.

My personal preference is for a simple outline structure such as the one below:

  1. Vision:
    1. Mission 1:
      1. Objective 1:
        1. Strategy 1
          1. Tactic 1
          2. Tactic 2
          3. Tactic 3
        2. Strategy 2
          1. Tactic 4
          2. Tactic 5
        3. Objective 2:
          1. Strategy 3
            1. Tactic 6
            2. Tactic 7
          2. Strategy 4
            1. Tactic 8
          3. Mission 2:
            1. Objective 3
              1. Strategy 5
                1. Tactic 9
                2. Tactic 10

 

 

Advantages

  • The hierarchical approach of VMOST analysis makes it relatively easy to understand by all stakeholders.
  • “The real strength is gained when the MOST provides a clear focus and direction for the organization. Where there is no clarity or agreement, the MOST may mask some fundamental weaknesses.” [2]

 

Disadvantages

  • “MOST analysis can be a tricky technique to use when assessing internal capability. It is important to remember that merely defining and displaying a coherent MOST does not necessarily result in buy-in and motivation on the part of staff.” [2]

 

Tips

  • For an interesting narrative on the challenges of defining a strategy and its components, you may want to see the article “How to Make the Most of Your Company’s Strategy”, by Stephen Bungay in the Jan-Feb 2011 issue of the Harvard Business Review.
  • I HIGHLY recommend Rakesh Sondhi’s book “Total Strategy” [Reference 1 below] for business analysts who are looking for an overview of what goes into defining an organizational strategy. It is extremely well written, clear, well laid-out, and following a logical process from beginning to end.

 

References

  1. Book: Total Strategy.  By Rakesh Sondhi. Airworthy Publications.  Lancashire, UK.  1999
  2. Book: Business Analysis Techniques – 72 Essential Tools for Success.  By Cadle, Paul, and Turner.  British Informatics Society Limited (BISL).
  3. Article: Developing Your Strategy – Finding Your Path to Success.  By the Mind Tools Editorial Team.  On MindTools.com.  Accessed on 28 March 2016.
  4. Article: Mission & Vision Statements – What is the difference between mission, vision and values statements?  By the Society for Human Resource Management.  On the SHRM.org web site.  December 20, 2012.
  5. Web Page: Inter IKEA Group – Our Purpose.  By Inter IKEA Holding SA.    Accessed on March 28, 2016.
  6. Dissertation: Requirements Elicitation and Qualitative Analysis for Strategic and Contextual Capture for Enterprise Architectures using a Case Study Approach.  By Nicholas Stephen Rosasco.  Towson University.  July, 2014.
  7. Web Site: VMOST Tools.

 

Other Resources

 

 


© 2016 by David Olson