The McKinsey Quarterly put out an interesting article about business strategy, and outlined “ten timeless tests” that you should think about when evaluating your company’s strategic direction. (note: free registration required to read the entire article)

Bruce MacEwan at Adam Smith, Esq. blog took the tests and applied them to how a law firm looks at its strategic direction. Both of these posts provide a nice insight into business strategies and law firm strategies, but I’d like to look at it from an even narrower prospective of law library strategies and see how asking these ten questions can help structure successful implementation of strategic plans.
Here are the ten questions (Note: McKinsey chart shows that most companies’ strategies (65%) pass 3 or fewer of these test.)
Test 1: Will your strategy beat the market?
Test 2: Does your strategy tap a true source of advantage?
Test 3: Is your strategy granular about where to compete?
Test 4: Does your strategy put you ahead of trends?
Test 5: Does your strategy rest on privileged insights?
Test 6: Does your strategy embrace uncertainty?
Test 7: Does your strategy balance commitment and flexibility?
Test 8: Is your strategy contaminated by bias?
Test 9: Is there conviction to act on your strategy?
Test 10: Have you translated your strategy into an action plan?
I think it would be interesting to take a generic library strategic plan – such as this one from Duke University – adapt if for a law library, and run it through the series of tests to see how the strategy holds up to the questions.
Here’s the Duke Library strategies, changed to be more generic:
  1. Improve the User Experience
  2. Provide Digital Content, Tools & Services
  3. Develop New Research & Training Partnerships
  4. Support the Organization’s Priorities
  5. Enhance Library Spaces
Maybe an even better approach is to take the basic strategy (like Duke’s “Improve the User Experience”) and drive it through these questions in order to come up with a better overall strategy. It may even turn out that the original strategy isn’t a good idea at all and the library shouldn’t waste time on it. As the quote goes from Phil Rosenzweig in the McKinsey article, “There’s always new stuff out there, and most of it’s not very good.” Perhaps running the concept of your new strategy through the test can help weed out those “not very good” strategies.
So, if we took the “Improve the User Experience” and applied Test 1 to see if it would beat the market, how would it hold up?? First of all, I think we’d need to identify two things before we go any further. Who is the User? What is our defined Market?
Who is the User?
If we’re talking about a law firm library, then the user would be defined as the attorneys and staff of the firm that benefit from the services the law library provides. Notice that I didn’t use the phrase “attorneys and staff that use the library.” My thoughts on that were that would be too narrow a definition (as probably there are a huge chunk of lawyers and staff that don’t directly use the library, but still indirectly receive benefit from the services provided by the library… such as the library’s maintenance of the online subscription databases, or Intranet links.)
What is our defined Market?
This one is an interesting question and perhaps some law firm librarians do not think there is a defined market in which they are competing. But, let’s step back a minute and think about a broad market definition of who we compete against on a day-to-day basis.
  • Online databases – whether it is Google, Westlaw, Lexis, or any of the other countless sources of information available to your defined Users, they are all competing to get your users to use their services over yours.
  • Internal market – Are there others within your firm that are providing duplicate services? Paralegals, Associates, clerks and secretaries may be positioned to provide some of the same services that your library provides, and may have a competitive advantage because of their proximity to decision makers within the firm. I’m not saying that it is right or wrong… it’s just that they have to be recognized as part of the market.
  • External market – Are there others outside your firm that are providing duplicate services? This type of external market could range from consultants that come in to assist in the training of library users, to Westlaw/Lexis attorneys, to the Barnes & Noble down the street, to outsourced resources. Again, this isn’t designed to make you take a defensive stance against others in the market… you just need to understand who those players are in order to answer Test 1 honestly.
What does “Beat the Market” Mean?
I got in a bit of trouble with a friend of mine a couple weeks ago when I mentioned that a law library shouldn’t run itself like a business and turn itself into a Barnes & Noble. Your library is a business, but it is one with a peculiar type of profit model. So, when we look at the first test and we define what it means to “Beat the Market,” you’ll need to really think about what that means for your individual law library. I’d say it would be safe to say that a generic answer like this would get you started:
“Beating the Market means that the strategy will better position the law library to compete in the market place against internal and external competitors, and will improve the way the library leverages the use of internal and external competitors.”
In other words, even if internal and external competitors end up being the best way to accomplish our objectives, it is accomplished in a way that makes sure the law library is still an important player in that market. If implementing this specific strategy places your law library in a stronger position within your defined market, then I’d say that you’ve passed Test 1.
The McKinsey article says that Test 1 is comprehensive and the remaining nine “disaggregate the picture of a market-beating strategy.” However, stopping at Test 1 may not uncover some of the other weaknesses (or strengths) of your strategy. Therefore, having a conversation about the remaining nine strategies is important in order to have a dialog with others to determine how strong the strategy is, and the best method of applying the strategy successfully.
I’d actually love it if we could recruit some guests to come on and try their hand at answer Tests 2 – 9 on this generic strategy of “Improve the User Experience.” Let me know if you want to tackle Test 2 and explain if this strategy taps a true source of advantage for a law library.