CASE STUDY: AVASCENT’S PORTFOLIO-BASED STRATEGY
By Stephen Ganote · Nicholas Bird
As we start the New Year, many leaders will be considering how to build focused strategies and investment plans for their companies – aligning what they do best with markets where they can succeed over many years. This appears straightforward. It isn’t.
An Avascent client faced declines in many of its markets, thinning profit margins and new competitive threats to longstanding business. Key government customers started to favor lower-cost competitors over the client’s technical strengths, using Lowest Price Technically Available (“LPTA”) procurements and small business set-asides. Commercial customers began asking for more at the same or lower prices. Management recognized the problems. And they tried a range of corrective actions: New senior hires, cost-cutting layoffs, a reorganization, new investments in products and technology, and increasing its funnel of contract bids. But these moves failed to arrest declines in both sales and profits. A frustrated board of directors gave senior management a mandate:
“Tell us what our core markets are, and focus the company on growing in those markets”
Most large organizations, including non-profits and government entities, are complex, with their own histories, cultures and internal biases. They operate in diverse markets, managing very different customers and stakeholders. Complexity grows as customers’ needs evolve and competitors develop new capabilities. Management knows they need to evolve as well.
Yet being aware of the need to change and making the right decisions are very different things: Internal analytical and corrective approaches to address challenges can get bogged down by conflicting agendas, unclear terminologies and self-interested fiefdoms; External analytical approaches can be formulaic and rely on loose buzzwords such as “core capability,” “competitive advantage” or “value proposition.” In the face of real complexity, traditional analytic and corrective approaches too often fail to deliver.
Listening to clients’ experiences as they faced similar situations, Avascent noticed that many leaders were struggling to come up with credible answers to some common, fundamental questions:
- How do we define a “core” market?
- What are our “core” capabilities?
- Where do we have sustainable advantages over competitors? And why?
- How do we maintain these advantages?
- Where should we deploy our technology and business development investments?
The answers to these questions, can in turn, help address critical business challenges that are all too common:
Working with clients on these and related problems, Avascent developed an approach to simplify analysis and bring clarity and focus to the strategic decision-making process. Avascent’s Portfolio-Based Strategy provides a scalable analytical structure, a common data picture, and a collaborative, tailored approach to help clients make decisions about which markets to pursue, where to invest, and, importantly, how and when to dis-invest. It gives clients gain a thorough understanding of their critical capabilities, how they apply them to key markets and customers, and how to use that information in their strategic and investment decisions.
Developing a Portfolio-Based Strategy:
Stepping back to get the data and perspective needed to make fundamental decisions about your company
Avascent’s Portfolio-Based Strategy rests upon four steps. The client case study referenced herein illustrates how this approach works, and how it can apply to other companies and organizations.
Clients with complex business portfolios crossing multiple markets must first take the time to really understand their own businesses and capabilities – without bias.
In pursuit of growth, the client diligently chased seemingly worthy adjacent market opportunities. They identified unique technologies in high-potential markets. Despite significant investment initiatives, contract wins eluded them. Their approach reflected a fundamental misunderstanding: they looked to enter new markets before understanding their core strengths. What underlying capabilities did the company’s success rest upon? Where did they have an honest edge over rivals? Avascent’s use of collaboratively-developed qualitative and quantitative assessments enabled the company to characterize, compare and prioritize underlying capabilities across all of their markets. Rather than spreading themselves ever thinner by chasing new markets with new but unproven offerings, the client was able to identify a handful of truly unique capabilities, and to identify where these were differentiated from competitors. The next step was to understand where these core capabilities overlapped with attractive markets.
Avascent’s Portfolio-Based Strategy helps clients operating in federal and commercial markets manage sensitive internal and external stakeholders with a tailored market scorecard.
Without a true understanding of the “outside in” market context, targeted investment decision processes can quickly turn into dice rolls. Market size, growth, competitive intensity, and market potential, not to mention nuanced customer dynamics, are all key external metrics that have to be analyzed before scarce resources can be allocated most effectively. Avascent’s client recognized they were better at identifying promising technologies, but much less effective at putting these in market context before they invested. Even more difficult was determining market attractiveness across their entire portfolio. Avascent’s Portfolio-Based Strategy worked with the client to bring proven processes and frameworks, to “normalize” data sources and to tailor analysis to ensure they understood the markets they were in, and heading into with new initiatives. When this was finished, the client realized that, over time, they had been pulled into over 30 distinct yet overlapping markets with overlapping division initiatives. Avascent helped the client understand the attractiveness of these markets specific to the company’s capabilities and make unbiased comparisons. This allowed leadership to make educated tradeoffs across their entire market portfolio for the first time.
Avascent’s Portfolio-Based Strategy establishes a structured and shareable picture of a company’s strengths – and how those apply to different markets – based on internal and external metrics.
Now that the client was armed with an objective capability analysis and knowledge of the picture of their business. For the first time, the client could answer, and support with data, fundamental questions about their business in a comprehensive way. The client found that not only were they spread thin, but that large portions of past investments were not aligned to the most attractive markets. They also discovered previously discounted longstanding markets where they still had room to grow.
Avascent’s approach provides a holistic perspective across a complex business and investment portfolio, enabling a strategy uncluttered by past biases or unclear data.
Armed with a fresh perspective, Avascent’s client realized, and presented to its board of directors, that despite the best intentions, it had watched too many resources go to interesting new, but non-core activities. And it had been under-investing where it had the best chance to win and grow at scale. Equipped with these new data-driven insights, senior leaders obtained board approval to refocus the company on the most impactful market opportunities, while eliminating less attractive or low-probability-of-success markets and product offerings.
Conclusion: Re-focus on what matters most – then execute, execute, execute.
Any organization is defined by the opportunities it pursues, as much as those it chooses not to. Avascent’s approach helps leaders make decisions with the certainty and insight that comes from breaking through complexity and honestly answering the fundamental questions that are often the hardest to answer. Once a decision is confidently made, leaders, managers and staff can then put resources and management attention where they are needed most: in execution.
The client’s board approved the new strategic plan, and committed to both refocus internal investment and add new resources to strengthen their core capabilities and market positions. They realigned the organization around a few truly critical businesses, aligned leaders to these, and added a challenge to every division head: Make sure execution plans are clear and focused, and that progress will be measurable. The client also began a new marketing initiative to reinforce its position in critical markets, and changed its investment allocation process to ensure it was weighted to core priorities. Within months, results were already improving: investments and new hires were aligned to key markets, lowering spend. Some new, quick wins started to come in and most importantly, leaders started to regularly to think, act and speak in terms of “core” and “non-core” in ways they never had before.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Stephen Ganote is a Principal at Avascent. His work focuses on helping clients in Aerospace and technology-driven markets with strategic planning, new growth and organizational effectiveness. He brings perspective and insights informed by deep consulting experience and over a decade of executive management in the aerospace, defense and communications industries. For more information, please contact: firstname.lastname@example.org
Nicholas Bird is an Associate at Avascent, where his primary focus is in platforms and systems, helping companies formulate growth and new market strategies. He has expertise in applied analytics, using advanced data analysis and visualizations to help clients understand how their internal portfolio is positioned against the external market. For more information, please contact: email@example.com
Avascent is the leading strategy and management consulting firm serving clients operating in government-driven markets. Working with corporate leaders and financial investors, Avascent delivers sophisticated, fact-based solutions in the areas of strategic growth, value capture, and mergers and acquisition support. With deep sector expertise, analytically rigorous consulting methodologies, and a uniquely flexible service model, Avascent provides clients with the insights and advice they need to succeed in dynamic customer environments.