Activating Strategy

Human-centered approaches for bringing strategy to life
Preview Course

Strategy is often portrayed as a thinking exercise—a set of decisions and plans made by a small group. But strategy is brought to life by the people in every part of an organization every day. Engaging the people critical to both creating and activating your strategy is an element missing from most strategy approaches. In this course, you’ll learn how to make more informed choices by getting tangible and running small tests, assess your resources and readiness to ensure your strategy is actionable, and scale and sustain your organization’s ability to support strategy across functions, departments, and teams.

No matter where you sit in your organization or what strategy frameworks or processes you use—this course can help you ensure your teams have the shared understanding, alignment, and conditions they need to move confidently from strategy to action.

Course Outcomes
  • Identify the strategic choices you and your team own.
  • Discover methods to engage and align people from the beginning to help inform your strategic choices.
  • Get tangible and conduct small tests to make confident choices, learn, and gain shared understanding.
  • Determine what resources you’ll need to build and scale your ability to support strategy.
  • Bring strategy to life through your everyday choices.
Part of Certificate Programs
Skills You’ll Gain
Business Strategy Stakeholder Alignment Resource Assessment Innovation
Format Online Cohort Course
Start Date
Duration 5 Weeks*
Time 4 Hours/Week
Regular price
Sale price
Unit price
Download Syllabus
*Enroll in any August cohort course or certificate to get exclusive access to our new AI x Design Thinking Workshop Series.

Go Deeper with Certificate Programs

Activating Strategy is part of one certificate program:

What You'll Learn

Introduction: Activate Strategy

Approach strategy in a new way by leveraging the tools and mindsets of design.
Watch a sneak peek
  • Activating Strategy — A sneak peek of the course
1 Video Lesson
  • Bringing Strategy to Life — Learn foundational design principles that are key to creating and activating your strategy.
1 Assignment
  • Articulate Your Strategy: Choose a past or present strategy that you know well and can discuss in detail. You'll revisit this strategy throughout the course to gain hands-on practice with the tools, techniques, and mindsets of activation.

1 Discussion
  • Describe your current strategy process, if any. What challenges have you faced when trying to implement strategy?

1 Resource
  • Designing Strategy: There is no single strategy tool that everyone uses. But we at IDEO do have some preferred frameworks we like to use. Get a peek into our strategy process.

Week 1: Create Engagement

Establish shared understanding and alignment by designing for and with the people who will make your strategy successful.
3 Video Lessons
  • Strategy is Social — Learn how bringing others into the design process can help you better execute your strategy.

  • Mapping Strategy Stakeholders — Understand the four types of organizational stakeholders critical to your strategy's success.

  • Designing Engagement Moments — Design for a variety of interactions that engage each stakeholder group.

1 Assignment
  • Plan Stakeholder Engagements: Create a simple stakeholder map that answers two key questions: Who are the players that need to be involved? And what role do they need to play in bringing your strategy to life? Then design a plan for engaging these stakeholders at key moments throughout the strategy journey.

3 Discussions
  • We truly believe that people support what they help create. Recall a time when someone sought your input, insight or collaboration on a project. How did it make you feel?

  • How many people do you normally interact with on a strategy project? How might you expand your lens to include less obvious stakeholders?

  • In what ways do you normally engage with people on a strategy project? How might you engage them in new ways and expand the types of roles they play?

2 Resources
  • How to Think About Stakeholders: Dive deeper into the needs and constraints of each stakeholder group, and the practicalities to consider when planning ways to engage them in strategy work.

  • Case Study: Cornell CALS: What can stakeholder engagement look like more concretely? Read about how Dean Houlton and his team at the Cornell College of Agriculture and Life Sciences tackled the challenge alongside IDEO.

Week 2: Build Confidence

Make more informed choices by getting tangible and running small tests.
4 Video Lessons
  • Making Strategy Tangible — Learn three ways that tangibility can make your strategy more real and actionable.

  • Building to Think — Prototyping is one of the most powerful ways to create and activate a strategy.

  • Building to Learn — Gain traction for your strategy by treating testing as the first step toward implementation.

  • Building to Align — Leverage tangibility to help you share the story of your strategy in ways that build support and inspire action at all levels.

1 Assignment
  • Tell Your Strategy Story: Create a simple, compelling narrative to communicate the what, how, and why of your strategy. Share your story with others and get feedback.

4 Discussions
  • Strategy is about the future, and the future is unknowable. Of the three ways we tend to cope with this uncertainty, which one resonates the most with you and why?

  • What surprises or intrigues you about the idea of prototyping strategy? What questions do you have?

  • How do you feel about feedback? Has someone's feedback ever changed your mind about something – such as an idea you were strongly attached to? Share your story here.

  • Think of the last time you experienced misalignment with a team member. What helped you get on the same page?

1 Resource
  • Gallery - Making Strategy Tangible: See real examples of strategies that were made more tangible, testable, and shareable. Find inspiration for your own strategy prototypes, tests, and stories.

Week 3: Enable Action

Ensure your strategy is actionable by assessing and building your resources and readiness.
3 Video Lessons
  • What Are Capabilities and Systems? — Understand the important role they play in ensuring your strategy is activated and enabled.

  • Assessing Capabilities and Systems — Learn how to identify and assess the core capabilities and systems needed to support your strategy.

  • Planning Capabilities and Systems — Consider five common elements to help you build a concrete action plan.

1 Assignment
  • Assess Your Capabilities and Systems: Define the capabilities and management systems needed to activate and support your strategy. Use a simple stop light exercise to assess their current state and identify gaps. Then start to sketch out a plan for how to get what is needed and at the level required.

3 Discussions
  • Have you ever seen a strategy fail or fall short of goals because the right capabilities and systems weren't in place to support it? Share your experience here.

  • What are some challenges you have faced when trying to build new capabilities and systems from the ground up?

  • Of the five elements to consider when creating an action plan, which ones have impacted you and your team the most?

2 Resources
  • Common Capabilities and Systems: Explore common types of capabilities and management systems to determine which ones are relevant to your strategy.

  • Should You Build, Borrow, or Buy?: Consider a set of six dimensions in your assessment of whether to build, borrow, or buy they capabilities and systems you need.

Conclusion: Maintain Momentum

Support the ongoing activation of your strategy by continuously reflecting on and measuring its progress.
1 Video Lesson
  • Strategy is Living — Learn why every team should have a set cadence of moments throughout the year to assess how the strategy is working.

1 Assignment
  • Define Your Metrics and Plan Reflection Moments: Think about how to design team moments to evaluate your strategy's impact. Articulate what you expect to see if the strategy is working as intended.

1 Discussion
  • How often do you and your team revisit and update a strategy? What are some ways that you keep tabs on its performance?

1 Resource
  • Cultivate Strategy as a Core Leadership Skill: Intentionally design for ongoing strategy conversations—not just progress reports but real discussions of the strategy and its implications.

Meet Your Instructors

Jennifer Riel

Partner & Global Director of Strategy at IDEO

Jennifer has led strategy processes at large public and private sector organizations around the world. She advises senior leaders at several Fortune 100 companies and teaches creative problem solving and innovation at the Rotman School of Management. She co-authored Creating Great Choices with Roger L. Martin.

More About Jennifer

Iain Roberts

Former Partner & Chief Operating Officer at IDEO

As COO of IDEO, Iain helped the company navigate organizational complexity and worked to give designers the creative agency to make a positive impact in the world. Throughout his tenure at IDEO, Iain has led multiple design practices and stewarded some of IDEO’s largest relationships with Fortune 100 companies. He holds a master’s degree in industrial design engineering from the Royal College of Art and a bachelor’s degree in aeronautical engineering from Southampton University.

More About Iain

Frequently Asked Questions

We offer three types of courses: self-paced courses, cohort courses, and certificate programs. Cohort courses run on a set calendar, with fixed start and end dates. Course learning is self-paced within those dates and requires approximately 4-5 hours per week over 5 weeks. Courses consist of videos, activities, assignments, access to course teaching teams, and feedback from a global community of learners. There are also optional 1-hour video Community Conversations, held weekly by the teaching team. 

All of our cohort courses are fully online, so you can take them from any time zone, anywhere in the world. With our cohort course experience, while you'll be learning alongside other learners, you'll still have the flexibility to work at the pace that fits your own schedule. There aren’t mandatory live components, so you don't have to worry about having to log in at a specific time. At the same time, you'll have access to a teaching team, which is composed of experts in the field who are there to provide you feedback, and there are also plenty of options to connect with your fellow learners.

Course instructors have a strong presence in the courses through the course videos, but they're not actively providing feedback or holding direct conversations with our learners. We have a teaching team to ensure that you have the feedback, guidance, and support you need to learn successfully in your course. Our teaching team members are design practitioners that have experience applying course methods and mindsets in a wide variety of contexts around the world.

Our teaching team consists of teaching leads and teaching assistants, who are experts in their fields. Many of them have been with IDEO U for many years, and we have selected those who have direct experience with applying the course methods and mindsets in all sorts of contexts around the world. They all go through multiple training sessions by our instructional designers on not only on the subject matter, but also on how to create safe and collaborative learning experiences and environments.

Community Conversations are one-hour live video conversations hosted by the teaching team on Zoom. These happen once per week, with each one having two to three time options to accommodate different time zones. Each week focuses on the lesson that you’ve just gone through, so the output and the content depend on the specific lessons. You'll have the opportunity if you work together with your peers on the tools and mindsets from the course, reflect on what you’ve learned, and also address any challenges that you might be going through.

All course materials, including videos, activities, and assignments will be available while you are enrolled in a course. During the 5 weeks of the course, you will have full access to our learning platform and can refer back to it any time. You will only have access to the course materials while you are enrolled. 

Assignments must be submitted during the 5-week course duration in order for you to receive a certificate of completion.

Absolutely! We have had many teams go through our courses together. For those taking our courses as a team, we provide a number of additional benefits:

1. A Team Learning Guide, developed to provide your team with resources to facilitate offline discussions that complement the in-course experience.

2. A Manage Learners function, which provides visibility into your team's progress within the course.

3. The ability to create a private Learning Circle, which is a closed space for discussion on the learning platform specifically for your team.

For more information, visit our Team Learning page.

We offer a discount when you enroll in multiple courses at the same time through some of our certificate programs, including Foundations in Design Thinking, Business Innovation, Human-Centered Strategy, and Communicating for Impact

You can also enter your email address at the bottom of this page in order to receive updates on future offers or possible discounts. 

After completing a cohort course, you will be able to add it to your “licenses and certifications” on LinkedIn.

We also have certificate programs that consist of multiple courses. After completing a certificate, you will receive a certificate of completion via email as a downloadable PDF within 1-2 weeks of completing the final required course. Certificates are configured for uploading and sharing on LinkedIn.

You can purchase a course on our website using a credit card, PayPal, or Shop Pay. For US customers, we also offer installment plans at checkout if you use the Shop Pay method of payment.

We typically are not able to accommodate bank transfer or invoicing. However, if your order includes 10 seats or more, please contact and our team will be happy to review your request. 

Collaborate with a Global Community

Loved by Learners Across the Globe

Nisrine Danaf
Nisrine Development Manager Merkle
Meg Stiven
Meg Director of Client Engagement and Service Delivery BC Public Service
Mark Marion
Mark Senior Director of Member Services and Engagement NTCA–The Rural Broadband Association
Dickson Louie
Dickson Principal Dickson Louie & Associates
Activating Strategy
Cohort Course

“It was a great experience. It helped me feel unlocked, and most importantly helped me embody moving with confidence despite the uncertainty of a new role and a new strategy—and I am spreading the love.”

Nisrine Geneva, Switzerland
Activating Strategy
Cohort Course

“The course introduced me to many new tools and frameworks that are directly applicable in my work. There were lots of aha moments for me and new connections in my thinking. I have what I need to practice and become skilled at this, and have a well-rounded understanding of the concepts.”

Meg British Columbia, Canada
Activating Strategy
Cohort Course

“IDEO U has taken such care around every detail and it shows. TAs were very well prepared and engaged in the meetings. It was evident that the course was designed with many different learning modes in mind. The tools that spoke to me were easily accessible and served their intended purposes.”

Mark Washington, D.C.
Activating Strategy
Cohort Course

“I'm very happy with the learnings from this course. It's a great complement to IDEO U's Designing Strategy course, as it offers a roadmap on how to execute strategy through people.”

Dickson San Leandro, CA

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Enroll As a Team

How to Enroll as a Team