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Looking backward to move forward – thoughts on strategic planning

As many financial institutions are finalizing their strategic plans for 2023 or may already be finished, we are in a valuable window. Any time an organization undertakes a major project, there’s a tendency to move immediately into action. But moving too quickly between phases can prevent you from taking time to reflect.

Although you can’t make real progress if you’re always looking over your shoulder, if you only look forward, you may speed past valuable learnings of retrospection.

So, as you settle into the holiday season, here’s a mental framework that you can use to categorize the process of strategic planning, and any other major project your team has completed. It’s referred to as the Blossom, Bud, and Thorn Method (or Rose, Bud, and Thorn).


Blossom is a label you give to anything that worked well or that felt really good. Did your team use a new software tool that made strategic planning easier? Great. It’s a blossom. Blossoms aren’t always things that you want to repeat, sometimes they’re just celebrations of good things.


Buds are opportunities. You don’t know what the outcome is (it could go either way), but you see potential and want to explore. A bud could be a new business in your community that you’d like to explore as a client. It could be a new approach to holding meetings and gaining approvals. You’re trying something new in hopes of making an improvement.


No process is perfect. You can’t fix problems unless you observe and identify them correctly. A thorn is anything that didn’t work well or that you don’t want to repeat. A thorn can even be something you had no control over, such as a global pandemic, or geopolitical conflict, or supply chain issue. In general, it’s good to view thorns as challenges that can be overcome, rather than unavoidable pain. But you’ll find it very hard to improve or change if you can’t identify your challenges and gain agreement on the team.

How to use this framework

A Blossom, Bud, and Thorn retrospective can be as simple as a weekly check-in with your team where everyone talks about their blossom, bud, and thorn for the week. It can also be an in-depth exercise where your team gathers in a conference room and everyone writes down blossoms, buds, and thorns on sticky notes and your collect them into groups and discuss each one.

This type of retrospective is popular with software development teams, but the principle works equally well all types of teams and organizations.

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