There is no single strategic management theory that is universally accepted. It is rather the case that there are 12 distinct schools of thought in strategic management. These schools can be divided into three types: prescriptive schools, descriptive schools and synthesis schools. Understanding these three distinct schools is essential to understanding strategic management theory.
The prescriptive schools in strategic management theory offer practical advice for managers. There are three prescriptive schools in strategic management theory: design school, planning school and positioning school. The design school is concerned with how a firm's strategy can be designed by the top management team. The planning school focuses on strategic planning and the role that staff planners play in forming strategy. The positioning school focuses positioning a firm in the outside environment to achieve success.
In contrast to the prescriptive schools, which are normative in nature, the descriptive schools are non-normative in nature. They do no offer advice but describe strategic management practices. There are six descriptive schools of strategic management theory: entrepreneurial school, cognitive school, learning school, power and politics school, cultural school and environmental school. Each of these takes a different perspective when describing strategic management practices. For example, the power and politics school focuses on the role of internal politics and coalitions when forming strategies in a firm. The learning school focuses on the learning processes inside a firm that lead to strategy.
The synthesis schools build on the work of the previous nine schools, but are intended to offer practical solutions to problems in particular areas of strategic management. The three synthesis schools in strategic management theory are the configurational school, the boundaries school and the dynamic capabilities school. The configurational school is focused on the specific strategic configurations that a firm assumes in order to respond to the environment. The boundaries school is concerned with determining where a firm should draw its boundaries. For example, which tasks to outsource and how to manage these boundaries. The dynamic capabilities school is focused on how firms can create capabilities that fit rapidly changing environments.
Althought there are 12 recognized schools of thought in strategic management theory, it is likely that this will change. New schools of thought will emerge in the synthesis category as researchers consider new ways of using existing theories. New theories may emerge by integrating theories together to create a new theory. Strategic management theory is in a state of flux and researchers and practitioners need to be prepared to consider new, emerging theories.