Agile Strategic Management
Highlights by David Willden
Agile strategic management can significantly increase the chances that your organization achieves its goals. It requires more genuine leadership and better leverages the best of all relevant disciplines, teamwork, quick, iterative improvements, and a focus on top priorities.
Traditional strategic planning processes work best in manufacturing, construction, and other industries where repetitive, long-term, stable operations are required. However, today many organizations are confronted with constant change, and have considerable resources invested in knowledge or R&D work. Unfortunately, in many of these organizations traditional strategic planning processes are in place and do not work well.
Agile strategic management is the process of developing and adjusting strategies as needed based on live data and new insights. Agile strategy management works best in flat organizations. If done well everyone is:
Agile strategic management in action is exciting. It is fast paced and ends up becoming more strategic in the end.
Agile strategic management isn’t complex. It is simple to understand, but harder to implement. It means that egos are checked at the door. It means being passionate for the cause and humble and respectful of the talents of everyone. Here is the great news. It is change we want to make because it so engaging, stimulating, and the results are exciting.
What can agile strategic management be applied? Let’s look at the typical structure of a business. We will see that it can used at the strategic and project levels. Simply described, business establishes goals and related strategies they believe will enable them to achieve their vision. Most importantly, they identify the products and/or services they will offer, and the processes needed to successfully support them.
Goals can provide clarity regarding what is most important to the organization and how those will be measured. Establishing goals centered on the customers, employees, processes and financial results are all important in creating a successful organization.
A key to competitive advantage is having a workforce that is passionate about the strategic direction of the organization. When people are genuinely able to contribute their best insights to a noble cause, they are significantly more likely to be emotionally dedicated to working together, and helping the organization succeed.
Strategies outline how you plan to achieve the goals. Strategies should be developed based on your sweet spot (see model below), rich customer insights, deep competitive analysis, and critical research in other areas. Agile strategic management recognizes that you need to build learning and a degree of flexibility into the decision making process.
Products and/or services are what your firm offers to your customers. When a new product or services is developed or significantly improved, then generally project teams are chartered. Significant investments are made to develop, test, launch, support, and so on. Then, there is lost opportunity costs if the projects are not successful.
Using agile to manage your projects, whenever possible, can significantly reduce your risks and increase your odds of success. Agile teams work with frequently with customers and stake holders, in defining, prioritizing, building, testing and using the most important features upfront. Real live feedback is being provided before unnecessary resources are expended.
Strategies may need to change as agile project teams collect deep insights as they partner closely with customers as they produce key features and they publish product releases. Consequently, there needs to be a tight working relationship between project teams and executive stakeholders. To maximize your investments, having your strategist partner with these teams is also vital. Executives and your strategist need to be trained in how to best engage with teams and effectively remove barriers. An authoritative voice if misguided can easily sway and misguide a team.
Project teams start by working closely with the customer(s) in
identifying desired features. These features are referred to as a
product backlog or wish list. The product backlog is grouped into
releases also known as release backlogs. The releases are prioritized.
The highest priority release is generally focused on first by the whole
The term “release” is used deliberately. The focus is on organizing all work around what is to be released to the customer. This helps to always keep the team concentrating on are most value added to the customer. Releases are subdivided into iterations or what some call sprints. Finally, project teams meet “daily” for a few minutes. Each member answers these three questions:
What did I do yesterday?
What will I do today?
Are there any impediments in my way?
This video provides a helpful overview of how agile can be organized:
How does agile strategic management pertain to processes? Processes are where the day to day work is performed to produce, sell and service the products and/or services. Processes should be continually improved. Sometimes it is important to design new processes or re-engineer existing processes. Training in process analysis, best practices and automation is helpful. Agile principles can be applied to process improvement efforts. Teams are put together, to identify, group and prioritize problems. The top problem is focused on first. The team uncovers and prioritizes root causes, identifies ideal solutions, and designs, develops, tests and deploys the solution. Partnering with and meeting frequently with customers (sometimes internal customers) and stakeholders is important.