Agile strategy execution - a new modus operandi
As we know, even the best strategies are tough to execute. Study after study keep repeating this and I'm sure you have your own experiences as well. So do I. We also know that strategy execution typically fails already at the very initiation of planning. Why? Well, simply due to top-down approaches with low engagement of the people who will actually be involved in executing the strategy.
Engaging people across the organization early in the process is key. This needs to be rooted in the culture - not a one-off trick. People need to feel they where heard and even better if they can see their own finger prints in the strategy. Engagement also works as initial validation for the strategy - if people "buy in", there is likely value in the strategy. This creates the momentum required to move even mountains if required. But in order to maintain that momentum you also need a continuous process - a new modus operandi.
If you are familiar with software development you already know the answer. Agile development methodology can be applied to overall strategy execution as well. Base your strategy execution on an iterative process made up of sprints and releases. Think of the company as continuously developing software - every release comes with enhanced and new features that add value to customers. The company adds value to various stakeholders as well by delivering on its strategy.
Anchor the release cycle to the periods in the strategy roadmap. A release schedule with a suitable frequency helps to maintain focus, momentum and to measure progress and results, while also enabling adaptation to changing circumstances. Further, define the length and number of sprints for the release cycle. Find a natural sprint length, that provides sufficient time for the nature of the specific tasks.
A few steps more (this is connected to Value Creators Toolkit):
Release planning: Plan your release scope together with your teams. Which milestones and achievements do you target for the upcoming release? (Often less is more). What should your defined KPI's measure at the end of the release cycle? Do you see how the strategic roadmap and the project portfolio supports this phase?
Sprint planning: Continue by planning the closest two sprints. The first one in more detail, the second roughly. Repeat after the first sprint. Roll on. Here we're working with the project portfolio. Prioritize, focus, execute, track.
Sprint meetings: Gather your teams regularly to follow-up, provide guidance and help solve any obstacles. Keep the momentum. Again we're working with the project portfolio.
Sprint retrospective: Do sprint reviews at the end of each sprint. Discuss how you performed and what you learned during the sprint. What will you take along for the next sprint. Continuous learning. Go back to step 2 and roll on until your release is completed.
Release review: How much did you reach of the planned release scope? Decide what still needs to be completed, if necessary. Close the release. Celebrate the achievements! Communicate to relevant stakeholders (organization, customers, board, etc)! The roadmap already indicates clear strategic progress.
Does it sound tedious? Focused execution requires discipline. It's easier if you integrate and align the process with your board of directors and management team meeting cycle and other regular events. The second reason strategy execution fails, is due to lost focus and momentum. If you can adopt the above rolling process and keep up with it from month to month, quarter to quarter and year to year it becomes your natural modus operandi. Strategy will become a natural and continuous dialogue in your company, which will significantly improve the odds to succeed with transformation initiatives.
Now, what's stopping you from excelling in strategy execution?