blog overview
Frans Riemersma, 17 Jul '17

Introducing The Agile Strategy Process

Agile and scrum are widely adopted… by teams. Isn’t it time we equip managers with similar tools? Read about agile management tools and the first promising results.

Scrum adoption is widespread. 74% of tech companies are now using it, and this number is only slightly lower in finance and retail.  Across industries, 98% of organizations say they’ll continue to use Scrum in the future. Tick in the box for adoption.

Scrum is beginning to catch on in other areas outside the development department as well. According to this 2016 State of Scrum report, sales and marketing are seeing the biggest rise in Scrum adoption (31%).

We work with CMOs and marketers every day to apply the agile principles. Despite very similar dynamics there are some fundamental differences between marketing and development. Often we felt alone. Until...

In May 2017 we were invited to join the founding fathers (and mothers) of agile marketing in San Francisco. They wrote the Agile Marketing Manifesto 5 years ago in what was called Sprint Zero. Now they organized the second meeting: Sprint One. A great honor. And even greater insights of some 30 agile marketing experts!

The central question was, how can we (better) apply the agile development principles to marketing? Think about practical tools like the daily standup, kanban boards, retrospectives, user story, etc. On a daily basis, agile marketing experts hear similar questions and remarks from seasoned marketing managers, saying...

Over the past two or three years we have closely worked with customers to adapt the agile tools to marketing reality. We have come up with a few tools that work really well, as well as a process for it.

First we believed these tools and processes were specific to marketing managers. But we soon learned that these same questions are held by managers in general, marketing or not. It holds for sales managers, finance managers, retail managers… all of them.

Stop using outdated management tools

If you ask managers what they want from their team they always say: “I want to know what they are doing”. That smells like micro management to us. Luckily, what they intend to achieve is different from what those words literally mean.

If you look closer, they just want to make sure the team is working on things that matter. They need the assurance that what their teams does, ads to achieving company strategy. Why? Because the manager has to report to management to make sure they stay on track. That is their real, core business, not micro management.

To stay or track, they need some understanding of the situation. So how do managers slide from tracking progress to micro management?

There is some basic psychology at play. If someone has a lack of understanding of a status or situation, they ask for clarity. That is only human. But if that clarity is not given over time, they start digging for details and (vanity) metrics. These metrics and details make people feel uncomfortable and exposed. And voila: a highly uncomfortable situation has been created.

Eventually this results in traditional fear driven, controlling mechanisms. Even though both sides know it hampers the team productivity tremendously. And, what does the symptom of this all look like in real life? Spreadsheet and presentation hell.

Why do managers require their teams to produce these documents? Because they need predictability above almost anything else. Their future on the job depends on it. It is their very existence. No results, no job. And that applies to teams too.

Start empowering your teams!

Managers need to make sure they’ll have something positive to report to their managers. And their managers, in turn, report to their managers, all the way up to the top.

This is why the Agile manifesto states:

  • Individuals and interactions over processes and tools.
  • Responding to change over following a plan.

The manager we talked to said: should I have NO plan? Should we work WITHOUT processes and tools? The answer is a resounding “no”.

But what should a manager do according to Agile Scrum?

No answer. Silence.

As if you surrender yourself to the dark side if you dare to move across the word "over" in the agile manifesto.

So far, Agile Scrum is created to empower the team, NOT the manager. So it looks to us. Using Agile Scrum, the manager feels like he’s losing overview and control. Losing sight of the bigger picture, and not understanding where things are moving is unacceptable for managers. If we do not cater for that, Agile Scrum will never become mainstream.

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A ‘manager friendly’ strategic approach to Scrum

We co-developed a process that is almost identical to the Scrum process as the world knows it, but taking a more strategic approach to Scrum. Also, we developed a handful of concepts similar to the widely adopted Extreme Programming/ Scrum/ Kanban/ ScrumBan methods.

This new process works well for the managers because it enables them to...

    • Align with their teams
    • Shake hands on (strategic) priorities
    • Develop realistic team performance expectations
    • Get the best solution from teams
    • Give full ownership to teams
    • Distribute strategic goals throughout the company
    • Get the results back quickly
    • Pave a path to continuous improvement.

If you decide to try out this process -which we hope!-, you will soon hear yourself say the comments below...

The Agile Strategy process in a nutshell

We started with the familiar and universally accepted Scrum process model, and adapted it for agile strategy. Why not use something that works already? We call it the Agile Strategy process.

Have a look at the two pictures and find the 7 differences ;-)

differences agile

See the guy with the ice cream cone on the left? Well, neither do we. In fact, there are only two differences.

  • The timelines are different.
  • The stage names are different.

Some managers believed we were replacing one with the other. Not at all. They work in tandem. The familiar Scrum process is part of the new manager friendly Scrum process.

agile scrum strategy tandem

Your agile teams just work as they do already. And you as a manager can focus on your quarterly cycle, WITHOUT having to interrupt your team. Without slowing them down. Without pissing them off. Without strangling them with reports.

4 new but familiar Agile concepts

Next, we looked at the agile methods. As we started out with applying the agile scrum principles just like anyone in the industry, these new Agile concepts should look familiar to you.

You already know all these tools. We only made some important adjustments. Here are the 4 ‘new’ concepts we created:

  • Strategy backlog
  • Goal backlog + Definition of Success
  • Program
  • Weekly Speed update.

Let’s look at each one of those in more detail...

1. Strategy backlog

A.k.a. Portfolio backlog or Goal tree.

Task: Build a strategy in close collaboration with the team.

  • Define goals loosely.
    • Start with one Big Hairy Audacious Goal.
    • Write down the goal title.
    • Ideally add a number and draft KPI (metric).
  • Interlink the goals so a plan or strategy emerges.
    • To create a natural order, ask for each goal “Why, So I can”.
    • “Why do we want to achieve this goal?” - “So we can achieve the KPI of the higher goal”
  • “Kill your darlings”.
    • Remove all non-strategic goals.
    • Cut away 40% of current activities, in most cases.
    • Free up time and workload in just one strategy session.

agile strategy process

2. Goal backlog using the Definition of Success

Task: Groom your goals.

  • Select which goals are contributing to the strategy most, and start working on those first.
  • Let each team work on maximum of three goals in parallel, as a rule of thumb
  • Refine selected goals: write a Definition of Success for the selected goals.

agile strategy process definition of success

The Definition of Success is a combination of the User Story and the DoD. It contains all the elements to craft a SMART goal.

Definition of Success Example:

Definition of success example
3. Program (goals in progress)

Task: Execute goals.

All of the following activities are performed by the team

  • Start pursuing goals.
  • Break goals down to team boards or backlogs.
  • Define sprint backlogs.
  • Define Definitions of Done.
  • Perform daily standups, etc.

agile strategy process program
4. Weekly Speed Update

Task: Weekly strategy update meeting.

  • Gather the teams/team leads, on a weekly basis
  • Highlight the goals in progress.
  • Give every person three minutes of speaking time.
  • Share goal progress and blockers.
  • Share confidence levels.
  • Adjust the goals, and agree on the new goal and next steps! Initially this happens a lot due to the goal formulation learning curve. Later only in case the market demands it.

agile strategy process weekly meeting

Achieved goals

On a weekly basis, typically before the weekly speed update, ask the team leads to update the goal results. Updating goals and each other is easy. Since there is only one KPI per goal you only need to update one value per week. To make it visual, use one chart per goal. At most one person manages three goals. So updating only one value per chart is a matter of seconds of work. No more elaborate reporting. How about that? ;-)

Then, at the end of a Program cycle discuss the achieved goals. Don’t forget to celebrate!

agile strategy process achievement
Taking the next evolutionary step

We welcome you all to try out these concepts and let us know what your results are. Spread the word!

Are you excited to take agile to the next level? Contact me! Getting started is easy. All of the above concepts are built into our tool.

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