Dynamics of Strategy Deployment

Following on from my last post, and based on the feedback in the comments, I want to say more about the dynamics of Strategy Deployment.

The first point is to do with the directionality. Strategy isn’t deployed by being pushed down from the top of the organisation, with the expectation that the right tactics simply need to be discovered. Rather, the strategy is proposed by a central group, so that decentralised groups can explore and create feedback on the proposal. Thus information flows out and back from the central group. Further, the decentralised groups are not formed down organisational structures, but are cross-organisational so that information also flows between groups and divisions. The following picture is trying to visualise this, where colours represent organisational divisions. Note also that some individuals are both members of a “deployed from” group, and a “deployed to” group – the deployment isn’t a hand-off either.

Strategy Deployment Directionality

This means that a Strategy Deployment can begin anywhere in the organisation, in any one of those groups, and by widening the deployment to more and more groups, greater alignment is achieved around common results, strategies, indicators and tactics.

That leads to the second point about emergence. In the same way that the tactical initiatives are hypotheses with experiments on how to implement the strategies, so the strategies themselves are also hypotheses. Tactics can also be viewed as experiments to learn whether the strategies are the best ones. In fact Strategy Deployment can be thought of as nested experimentation, where every PDSA “Do” has its own PDSA cycle.

Nested PDSA Cycles

With regular and frequent feedback cycles from the experiments, looking at the current indicators and results, strategy can emerge as opportunities are identified and amplified, or drawbacks are discovered and dampened. In this way Strategy Deployment explores the evolutionary potential of the present rather than trying to close the gap towards a forecasted future.

These dynamics are often referred to as Catchball in the lean community, as ideas and learnings are tossed around the organisation between groups, with the cycle “Catch, Reflect, Improve, Pass”.

Catch, Reflect, Improve, Pass cycle

I also like the LAGER mnemonic I mentioned in Strategy Deployment as Organisational Improv, which is another way of thinking about these dynamics.

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What is Strategy Deployment?

Japanese Ship in a Storm

I’ve been writing about Strategy Deployment a lot recently but realised that I haven’t properly defined what I mean by the term. Actually, I sort of did in my last post, so I’m going to repeat, expand and build on that here.

In a nutshell, Strategy Deployment is any form of organisational improvement in which solutions emerge from the people closest to the problem.

The name comes from the Japanese term, Hoshin Kanri, the literal translation of which is “Direction Management”, which suggests both setting direction and steering towards it. A more metaphorical translation is “Ship in a storm going in the right direction”. This brings to my mind the image of everyone using all their skills and experience to pull together, with a common goal of escaping turbulence and reaching safety.

Lets look at the two elements, strategy and deployment, separately.

Strategy

Wikipedia defines strategy as

“a high level plan to achieve one or more goals under conditions of uncertainty”.

The emphasis is mine as these are the two key elements which indicate that a strategy is not a detailed plan with a known and predictable outcome.

Strategy to me is about improving and making significant breakthroughs in certain key competitive capabilities. I like Geoffrey Moore’s Hierarchy of Powers from Escape Velocity as a guide for exploring what those capabilities might be. This hierarchy is nicely summarised as

“Category Power (managing the portfolio of market categories in which a company is involved), Company Power (your status relative to competitors), Market Power (market share in your target segments), Offer Power (differentiation of your offering), and Execution Power (your ability to drive strategic transformation within your enterprise).”

As an aside, in this context, Agility as a Strategy can be thought of as primarily (although not exclusively) focussed on improving Execution and Offer Powers.

Determining Strategy as “a high level plan to achieve one or more goals under conditions of uncertainty”, therefore, involves setting enabling rather than governing constraints. Strategy should guide the creation of new solutions, and not control the implementation of existing solutions. It defines the how and not the what, the approach and not the tools.

Deployment

Mirriam-Webster defines deploy as

“to spread out, utilize, or arrange for a deliberate purpose”.

In this context it is the strategy that is being utilised for the deliberate purpose of improving organisational improvement. Given that the strategy is “a high level plan to achieve one or more goals under conditions of uncertainty”, this means that the deployment is not the orchestration and implementation of a detailed plan.

Instead it requires a shift in the way organisations operate, from a mindset where management knows best, and tells employees what to do without thinking or asking questions, to one where they propose direction and ask for feedback and enquiry. Instead of assuming that managers know the right answers as a facts, the deployment of strategy assumes that any suggestions are simply opinions to be explored and challenged. Employees are allowed, and encouraged, to think for themselves, allowing for the possibility that they may turn out to be wrong, and making it acceptable for people to change their mind.

As another aside, this brings to mind a great Doctor Who quote from the latest season:

Strategy Deployment

Back to my original definition of “any form of organisational improvement in which solutions emerge from the people closest to the problem.”

Strategy Deployment is the creation of a high level plan for organisational improvement under conditions of uncertainty (the strategy), and the utilisation of that strategy by employees for a deliberate purpose (to achieve one or more goals). Clear communication of both the goals and the strategy, and constant collaboration across the whole organisation to use all the skills, knowledge and experience available, allows the appropriate tactics emerge. In this way Strategy Deployment enables autonomy of teams and departments while maintaining alignment to the overall strategy and goals.

Note that I say any form. I don’t see Strategy Deployment as a specific method, or framework, but more as general approach or style. My preferred approach at the moment uses the X-Matrix, but I would also describe David Snowden’s Cynefin, David Anderson’s Kanban Method, Mike Burrows’ Agendashift and Jeff Anderson’s Lean Change Method as forms of Strategy Deployment. I’m hoping to explore the synergies more at Lean Kanban North America and the Kanban Leadership Retreat.

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