Strategy Deployment and Agendashift

Agendashift is the approach used by Mike Burrows, based on his book Kanban from the Inside, in which he describes the values behind the Kanban Method. You can learn more by reading Mike’s post Agendashift in a nutshell. As part of his development of Agendashift, Mike has put together a values based delivery assessment, which he uses when working with teams. Again, I recommend reading Mike’s posts on using Agendashift as a coaching tool  and debriefing an Agendashift survey if you are not familiar with Agendashift.

After listening to Mike talk about Agendashift at this year’s London Lean Kanban Day I began wondering how his approach could be used as part of a Strategy Deployment workshop. I was curious what would happen if I used the Agendashift assessment to trigger the conversations about the elements of the X-Matrix model. Specifically, how could it be used to identify change strategies, and the associated desired outcomes, in order to frame tactics as hypotheses and experiments. Mike and I had a few conversations, and it wasn’t long before I had the opportunity to give it a go. This is a description of how I went about it.

Assessment & Analysis

The initial assessment followed Mike’s post, with participants working through individual surveys before spending time analysing the aggregated results and discussing strengths, weaknesses, convergence, divergence and importance.

Strategies

Having spent some time having rich conversations about current processes and practices, triggered by exploring various perspectives suggested by the survey prompts and scores, the teams had some good insights about what they considered to be their biggest problems worth solving and which required most focus. Getting agreement on what the key problems that need solving are can be thought of as agreeing the key strategies for change.

Thus this is where I broke away from Mike’s outline, in order to first consider strategies. I asked the participants to silently and individually come up with 2 to 3 change strategies each, resulting in around 20-30 items, which we then collectively grouped into similar themes to end up with 5-10 potential strategies. Dot voting (with further discussion) then reduced this down to the 3 key change strategies which everyone agreed with.

To give some examples (which I have simplified and generalised), we had strategies around focussing collaboration, communication, quality, product and value.

Outcomes

Having identified these key strategies, the teams could then consider what desired outcomes they hoped would be achieved by implementing them. By answering the questions “what would we like to see or hear?” and “what would we measure?”, the teams came up with possible ways, both qualitative and quantitative, which might give an indication of whether the strategies, and ultimately the tactics, were working.

Taking the 3 key strategies, I asked small groups of 3-5 people to consider the outcomes they hope to achieve with those strategies, and then consolidated the output. One reassuring observation from this part of the workshop was that some common outcomes emerged across all the strategies. This means that there were many-to-many correlations between them, suggesting a messy coherence, rather than a simplistic and reductionist relationship.

Some examples of outcomes (again simplified and generalised) were related to culture, responsiveness, quality, understanding and feedback.

Hypotheses

Once we have strategies and outcomes, the next step is to create some hypotheses for what tactics might implements the strategies to achieve the outcomes. To do this I tweaked Mike’s hypothesis template, and used this one:

We believe that <change>

implements <strategies>

and will result in <outcomes>

With this template, the hypotheses are naturally correlated with both strategies and outcomes (where the outcomes already consist of both subjective observations and objective measures).

I asked each participant to come up with a single hypothesis, creating a range of options from which to begin defining experiments.

For example (vastly simplified and generalised!):

We believe that a technical practice

implements a quality related strategy

and will result in fewer defects

Actions

This as far as we got in the time available, but I hope its clear that once we have hypotheses like this we can start creating specific experiments with which to move into action, with the possibility that each hypotheses could be tested with multiple experiments.

Results

While we didn’t formally go on to populate an X-Matrix, we did have most of the main elements in place – strategies, outcomes and tactics (if we consider tactics to be the actions required to test hypotheses) – along with the correlations between them. Although we didn’t discuss end results in this instance, I don’t believe it would take much to make those explicit, and come up with the correlations to the strategies and outcomes.

On a recent call with Mike he described Agendashift in terms of making the agenda for change explicit. I think that also nicely describes Strategy Deployment, and why I think there is a lot of overlap. Strategy Deployment makes the results, strategies, outcomes and tactics explicit, along with the correlations and coherence between them, and it seems that Agendashift is one way of going about this.

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Strategy Deployment and Fitness for Purpose

David Anderson defines fitness for purpose in terms of the “criteria under which our customers select our service”. Through this lens we can explore how Strategy Deployment can be used to improve fitness for purpose by having alignment and autonomy around what the criteria are and how to improve the service.

In the following presentation from 2014, David describes Neeta, a project manager and mother who represents two market segments for a pizza delivery organisation.

As a project manager, Neeta wants to feed her team. She isn’t fussy about the toppings as long as the pizza is high quality, tasty and edible. Urgency and predictability is less important. As a mother, Neeta want to feed her children. She is fussy about the toppings (or her children are), but quality is less important (because the children are less fussy about that). Urgency and predictability are more important. Thus fitness for purpose means different things to Neeta, depending on the market segment she is representing and the jobs to be done.

We can use this pizza delivery scenario to describe the X-Matrix model and show how the ideas behind fitness for purpose can be used with it.

Results

Results describe what we want to achieve by having fitness for purpose, or alternatively, they are the reasons we want to (and need) to improve fitness for purpose.

Given that this is a pizza delivery business, its probably reasonable to assume that number of pizzas sold would be the simplest business result to describe. We could possibly refine that to number of orders, or number of customers. We might even want a particular number of return customers or repeat business to be successful. At the same time operational costs would probably be important.

Strategies

Strategies describe the areas we want to focus on in order to improve fitness for purpose. They are the problems we need to solve which are stopping us from having fitness for purpose.

To identify strategies we might choose to target one of the market segments that Neeta represents, such as family or business. This could lead to strategies to focus on things like delivery capability, or menu range, or kitchen proficiency.

Outcomes

Outcomes describe what we would like to happen when we have achieved fitness for purpose. They are things that we want to see, hear, or which we can measure, which indicate that the strategies are working and which provide evidence that we are likely to deliver the results.

If our primary outcome is fitness for purpose, then we can use fitness for purpose scores, along with other related leading indicators such as delivery time, reliability, complaints, recommendations.

Tactics

Tactics describe the actions we take in order to improve fitness for purpose. They are the experiments we run in order to evolve towards successfully implementing the strategies, achieving the outcomes and ultimately delivering the results. Alternatively they may help us learn that our strategies need adjusting.

Given strategies to improving fitness for purpose based around market segments, we might try new forms of delivery, different menus or ingredient suppliers, or new alternative cooking techniques.

Correlations

I hope this shows, using David’s pizza delivery example, how fitness for purpose provides a frame to view Strategy Deployment. The X-Matrix model can be used to tell a coherent story about how all these elements – results, strategies, outcomes and tactics – correlate with each other. Clarity of purpose, and what it means to be fit for purpose, enables alignment around the chosen strategies and desired outcomes, such that autonomy can used to experiment with tactics.

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A Community of Thinkers – For Jean Tabaka

In late 2013, Jean Tabaka, Eric Willeke and Liz Keogh came up with the idea of a Community of Thinkers, with a statement about what that meant to them. Rather than post it centrally, they each posted it individually, and encouraged others to copy and paste if they agreed and supported the notion.

I never did. I don’t know why. But in light of the recent devestating news about Jean’s passing, I have decided better late than never. Jean was a wonderful person. A friend, mentor and colleague. I have many great memories of her kindness and love of life. I learnt so much from her. I am grateful that the outpouring of emotion on social media shows how many lives she touched. This seems like a great way to remember her. What if we could embody the Community of Thinkers?

“A Community of Thinkers”
I am a member of a community of thinkers.

I believe that communities exist as homes for professionals to learn, teach, and reflect on their work.

I challenge each community in the software industry to:

  • reflect and honor the practitioners who make its existence possible;
  • provide an excellent experience for its members;
  • support the excellent experience its members provide for their clients and colleagues in all aspects of their professional interactions;
  • exemplify, as a body, the professional and humane behavior of its members;
  • engage and collaborate within and across communities through respectful exploration of diverse and divergent insights;
  • embrace newcomers to the community openly and to celebrate ongoing journeys; and,
  • thrive on the sustained health of the community and its members through continual reflection and improvement.

I believe that leaders in each community have a responsibility to exhibit these behaviors, and that people who exhibit these behaviors will become leaders.

I am a member of a community of thinkers. If I should happen to be a catalyst more than others, I consider that a tribute to those who have inspired me.

”A Community of Thinkers” by Liz Keogh, Jean Tabaka and Eric Willeke is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 License. Please attribute to the distributor of your copy or derivative.

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