TASTE Success with an X-Matrix Template

I’ve put together a new X-Matrix A3 template to go with the Backbriefing and Experiment A3s I published last month. Together, these 3 templates work well together as part of a Strategy Deployment process, although I should reiterate again that the templates alone are not sufficient. A culture of collaboration and learning is also necessary as part of Catchball.


While creating the template I decided to change some of the language on it – mainly because I think it better reflects the intent of each section. However a side-benefit is that it nicely creates a new acronym, TASTE, as follows:

  • True North – the orientation which informs what should be done. This is more of a direction and vision than a destination or future state. Decisions should take you towards rather than away from your True North.
  • Aspirations – the results we hope to achieve. These are not targets, but should reflect the size of the ambition and the challenge ahead.
  • Strategies – the guiding policies that enable us. This is the approach to meeting the aspirations by creating enabling constraints.
  • Tactics – the coherent actions we will take. These represent the hypotheses to be tested and the work to be done to implement the strategies in the form of experiments.
  • Evidence – the outcomes that indicate progress. These are the leading indicators which provide quick and frequent feedback on whether the tactics are having an impact on meeting the aspirations.

Hence working through these sections collaboratively can lead to being able to TASTE success 🙂

One of the challenges with an X-Matrix template is that there is no right number of items which should populate each section. With that in mind I have gone for what I think is a reasonable upper limit, and I would generally prefer to have fewer items than the template allows.

This version also provides no guidance on how to complete the correlations on the 4 matrices in the corners which create the X (e.g. Strong/Weak, Direct/Indirect, Probable/Possible/Plausible). I will probable come back to that with a future version and/or post.

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A3 Templates for Backbriefing and Experimenting

I’ve been meaning to share a couple of A3 templates that I’ve developed over the last year or so while I’ve been using Strategy Deployment. To paraphrase what I said when I described my thoughts on Kanban Thinkingwe need to create more templates, rather than reduce everything down to “common sense” or “good practice”. In other words, the more A3s and Canvases there are, the more variety there is for people to choose from, and hopefully, the more people will think about why they choose one over another. Further, if people can’t find one that’s quite right, I encourage them to develop their own, and then share it so there is even more variety and choice!

Having said that, the value of A3s is always in the conversations and collaborations that take part while populating them. They should be co-created as part of a Catchball process, and not filled in and handed down as instructions.

Here are the two I am making available. Both are used in the context of the X-Matrix Deployment Model. Click on the images to download the pdfs.

Backbriefing A3

Backbriefing A3

This one is heavily inspired by Stephen Bungay’s Art of Action. I use it to charter a team working on a tactical improvement initiative. The sections are:

  • Context – why the team has been brought together
  • Intent – what the team hopes to achieve
  • Higher Intent – how the team’s work helps the business achieve its goals
  • Team – who is, or needs to be, on the team
  • Boundaries – what the team are or are not allowed to do in their work
  • Plan – what the team are going to do to meet their intent, and the higher intent

The idea here is to ensure a tactical team has understood their mission and mission parameters before they move into action. The A3 helps ensure that the team remain aligned to the original strategy that has been deployed to them.

The Plan section naturally leads into the Experiment A3.

Experiment A3

Experiment A3

This is a more typical A3, but with a bias towards testing the hypotheses that are part of Strategy Deployment. I use this to help tactical teams in defining the experiments for their improvement initiative. The sections are:

  • Context – the problem the experiment is trying to solve
  • Hypothesis – the premise behind the experiment
  • Rationale – the reasons why the experiment is coherent
  • Actions – the steps required to run the experiment
  • Results – the indicators of whether the experiment has worked or not
  • Follow-up – the next steps based on what was learned from the experiment

Note that experiments can (and should) attempt to both prove and disprove a hypothesis to minimise the risk of confirmation bias. And the learning involved should be “safe to fail”.

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How Rally Does… Strategy Deployment

This is another post originally published on the Rally Blog which I am reposting here to keep an archived copy. It was part of the same series as the one on annual and quarterly planning, in which we described various aspects of the way the business was run. Again, apart from minor edits to help it make sense as a stand alone piece I have left the content as it was.

Strategy Deployment is sometimes known as Hoshin Kanri, and like many Lean concepts, it originated from Toyota. Hoshin Kanri is a Japanese term whose literal translation can be paraphrased as “compass control.” A more metaphorical interpretation, provided by Pascal Dennis in Getting the Right Things Done, is that of a “ship in a storm going in the right direction.”


Strategy Deployment is about getting everyone involved in the focus, communication, and execution of a shared goal. I described in previous posts how we collaboratively came up with strategies and an initial plan in the form of an X-matrix. The tool that we use for the deployment is the Strategic A3.

Strategic A3s

A3 refers to the size of the paper (approximately 11 x 17 inches) used by a number of different formats to articulate and communicate something in a simple, readable way on a single sheet of paper. Each rock or departmental team uses a Strategic A3 to describe its plan. This forms the basis for their problem-solving approach by capturing all the key hypotheses and results, which helps identify the opportunities for improvement.

The different sections of the A3 tell a story about the different stages of the PDSA cycle (Plan, Do, Study, Adjust.) I prefer this latter formulation from Dr. W. Edwards Deming to the original PDCA(Plan, Do, Check, Act) of Walter A. Shewhart, because “Study” places more emphasis on learning and gaining knowledge. Similarly, “Adjust” implies feedback and iteration more strongly than does “Act.”

This annual Strategic A3 goes hand-in-hand with a macro, longer-term (three- to five-year) planning A3, and numerous micro, problem-solving A3s.

Anatomy of a Strategic A3

This is what the default template that we use looks like. While it is often good to work on A3s using pencil and paper, for wider sharing across the organisation we’ve found that using a Google document works well too.


Each A3 has a clear topic, and is read in a specific order: down the left-hand side, and then down the right hand side. This flow aligns with the ORID approach (Objective, Reflective, Interpretive, Decisional) which helps avoid jumping to early conclusions.

The first section looks at prior performance, gaps, and targets, which give objective data on the current state. Targets are a hypothesis about what we would like to achieve, and performance shows the actual results. Over time, the gap between the two gives an indication of what areas need investigation and problem-solving. The next section gives the reactions to, and reflections on, the objective data. This is where emotions and gut feelings are captured. Then comes interpretation of the data and feelings to give some rationale with which to make a plan.

The three left-hand sections help us look back into the past, before we make any decisions about what we should do in the future. Having completed that we have much better information with which to complete the action plan, adding high-level focus and outcomes for each quarter. The immediate quarter will generally have a higher level of detail and confidence, with each subsequent quarter afterward becoming less granular. Finally, the immediate next steps are captured and any risks and dependencies are noted so that they can be shared and managed.

Co-creating a Strategic A3

As you can probably imagine from reading the previous posts, the process of completing a Strategic A3 can be a highly collaborative, structured, and facilitated process. One team with which I work closely recently had grown to a point where we would benefit from our own Strategic A3, rather than being a part of a larger, international Strategic A3. To create it we all got together for a day in our Amsterdam office. We felt that this would allow us to align more strongly with the corporate strategy and communicate more clearly what we were doing, and where we needed help.

We began by breaking into small groups of three to four people, mostly aligned around a regional territory. These groups spent some time filling in their own copy of the A3 template. We then reconvened together and each group gave a readout of its discussions, presenting the top three items from each section, which we captured with post-it notes on flip charts. Having gone around each group I then asked everyone to silently theme the post-its in each section until everyone seemed happy with the results. This led to a discussion about each theme and identifying titles for them. We still had quite a few themes, so we finished off by ranking them with dot-voting so that we could be clear on which  items were most important.

Our last step was to identify the top three items on the A3 that we wanted to highlight to the wider business. This turned out to be a relatively simple conversation. The collaborative nature of the process meant that everyone had a clear and shared understanding of what was important and where we needed focus.

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Corporate Steering

Strategy deployment is not a one-off, top-down exercise. Instead, the Strategic A3 is used as a simple tool that involves everyone in the process. Teams prepare and plan their work, in line with the corporate goals, and each quarter they revisit and revise their A3s as a means of communicating status and progress. As performance numbers become available an A3 will be updated with any changes highlighted, and the updated A3 then becomes a key input into Quarterly Steering.

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