Measuring the X-Matrix

"Measure a thousand times, cut once"

Dave Snowden recently posted a series of blog posts on A Sense of Direction, about the use of goals and targets with Cynefin. As the X-Matrix uses measures in two of its sections (Aspirations and Evidence) I found that useful in clarifying my thinking on how I generally approach those areas.

Lets start by addressing Dave’s two primary concerns; the tyranny of the explicit and a cliché of platitudes.

To avoid the tyranny of the explicit, I’ve been very careful to avoid the use of the word target. Evidence was a carefully chosen word (after trying multiple alternatives) to describe leading indicators of positive outcomes. The outcomes themselves are not specific goals, and can be either objective or subjective. They are things we want to see more of (or less of) and should be trends, suggesting an increased likelihood of meeting Aspirations. Aspirations again was chosen to suggest hope and ambition rather than prediction and expectation. While they define desired results, those should be considered to be challenges and not targets.

To avoid a cliché of platitudes we need to focus on Good Strategy, beginning with the clear, challenging and ambitious Aspirations. I find it interesting that Dave cites Kennedy’s “man on the moon” challenge as a liminal dip into chaos, and Rumelt uses the same example as a Proximate Object source of power for Good Strategy. An ambitious yet achievable Aspiration helps focus on the challenges and opportunities for change. With proximate Aspirations, and a clear Diagnosis of the current situation, we can set some Guiding Policies as enabling constraints with which to decide what Coherent Action to take. Thus we can avoid fluffy, wishful, aimless or horoscopic Bad Strategy.

Put together, we have a set of hypotheses which are specific enough to avoid a cliché of platitudes, yet are speculative enough to avoid the tyranny of the explicit. We believe the Aspirations are achievable. We believe our Strategies will help us be successful. We believe our Tactics will move us forward on a good bearing. We believe the Evidence will indicate favourable progress. The X-Matrix helps visualise the messy coherence of all these hypotheses with each other and Strategy Deployment is the means of continuously testing, adjusting and refining them as we navigate our way in the desired direction.

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4 comments on “Measuring the X-Matrix

  1. I’m a long time fan of Hoshin Kanri and I’ve got a big stack of x matrices to look back on now. Most of those have led to successes and a few to failure (most likely because of me).

    I’ve recently started to use impact maps (Humble et al I think) to achieve the same thing and I was wondering what your take on them is and whether you think they’re useful as a simpler replacement or compliment to an x matrix. What say you?

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    • Hi Dave
      Do you mean Impact Mapping as popularised by Gojko Adzic? I wrote some thoughts on that here: https://availagility.co.uk/2017/01/31/strategy-deployment-and-impact-mapping/
      In short they’re compatible, although I find Impact Maps more reductionist and the strategy is less explicit.
      If you mean something else can you post a reference?
      Karl

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      • Nope… that’s exactly what i meant 🙂 I must have heard it from Jez Humble first but looking at Gojkos’ blog, it’s something from back in early 2016! I’ll have a read of your article now. Thanks.

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  2. Hi Karl, wonderful pithy brief on your carefully chosen words in the X Matrix. Thank you.

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