A Strategy Deployment Cadence

A Strategy Deployment cadence is the rhythm with which you plan, review and steer your organisational change work. When I blogged about cadence eight years ago I said that…

“cadence is what gives a team a feeling of demarcation, progression, resolution or flow. A pattern which allows the team to know what they are doing and when it will be done.”

For Strategy Deployment, the work tends to be more about organisational improvement than product delivery, although the two are rarely mutually exclusive.

The following diagram is an attempt to visualise the general form of cadence I recommend to begin with. While it implies a 12 month cycle, and it usually is to begin with, I am reminded of the exchange between the Fisherman and the Accountant that Bjarte Bogsnes describes in his book “Implementing Beyond Budgeting“. It goes something like this.

  • Accountant: What do you do?
  • Fisherman: I’m at sea for 5 months, and then home for 5 months
  • Accountant: Hmm. What do you do the other 2 months?

The intent of this Strategy Deployment cadence is not to create another 12 month planning (or budgeting) cycle, but to have a cycle which enables a regular setting of direction and with adjustment based on feedback. How often that happens should be contextual.

Given that caveat lets look at the diagram in more detail.

Planning & Steering

The primary high level cadences are planning and steering, which typically happen quarterly. This allows sufficient time for progress to be made without any knee-jerk reactions, but is often enough to make any necessary changes before they becomes too late. Planning and Steering are workshops where a significant group of people representing both the breadth and depth of the organisation are represented to bring in as much, diversity of experience and opinion as possible. This means that all departments are involved, and all levels of employee, from senior management to front line workers. I have previously described how we did annual and quarterly planning at Rally.

Planning is an annual event 2 day event which answers the following questions:

  • What is our current situation?
  • What aspirations define our ambition?
  • What are the critical challenges or opportunities to address?
  • What strategies should we use to guide decisions?
  • What evidence will indicate our strategies are having an impact?
  • What tactics should we invest in first?

Steering is then a 1 day quarterly event which answers the following questions:

  • What progress have we made towards our aspirations?
  • How effective have our strategies been?
  • What evidence have we seen of  improvement?
  • What obstacles are getting in our way?
  • What tactics should we invest in next?

Thus annual planning is a deep diagnosis and situational assessment of the current state to set direction, aspirations and strategy, while quarterly steering is more of a realignment and adjustment to keep on track.

Learning

The high level tactics chosen to invest in during planning and steering form the basis of continuous learning in Strategy Deployment. It is these tactics for which Backbriefing A3s can be created, and which generate the information and feedback which ultimately informs the steering events. They also form the premise for the more detailed experiments which are the input into the Review events. In the diagram, the large Learn spirals represent these high level tactics, indicating that they are both iterative and parallel.

Reviewing

Reviewing is a more frequent feedback cadence that typically happens on a monthly basis. This allows each tactic enough time to take action and make progress, and still be often enough to maintain visibility and momentum. Reviewing is usually a shorter meeting, attended by the tactics’ owners (and other key members of the tactical teams) to reflect on their work so far (e.g. their Backbriefing A3s and Experiment A3s). In doing so, the Review answers the following questions:

  • What progress have we made?
  • Which experiments have we completed? (and what have we learned?)
  • Which experiments require most attention now?
  • Which experiments should we begin next?

Refreshing

Refreshing is an almost constant cadence of updating and sharing the evidence of progress. This provides quick and early feedback of the results and impact of the actions defined in Experiment A3s. Refreshing is not limited to a small group, but should be available to everyone. As such, it can be implemented through the continuous update of a shared dashboard, or the use of a Strategy Deployment “war room” (sometime called an Obeya) . Thus the Refresh can be built into existing events such as daily stand-up meetings or can be a separate weekly event to answer the following questions:

  • What new evidence do we have?
  • What evidence suggests healthy progress towards our aspirations?
  • What evidence suggests intervention is needed to meet our aspirations?
  • Where do we need to focus and learn more?

In the diagram, the smaller Refresh spirals represent the more detailed experiments, again indicating that they are both iterative and parallel.

The X-Matrix

At the heart is the diagram is an X representing the X-Matrix, which provides the common context for all the cadences. As I have already said, the exact timings of the various events should be tuned to whatever makes most sense. The goal is to provide a framework within which feedback can easily pass up, down and around the organisation, from the quarterly planning and steering to the daily improvement work and back again. This builds on the ideas I first illustrated in the post on the dynamics of strategy deployment and the framework becomes one within which to play Catchball.

What I have tried to show here is that Strategy Deployment is not a simple, single PDSA cycle, but rather multiple parallel and nested PDSA cycles, with a variety of both synchronous and asynchronous cadences. Each event in the cadence is as opportunity to collaborate, learn, and co-create solutions which emerge from the people closest to the problem.

If you would interested in learning more about how I can help your organisation introduce a Strategy Deployment cadence and facilitate the key events, please contact me and I’d be happy to talk.

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.

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”.

Alignment and Autonomy in Strategy Deployment

Following on from my previous What is Strategy Deployment and Dynamics of Strategy Deployment posts, there is a model I like which I think helps to show how the mechanics and the dynamics work together.

In The Art of Action, Stephen Bungay describes how Field Marshall Helmuth von Moltke, Chief of Staff of the Prussian Army for 30 years from 1857, had an important insight regarding Alignment and Autonomy. Previously these two had been viewed as extremes at the end of a single scale. Having high alignment meant having no autonomy because alignment could only be achieved through defining detailed plans which everyone should follow. Equally, high autonomy meant having no alignment because autonomy would result in everyone doing their own thing with no regard for each others actions.

Von Moltke’s insight was that alignment and autonomy are not a single scale requiring a tradeoff between the two ends, but two different axis which can actually reinforce each other. Thus not only is it possible to have both high alignment and high autonomy, but high alignment can enable high autonomy.

Alignment and Autonomy

They key to making this possible is differentiating between intent and action. Alignment is achieved by clearly stating intent centrally, such that autonomy can be achieved by allowing action to be decentralised in support of the intent. This requires mechanisms to both clarify and amplify intent, and enable and encourage local action. Thus using the definition of Strategy Deployment as “any form of organisational improvement in which solutions emerge from the people closest to the problem”, solving the problem is the intent, and the emerged solution is the action.

Using this model we can now describe two mechanisms necessary to make this happen. Alignment can be achieved with the X-Matrix, which enables the conversations about intent and summarises and visualises the results of those conversations. In other words, the X-Matrix shows how results, strategy, outcomes and tactics align and reinforce each other. Autonomy can be achieved through Catchball (Bungay describes the equivalent as back-briefing), which enables the X-Matrix to be passed around the organisation such that everyone can reflect, give feedback, and improve it, helping focus action on meeting the intent.

X-Matrix and Catchball

Viewing Strategy Deployment in this light also highlights a symmetry with the Autonomy, Mastery and Purpose model of intrinsic motivation described by Dan Pink in his popular book Drive. Autonomy is a direct match in both models and purpose is equivalent to intent. Mastery is then the result of improving capability autonomously with strong alignment to intent.

Drive

What this way of looking at Strategy Deployment shows is that both the X-Matrix and Catchball are necessary components. Just using the X-Matrix with out Catchball will probably result in it being used as just another top-down document to command and control employees. Similarly, just using Catchball without an X-Matrix will probably result in collaboration around local improvements with no overall organisational improvement.