- “A vision without a strategy remains an illusion.” Lee Bolman
- “The essence of strategy is choosing what not to do.” Michael Porter
- “You cannot be everything to everyone. If you decide to go north, you cannot go south at the same time.” Jeroen De Flander
- “Strategy without process is little more than a wish list.” Robert Filek
- “Strategy is about making choices, trade-offs; it’s about deliberately choosing to be different.” Michael Porter
- “Hope is not a strategy.” Vince Lombardi
- “Failure is nothing more than a chance to revise your strategy.” Anonymous
- “Success is 20% skills and 80% strategy. You might know how to succeed, but more importantly, what’s your plan to succeed?” Jim Rohn
- “There’s only one growth strategy: work hard.” William Hague
- “However beautiful the strategy, you should occasionally look at the results.” Sir Winston Churchill
We often come across vague sounding phrases like, “Agile is broken”, or “Culture eats strategy for breakfast”, and “vision matters”. But, other than being inspirational corporate jargon, do they hold any relevant clues for us to improve upon?
Agile is not broken, just misunderstood.
Yes. See, it’s important to look at these phrases in the right context. Leadership is about setting a bold vision for yourself and your team until it scares you a bit. It pushes you out of your comfort zone to go an extra mile. What’s important is the details. The “what”, “why”, “how” and “when” that surrounds it. And it’s this strategy, that matters. However, in real-world, the estimations that you can come up with while planning any strategy, roadmap, milestones and whatnots, will always be screwed up by a variable or two. The universe is inherently chaotic in nature. It gets more relevant as the scale and timeline of the plan increases. Outside of the theoretical bubble, targets are always moving. Making them static is an art that should be the accountability of the leaders. However, to make it more than a just verbal fluff, it’s important to have the right tools of the trade.
I have personally found planning along logarithmic scale very beneficial. More often than not, developers make the mistake of estimating the work based only on the time taken to design solution, however, they usually forget a crucial variable; time taken to define the problem. As a rule of thumb, when you first encounter a problem, don’t make a promise. With the addition of every detail in the project, your understanding gets more and more granular with time. This is where agility matters. Defining and solving the problem is an iterative, back and forth processes.
Design and mathematics are two tools that can help create inherent elasticity within the plan, to account for the moving targets and absorb the momentum while leaving the inertia of the executing team intact. This inertia is often lost amidst pivots. Designing a cross-functional and self-organized team that understands this, is crucial for any projects’ successful delivery.
However, you can’t get all robotic in the process. And processes are crucial for ensuring consistency. This is a classic catch 22. The chicken and the egg problem. And, that’s where culture helps. Most successful teams have cultural backbones that serve the DNA of institutionalized framework without any enforced policies from a strategy. It’s the team’s culture that ensures the vital balance is maintained. If the stakes are high, getting on board the expertise of people operations, to help the team design their own frameworks is vital to their success. Think of it this way, your strategy is the homework you do to help nurture the right kind of culture within the team.
Remember, 9 women can not deliver a baby in 1 month. So, don’t just collect data, rather use it to drive consensus within the team and the rest will be history. Phrases and words can be interpretted offensively in meetings but data is bi-partisan. Leverage data, as much as possible and watch out for the confirmation bias.
In a nutshell, it’s important to look at the vision, strategy, agility and culture in the right context collectively. And no matter what frameworks you put in place, it just won’t work without trust. Leadership is about building trust and a shared vision within the team. The team takes care of the rest. And, like all good things in life, patience is the key. 🙂
PS: Here’s a link to an HBR article on bridging the strategy execution gap. Do give it a read and wishing you all the best for your endeavours.