By now most business leaders are familiar with agile innovation teams. Small, entrepreneurial teams are designed to stay close to customers and adapt quickly to a fast changing environment. When implemented correctly, they almost always result in higher team productivity and morale, faster time to market, better quality, and lower risk than traditional approaches can achieve. But could that work for a strategy formulation process as well?
Emerging from software development, agile methods and tools like e.g. sprints, backlogs and retrospectives have entered the business mainstream and have established themselves as an increasingly popular approach to accelerate product or service innovation and operating models. Sprints break long, complex process into sizeable, achievable chunks that can be accomplished at greater speed. As the University of Koblenz demonstrates in its survey „Quo Vadis Agile?“, sprints help reducing bureaucracy, paralysis by analysis, procrastination and never-ending committee debates. They allow an organization to be faster to market and to more effectively adapt to changes in a dynamic environment.
But the agile approach isn’t just for development and design anymore. Many companies have begun to realize that it can also be applied to a traditionally slow process: strategy.
The development of organizational strategies has long been a domain of careful deliberation based on a maximum amount of information. A multi-stakeholder process, designed to provide in-depth analysis and different perspectives to make balanced choices about the nature and direction of an organization.
In a dynamic environment with increasing speed, growing scope and declining predictability of change, this old model no longer fits volatile, complex and uncertain times. In such disruptive marketplaces, the value of traditional strategy is diminishing.
Sure, the value of an in-depth analysis phase, comprehensive research, stakeholder interviews, scenario planning, and alignment are undisputed. But companies have less and less time for them. And how often have carefully designed multi-year strategic plans been developed, only to become obsolete after a few months, or even weeks?
Consequently, strategy becomes more fluid — like products that need constant upgrading. Over the last 2-3 years, 2 alternative approaches have emerged: visioning and improvisation. Visioning incorporates a long-term, purpose and principles of an organization, department or team, which serve as the north star for all its activities.
Improvisation suggests a fundamental openness and flexibility at the tactical level — the willingness to experiment, iterate and explore. When you incorporate both approaches into the development of your strategy, it becomes a transformative decision point rather than a long-winded process; it’s an inspiring and engaging experience rather than a thorough, time-consuming analysis.
3E employs an interdisciplinary mix of talents to support our clients crafting their visions, using design, creative and rational thinking tools as a catalyst. The process works because we honor the critical design principles of a vision sprint:
- Introduce constraints, such as a “mission impossible” assignment, an unlikely mix of people, a specific task or crisis, a short time frame — or some combination of these.
- Create a safe space that gives all participants permission to be authentic, and creative as a result.
- Emphasize the frame of the exercise. Define a clear process, rules, and a deadline for decision making.
- Capture every single word that is spoken. Process, paraphrase, and synthesize in real time. Tell the story as it unfolds through words, drawings, audio, photos, or film.
Formulating your organizational strategy doesn’t have to be a lengthy process. Sprints are an ideal way to combine experimentation, improvisation, imagination, and vision.