Strategic Initiatives — An Agile Framework for Managing Priorities and Creating Alignment
In the early stages of a startup company or project, the team is small, the customer base is manageable, and everything that needs to be done seems to come naturally. But there comes a point where things get more challenging and you need a more systematic approach to setting priorities and aligning the entire team.
Focus and Alignment
We faced this necessity at the end of 2017. The organization had grown significantly, we had spread out to three locations, our enterprise customers kept growing in number and size, and so did their expectations. We needed to add a process layer while still maintaining our agility and effectiveness. So we defined three key objectives:
1. Focus: When business is going well, there are so many things you can spend your time on. We had to find a collaborative approach to focusing on the right initiatives that have the biggest impact.
2. Alignment: More customers, more employees, and more products mean that it gets more challenging to distribute information and align all parts of the company with the common vision.
3. Scalability: In the beginning, gaining traction is everything. Then, creating scalable structures and processes with clear responsibilities becomes more and more important.
Strategic Initiatives Process to the Rescue
In 2018 we started our Strategic Initiatives process. It drew on insights we had gained in several of our customer projects (strategy execution management with cplace), which we then scaled to our needs and adapted to the way we approach things at collaboration Factory.
This framework consists of several building blocks:
Strategic initiatives require us to produce a tangible result in a finite amount of time. They involve a multitude of people or teams and impact the entire company. Examples include establishing a customer support process, handling GDPR compliance, or developing a strategic product component.
A responsible person and a team are assigned to each initiative. In addition, the key results of the initiative are defined by the team in advance.
Each initiative is prioritized by one of three tags:
- Now: These are initiatives that are currently being worked on. The results should be achieved within about 90 days. If initiatives are frequently found to take longer, they should be subdivided into sub-initiatives, e.g. v 1.0, v 2.0 etc.
- Next: Upcoming initiatives that should be addressed once the “Now” initiatives have been completed. This tag serves as an advance notice to the team so it can prepare mentally for the next challenge.
- Later: This is the backlog tag. These initiatives are not supposed to be worked on as yet. They may become important in the future or be dropped completely from the to-do list. New initiatives are assigned to this category by default until re-prioritized in a strategic initiatives review meeting.
In addition to the above tags, initiatives are further categorized by ‘dimensions’, i.e. customer, product, company, and partners. While appearing trivial at first, these categories ensure that each of these stakeholders is consciously addressed and receives an appropriate amount of attention.
Strategic Initiatives Board (SIB)
The Strategic Initiatives Board is a panel consisting of company employees and executives representing all functional areas.
The board meets every six to eight weeks. Every meeting is expected to take about three hours and has a clear agenda:
1. Review of the progress and status of the current “Now”-tagged initiatives. Each responsible person gives a brief account of their area of responsibility, outlining major challenges or decisions that need to be made. This is followed by a discussion.
2. Discussion of re-prioritization of initiatives, typically moving some from “Next” to “Now” status and putting new ones into “Later”, or sometimes postponing initiatives from “Now” to “Later”.
3. Every two or three review meetings the approach itself is subjected to a critical review.
The whole process needs a curator whose main task it is to own the process, support the teams in defining and steering their initiatives, and prepare and moderate the review meetings.
To ensure alignment across the team it is important to have transparency regarding the review meetings, the priorities, and the content of the initiatives. Working on initiatives is team work and not reserved to some elite circle. Some colleagues may want to take on greater responsibility in shaping the future of the company, which is great. Others may prefer being team members or just want to be up-to-date, which is also important. Furthermore, company-wide meetings should always incorporate status reports on our strategic initiatives.
Of course, all the information needs to reside somewhere. Structuring data, making decisions, working together is where cplace shines. That is why we use our own solution.
Start, Review, Adjust
We have been using our Strategic Initiatives process for about a year now. We are really happy with it and also learned a lot in the process. One needs to start somewhere, give the strategic initiative process a 90-day trial period, and make adjustments where necessary.
Making our strategic agenda visible to everyone helps us focus and stay aligned within a fast-growing team and company.
Some lessons we would like to share: It is a good idea to keep the number of initiatives you are working on (“Now”) small. A manageable amount of initiatives that can be completed within 90 days is worth more than a growing to-do list with tiny progress.
Breaking down initiatives into smaller sub-initiatives has been helpful. Start with a fast achievement “version 1.0” and add further versions after reviewing and learning (lean startup approach).
Be very clear what type of initiative is of strategic importance to your company. Day-to-day business tasks or things which do not need a company-wide effort do not belong here.
Being focused and taking the whole team along is crucial for a company’s success. A ‘lightweight’ approach preserves flexibility, agility, and responsiveness. Being able to make decisions without having to go through a strict, multi-layered hierarchy is also a big benefit. Our advice: Be prepared to adjust your process to your needs; it has to fit your style and culture.
Learn more about our Applications, including our Strategy Execution Management Solution here.
Written by Marvin Adami, COO at collaboration Factory AG.