The Agile Canvas Strategic Doing 365
2014 Jack Ricchiuto | TheAgileCanvas.com
The Agile Canvas keeps groups continuously inspired, realistic and productive in the Strategic Planning process. The process is easy to learn and engages any kinds of people, personalities and perspectives. It makes being strategic an ongoing practice rather than reactive or periodic event. For more on the Agile Canvas visit TheAgileCanvas.com.
It gets people on the same page and moves groups from negativity to possibility, deficiencies to learning and talk to action. It organically builds trust which is key because organizations move at the speed of trust.
With as many strategic planning processes we've facilitated across industries and geographies, several considerations remain unpredictable until we get into the design session with decision makers. We begin each process with an in-depth design session that addresses questions including:
- How far into the future we will visualize success and progress in the growth of the organization?
- How much of operational and financial pictures might need to change?
- What predictive assumptions will we use to frame plans?
- What are we committed to change and not change going forward?
- What do we feel urgency for in the next two quarters?
- What are we willing to invest in the growth of the business?
- Who from the organization, board, partners and stakeholders will participate in and lead (Core Group) any parts of the process?
- What success indicators will inspire and inform the process?
- What are the timelines for each phase of the process?
- What local and virtual venues will we use for engagement in the process?
- What questions about the organization and its impact will the process address?
- How will we engage the Agile Canvas to structure the process?
The Canvas is structured around three dimensions: stories, questions and sprints.
What do we want?
Our stories are what we consider our success and progress indicators going as far out into the future as we want. They can include the whole spectrum of future desired states people might typically refer to as strategic focus, priorities, goals, objectives, values, principles, milestones, metrics, commitments and dashboards. We start by identifying desired success stories going out two decades because the clarity and depth of our passion is equal to the length of our vision. We then translate these into measurable two year progress indicators. And then we translate these into two quarter projects that we believe will move us to our two year indicators.1 We sequence stories in the order we will achieve them using three simple criteria:
- Capacity: we have the resources required to achieve them
- Payback: they can lead to more available resources and support
- Dependencies: which stories functionally must be done before others
What do we need to know?
Every story raises questions. Our questions are what we want and need to research and decide as we work on our most significant stories. Questions include anything that hasn't yet been verified or decided including our unknowns, ambiguities, assumptions, concerns, worries, issues, conflicts and problems. We frame each as questions. Research can include any kind of searches, interviews, surveys, observations and small scale prototypes and experiments. We make sure our questions address any related assets, constraints and trends. We keep an ongoing list of New facts under each question we close out with decisions or research. Along with this we also keep an ongoing list of Existing Facts that are knowns people bring to the table.Just working on stories raises new questions that get addressed as quickly and wisely as possible. The velocity of the process is equal to the velocity of our research and decision making.
What will we do?
Staying continuously strategic means we're continuously working on our stories and questions. Sprints are two-week cycles of work on our stories and questions. They include any kind of researching, deciding, communicating, designing, building, testing and launching. Each strategic project launched to realize stories uses the same three elements of the Canvas to organize the work and engagement of these projects.
The Strategic Agile Canvas 365
Every two quarters, a core group reviews and revises the Stories, Questions and Sprints based on the achievements made and changes that happen inside and outside the organization. The significance of two quarters is that in many planning contexts, planning assumptions are valid and dependable for about two quarters out. New stories emerge, stories are updated and some shift their place in the sequence and timestamping. New questions are added while others are closed out. Next sprints are planned based on the resources available. This simple, powerful process keeps everyone engaged, realistic and inspired as the organization achieves its most significant strategic aspirations.
Frequently Asked Questions
How do we ensure that this doesn’t become a document that sits on the shelf for 2-3 years? The whole document is updated every two quarters. It stays continuously responsive and relevant in contexts where change and learning are constants. It has no shelf life; it makes being strategic a continuous rather than periodic or reactive priority.
Are stories objectives/goals? The success and progress stories represent the whole gamut of desired future events including things people refer to as strategic goals, objectives, principles, priorities and values. We use the simplicity of language with stories to cover all of them because what matters is how they are all sequenced and timestamped.
No one can predict 20 years into the future, so why are we doing that as part of this process? Stories are possibilities not predictions. Predictions are assumptions. Possibilities are lenses that reveal important and realistic opportunities in the present. This whole process is continuously based on facts rather than assumptions. That is what makes it work far more skillfully than older models designed for a less dynamic world than we have today.
Who needs to be involved in the process? Can we do this as a leadership team? People support what they help create. The process is designed for optimum engagement by any kinds of stakeholders, from dozens to hundreds. We use a core team, which could be leaders and board members, to give legitimacy, focus, resources and boundaries to the process. Just expect more buy-in from people included than excluded.
How can we accomplish a strategic plan in 2 months that used to take us 6-9 months or longer? The model accelerates, simplifies and integrates the process. It is also more inclusive so things more faster. Because the process intrinsically builds trust, consensus builds faster because groups move at the speed of trust.
Will this process answer the question like: "Where should we get more revenue?, What programs should we be doing and What shouldn’t we be doing?” The process addresses every new question that emerges, whether it's something that needs to be discovered or decided. Each question will be assigned a timestamp indicating when it will be closed. We sequence all questions according to their importance and urgency, guaranteeing that we always work on and close those with the greatest importance and urgency.
Will we conduct focus groups, initiate surveys, and perform other research as part of this process? We use whatever resources available to close out our questions in order. We use data sources when available instead of relying on perceptions. We also make sure we appreciate the qualitative difference between perceptions and data, not making perception assumptions from available data. The process has that kind of empirical rigor.
It appears like this is a cyclical process. How does that work? The same model is used for the whole process and all projects that emerge in the process. We repeat the same three core elements - stories, questions and sprints - every two quarters. When we're engaged in something new for the organization, we move forward in iterations of learning and impact.
How is everything documented and what does the final document look like? The final document is structured with a handful of key elements:
- A description of the motivations, participants and boundaries of the process
- A complete list of all stories and their timestamps identified in the process
- A complete list of all questions identified in the process
- A complete list of all discoveries and decisions achieved in the process
- An outline of the 12 sprints for the next two quarters
- A description of the quality and value of participation in the process
How long does the process take? To deliver on these six key document elements, it can generally take anywhere from 2 to 90 days, depending on the process variables including:
- The size of the organization
- The number and diversity of participants
- The quantity and quality of data and resources already available
- The scope of strategic focus
- The quality of the core group that coordinates the whole process
- The urgency of strategic actions and outcomes
The power of the process is precisely in the reality that it is ongoing. Ongoing has no end. The document and its elements have specific deliverable dates and it provides a resilient and realistic roadmap to strategic success and growth of the organization.