Strategic Planning, Lean and Agile?

Yesterday I followed a tweet by @JesseLynStoner that pointed to an interesting blog post entitled Strategy-Towards Hypotheses, Experiments, Involvement & Learning by @artpetty. Since Jesse is my new favourite author (see my recent blog posting Big Rocks where I discuss Jesse’s book Full Steam Ahead)! I naturally followed the link. I found Art’s article both interesting and intellectually stimulating. Art posits that, for most organisations, the notion of Strategic Planning is stuck in the 1960’s and asserts that in today’s fast-to-try, fast-to-fail and fast-to-learn society this once and done, annual strategic budgeting and planning process is doomed to fail. Indeed, we have all experienced the stresses and strains of wasting hours upon hours talking about next year’s strategic plan only to put it in the drawer and never refer to it again!

While reading the article, I was struck by the changes that have happened in recent years to move project planning from the early waterfall approach to the current Agile approach. The agile framework for software development promotes adaptive planning, evolutionary development and delivery, a time-boxed iterative approach, and encourages rapid and flexible response to change. In his article, Art suggests that “the best outcome of the front end of any strategy process is one or more ideas…hypotheses, that can quickly be turned into and managed as experiments.” Art goes on to describe the implementation, or as he prefers to label it, experimentation phase as “Doing, Measuring, Learning and Refining (DMLR).” It is difficult not to draw a parallel with agile development sprints.

Taking my thought process one step further, I am reminded of the way we approach our client engagements where we start by understanding a client’s business and their key processes. Once our research is complete we then use LEAN to drive out waste and build a cycle of process improvement. Finally we use Business Process Managment tools to orchestrate the processes so that they are repeatable and scalable before cycling back to begin the next iteration.

The five principles of LEAN are:

  1. Specify value from the standpoint of the end customer by product family.
  2. Identify all the steps in the value stream for each product family, eliminating whenever possible those steps that do not create value.
  3. Make the value-creating steps occur in tight sequence so the product will flow smoothly toward the customer.
  4. As flow is introduced, let customers pull value from the next upstream activity.
  5. As value is specified, value streams are identified, wasted steps are removed, and flow and pull are introduced, begin the process again and continue it until a state of perfection is reached in which perfect value is created with no waste.

I suspect we could apply these principles to Art’s approach to strategic planning so that we can:

  1. Deliver a working plan
  2. Maximise value to our stakeholders
  3. Deliver a strategy that meets the firm’s goals.
  4. Enable the team to succeed.
  5. Manage the inevitable change and complexity as the firm grows and the market changes.

About Peter Borner

Peter is an entrepreneur and successful business leader. Currently leading a consultancy firm specialising in technical diligence for M&A and advising global firms on IT consolidation and migration to consumption based costing through the use of Cloud Technologies.

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