Agi Saari is Blytheco’s VP of Strategy and Customer Success. Her “super-power” is taking a nebulous concept and turning it into action and results. She’s in her zone when she’s aligning people, process and technology in agile, innovative ways to achieve positive business outcomes and awesome customer experiences. Connect with Agi on LinkedIn.
Traction + Agile: The Execution of Strategy
Effective leaders are on the never-ending lookout for promising strategies to grow and transform their companies. Creating differentiating products or service offerings, improving the customer experience, enhancing the company culture, marketing differently, and of course, selling more are all common strategic objectives. There is never a shortage of new ideas and opportunities that come about in support of achieving these types of goals.
Small, start-up businesses have the advantage of being nimble and moving quickly on a new strategy. They can easily pivot because the hurdles are low and few. They don’t need cross-departmental buy-in, and there is generally little bureaucracy. A strategic plan could be written and agreed to on the back of a napkin at a coffee shop.
Conversely, large businesses have significant investments available to pursue change and new ideas and can launch initiatives without materially affecting themselves financially. Many big companies have entire teams or departments focused specifically around the pursuit of a major strategy. Google, Microsoft, Amazon, IBM, and other major companies are known for having innovation labs with dedicated teams working to produce disruptive strategies.
Mid-sized companies don’t have those luxuries. The same set of people who are working on the business are also working in the business. The resources who are handling the day-to-day tasks, keeping the lights on, and taking care of customers are also being leveraged as strategy warriors. While strategy work can be fun and rewarding on many levels, it can’t distract from operating the core business. Employees may appreciate opportunities to stretch themselves outside of their conventional roles, but there are only so many hours in the day. Many department leaders often struggle with corporate initiatives, as they often interfere with their “day jobs.” They don’t know where to start and don’t feel like they have a model to follow. Leading initiatives may be out of their wheelhouse.
At Blytheco, we were faced with these very problems. Our passion is to transform companies, and that starts in our own backyard. We are never lacking great ideas, and we desire to continue our trajectory of growth. So, we began asking ourselves: how do we make measurable progress toward our goals without getting in the way of our ability to meet our customers’ timely needs? How do we move our business strategically forward without burning people out? How do we hold ourselves accountable to our goals while being realistic about what we can accomplish with the time and resources we have? How do we teach and empower our people to confidently lead initiatives that consistently lead to success?
Two years ago, we embarked on a journey of implementing the Entrepreneurial Operating System (EOS)—otherwise known as Traction—based on the book by Geno Wickman. The Traction method was borne out of the need for mid-size business leaders to gain control of 6 key components of their business:
We chose this model for its straight-forward, highly pragmatic approach. Traction makes your core values a first-class citizen and inspires the company to operate on shared beliefs. We are relentlessly dedicated to this.
The process itself is not complicated. As with any new methodology, the challenges in implementing Traction in our business had everything to do with change management, consistent communication, and aligning people. This takes time and deep commitment at every level. Once we addressed those challenges, our business adopted Traction as a management framework.
Traction addresses strategy through a process that results in detailing the business out onto a simple two-page document called a Vision Traction Organizer. Having the mission, values, target market, and competitive differentiation with ten- and three-year goals in a single artifact is powerful as an alignment and corporate communication tool. This further cascades down to yearly strategic initiatives and quarterly goals.
At Blytheco, our core values are our guiding force. We believe in our vision, our mission, and our strategy; we plan well, we are intentional, and we believe in our people. We have all the right ingredients. But, there was one thing we needed to solve for—execution.
Traction aligned our business and addressed our need to set annual goals by way of corporate strategy, but the methodology fell short in addressing the how. Setting the big rocks was just the start. To achieve strategy, we needed a model for executing on our initiatives. To address execution, we adopted concepts from the Agile methodology.
Agile is an iterative, highly transparent, and flexible framework. Ironically, Agile was not designed for business management. Agile actually came out of the software product development industry. In the late 1990s, PC computing began to proliferate in the enterprise, and traditional project management systems demanded detailed, upfront requirements to be collected and contractually signed before a single line of code was written. By the time this information was gathered and approved, the business landscape had already changed, resulting in cancelled projects or software that no longer met business needs. This was frustrating to the business and particularly to the hard-working development teams whose work products regularly missed the mark.
Agile was a rebellion against the rigid, long lead times where decisions made early in a project could not be changed when better information came along. In lieu of inflexible project plans, Agile promotes that a team self-organizes around work, holds themselves accountable to their own commitments, remains open to a changing environment, and (most importantly) has a voice.
Traction + Agile: A Hybrid Approach
We began by empowering small teams with the right skills. The team brings subject matter expertise, actively participates, makes commitments to complete work, and delivers results. A critical element is the team’s ability to self-organize without hand-holding. Team members are cross-functional, which broadens organizational experience and builds mutual trust and respect. The team manages itself and is ultimately responsible for delivering value to the organization with the help and support of an Executive Sponsor and a Program Manager.
The Executive Sponsor acts as the visionary for the initiative and an advisor to the team. The Sponsor must be an actively involved participant who ensures the team does not veer off course from the vision. The Program Manager drives the plan, keeps the team from getting stuck, tracks progress, and escalates risk.
The program manager creates a simple, one-page roadmap with target milestones. The team plans the details and makes commitments to tasks at the beginning of each sprint. The commit is based on their expertise and availability. Tasks have clear definitions of “done” so there are no surprises. The work is done in iterative cycles called Sprints.
Communication is key to the success of initiatives. Momentum is driven off 3 key meetings designed to provide consistency and transparency into the status of the initiative. First, stand up meetings are held 2-3 times a week, where progress is reviewed and roadblocks are identified and resolved. Second, Executive Sponsor reviews are conducted at the end of each sprint where the team shows the work they have completed and share plans for next steps. Last but not least, the organization is presented the status of the initiatives during monthly company meetings, where the initiative sponsors share progress and prepare the organization for change.
We believe this hybrid approach was ripe for an evolving business like ours. For strategic questions about Traction+Agile OR to learn how an approach like this could benefit your company, call 949.583.9500 today!