Clearing a path forward with a Strategy Sprint

Luxus Helsinki

by Luxus Helsinki
on

Your business or organisation may be unique, but a lot of your challenges are likely not.  Many companies across a wide range of industries are struggling with similar issues as they strive to grow, change how they do business, and implement new ways of working.  These challenges can often start with uncovering specific blockers to change, coming up with methods by which to prioritise various projects and new initiatives, or even simply how to develop a basic plan for where to start and how to map out a path forward. But fear not! This is not entirely unexpected nor unique to individual businesses or organisations. As the saying goes - it's often difficult to see the forest for the trees.

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At Luxus we've developed a 'Strategy Sprint' format to help our customers and their organisations tackle some of these challenges.  In this post we'll talk a little bit about some of the most common problems we see businesses struggling with - and how we work to map current capabilities, blockers to change, simplify the big picture, identify opportunities for quick wins, and collaborate with key stakeholders to develop an actionable strategy and long-term road map that clears a path forward and breaks large-scale change down into manageable and achievable pieces. 

Rapid 'Sprint'-based approaches have been around for a little while now, and over recent years we've been working with many of our customers to develop rapid design product prototypes via 'Design Sprints' which adapt the original process and format developed at Google Ventures. If you're interested, you can read a bit more about design sprints and how we've been working to adapt the format to accommodate more remote working here.

Design sprints are great and work best when you know where you need to start and have a specific challenge in mind; but often times for a lot of businesses it's not entirely clear where to start when it comes to tackling the challenges they face. There can be work to be done just to uncover and identify what the biggest current blockers to change are.  There can be gaps in information or disconnects between how information flows between stakeholders and teams. More often than not operating models and ways of working are implicit and inconsistent rather than explicitly planned and designed to work together across teams.  

Working in silos, siloed teams and silo mentality

The down sides and negative effects of working in silos are well-known across organisations - fragmented work, systems, information, disconnected teams, the list goes on and on.  Less common is the focus on actionable and effective solutions to breaking down silos.  In her 2016 book 'The Silo Effect: the perils of expertise and promise of breaking down barriers', Gillian Tett delves into the topic and explores the global and sometimes existential impacts that siloed organisations and the 'silo mentality' can have within business, and in the world.

An excellent and highly recommended read, one of Tett's fundamental and most powerful theses is that organisations need to disrupt themselves to survive.  Self-disruption, reinvention, and critically systems of collaboration are some of the solutions that have proven successful to combat the effects of silos and silo mentality.  While efforts to put systems in place to combat silos go well beyond the scope of a single Strategy sprint, these topics are often a key focus of our Strategy Sprints since they help lay the foundations for larger change. 

Clearance to get through the technology jungle

Another common challenge we see our customers wrestling with is cutting through underbrush - trying to get visibility on underlying facts, understand capabilities, and get at where the real blockers to change are amongst a dense and overgrown jungle of interrelated technical systems and technologies.  These days, modern businesses - especially at the enterprise scale - are run with extremely complex and expensive interrelated systems.  All of these systems come at the problems they solve from slightly different angles, creating their own limitations and gaps.  They often provide specific capabilities as either best-of-breed point-solutions, or sometimes attempt to unify with more integrated overarching cross-functional solutions and use cases. 

Your business will be running with a mix of legacy and newer technology, with integrations and processes that have more often than not emerged organically around the systems they involve - much like the growth of an actual forest or jungle.  Some systems or processes may be effective and efficient, but others will definitely not be.  There will systems that are out of date and need to be replaced, and technical debt and limitations that will have accumulated over time.  As the power of digital technology has continued to advance and expand, technology solutions have spread beyond IT into almost every business function - from finance and accounting, to operations, sales, marketing, legal, etc. Name a business function and without a doubt you will find technology-driven solutions that have either already completely disrupted how a business function works, or are currently in the process of doing so. 

To incorporate and leverage modern developments in technology, you need to have a handle on understanding your own systems - cutting through the underbrush is critical to get visibility and understand what type of jungle you have, what it can do, what's working well, and what's holding you back. 

We know the what, but not the how

The last common challenge we see businesses facing is that you may already know some of what needs to be done, but struggle with how to do it. In a connected and globalised world, business these days doesn't sleep, let alone pause for you to replace or renew fundamental parts of your underlying systems.

Replacing or renewing individual systems can mean changing the processes and ways of working around them, which often means organisational change, and true organisational change is hard. You can tinker on the surface with new org charts, but real change often requires redefining or creating new roles, or teams learning new ways of thinking about and doing their current roles. This very understandably can create a fair amount of uncertainty, and people are not always super keen to let go of processes and ways of thinking/working that may have been effective for them.  For some, the inefficiencies and limitations of a known system or process that gets to the required output can sometimes be preferable to new systems and unknown processes that is still to be designed.

Finally, one apt and oft-used analogy is that of trying to rebuild a plane while it's flying. How exactly do you upgrade or completely transform your business while keeping the integral systems required to keep the business going functioning?  This isn't easy, and the question of how you divide your time between business-as-usual vs. focusing on strategic capabilities or investments can prompt some tough choices when resources are limited and things get busy.

Clearing a path with the Strategy Sprint

While these challenges are significant, they are not insurmountable. The positive side is that since they can be common across businesses and industries, many people have faced them before.  And while there is no single solution, those that have gone before have developed a number of viable methods to break things down and prioritise action so that progress can be made on multiple fronts simultaneously. These methods are extremely helpful and can be implemented over time as part of larger change management programs and processes. 

We've developed the Strategy Sprint to solve for the first and most common challenge we hear from customers: taking the initial swings of the machete into the jungle, and to make a map and plan for the path forward.  Whatever the task, taking that first step when you don't know where to start can be extremely difficult.  Our Strategy Sprint format is designed to help with exactly that, to provide a clear place to start.  We use a tried and tested methodology to reliably produce outputs that can be taken to business leadership to get buy in, or used by leadership to socialize the plan with other stakeholders and start to put the wheels of change in motion. The Strategy Sprint format itself comes in three stages:

Stage 1: Pre-sprint mapping, getting the lay of the land

The process starts off focusing on establishing understanding, with pre-sprint mapping that helps provide clarity and get some of the fundamental lay of the land established. This includes a mix of methods - material collection and review, stakeholder interviews, relationship mapping and building, competitor and industry analysis, business performance data analysis, etc.  The end result of this first stage is to develop a first tentative base for the Strategy Sprint itself. The mission is to establish and synthesize everything we can about the company's position, competitors, and current challenges. After the analysis and interviews are conducted, the insights will be used as key inputs for planning the structure and content of the Strategy Sprint. 

Stage 2: The Sprint, from understanding and brainstorming to decisions, prioritisation and scheduling 

The next stage is the Strategy Sprint itself, the time of action! Following the original format of the Design Sprint, the Strategy Sprint typically takes three to five days and consists of a structured agenda and series of workshops. Each individual day has its own theme and focus to follow and defined goals to reach. We take the insights from the pre-sprint defining phase, lay out and execute a series of specifically-formatted workshops to dig into key challenges, uncover and brainstorm possible solutions, and finally prioritise and schedule a high-level road map and plan of action. 

Attendance and participation of key stakeholders and decision makers is critical to the work done during the Sprint. That said, we know from experience that ensuring the participation of all of the needed stakeholders for the entire Sprint is not always possible. We strongly believe the five-day format is the most efficient and effective format so always recommend to stick to that as a plan, but when it's not possible for everyone to attend, we are able to adapt the format to a certain extent. 

Stage 3: Post-sprint wrap-up - pulling it all together

After a successful Sprint, it's then time to pull everything together and generate outputs that can be taken forward. To do this we bring together all of the analysis, material, interviews, discussions, and decisions to create a single document that presents the strategy summary and future road map. The Luxus team pulls the material together and creates a road map that seeks to deliver forward progress efficiently, incorporates the decisions agreed upon during the Sprint, and optimised to strike the delicate yet important balance of a plan that produces quick-wins in the short-term to demonstrate value, while investing and developing long-term capability for the future.

The final post-sprint wrap-up includes the creation, review, and final joint sign-off of the road map between the decision makers and stakeholders involved in the Sprint.  This final step in the process seeks to ensure that the teams and decision makers are all clear on path forward.

We've seen from our customers that the value and benefits of a well-executed Strategy Sprint can be massive.  It's very often super important to get outside points of view and perspectives on challenges we face close-up day to day.  Moreover, when the whole team is able to participate and focus via a well-defined and structured format, it creates space and becomes more possible to identify and solve core issue that would otherwise linger.  Crucially the format allows a cross-functional team from different parts of the organisation to not only identify but also prioritise solutions more holistically with end-to-end workflows and requirements in mind.

Conclusion

To sum up, first things first, remember that you are not alone! Second, while some of the challenges you're facing may feel unique, often times they're more common than you might think.  And the good news is that businesses and organisations have been wrestling with the same things (more and less successfully) for years.  Finally, remember that the team here at Luxus is here to help!

For more than 20 years we've been helping businesses, teams and organisations like yours navigate and work to solve a variety of common challenges. Give us a call and we'd be happy to schedule some time to talk about your specific needs.

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