Mattias Skarin compares agile strategy deployment frameworks

Comparison of three strategy alignment frameworks – OKRs, Spotify Rhythm and Art of Action Strategy Briefing

Mattias Skarin, author, Lean and Kanban coach is one of the leading thinkers in Europe about how companies can implement agile at scale. Skarin notes that a strong management trend in companies striving for strategic agility is the adoption of OKRs (Objectives and Key Results). His article, published on Swedish consultancy Crisp’s blog, explores the role of strategy deployment frameworks in implementing agile at the enterprise level. It compares three commonly used strategy deployment frameworks:

  • OKRs. A technique derived from the original work of Peter Drucker in Management by Objectives. It’s more usually attributed to Andy Grove at Intel in the 1980s and is currently implemented by Google.
  • Spotify Rhythm. A technique derived by Spotify from a combination of OKRs and Stephen Bungay’s work.
  • Art of Action Strategy Briefing. The strategy deployment framework described by Stephen Bungay in The Art of Action. Strategy Briefing has its origins in the military doctrine of Mission Command; a system of beliefs, practices and behaviours intended to provide a competitive advantage to military formations operating in uncertain and dynamic conditions.

Skarin picked these three examples as each has been applied with agile teams and in technology companies. His comparison is rigorous and looked at the capabilities each framework provides. These include things like:

  • The approach enables a team to see how their objective relates to the organisations’ intent;
  • A feedback loop enables the organisation to confirm objectives are achievable;
  • The approach reinforces awareness of the prevailing situation;
  • There is clarity about the freedom teams have to take, or not to take, action and make autonomous decisions.

The article highlights an important insight for companies identifying the need for change: process impacts culture. To embed a strategy deployment framework, companies implement processes but tend to talk about the culture they wish to see. Processes can have unintended consequences so a holistic approach, based on a set of operating principles and integrating processes with behaviour is more likely to succeed.

Conclusion

Skarin observes:

“Let’s start by saying that having an alignment framework if you are in a scaled scenario is certainly better than not having one.”

He urges organisations to look at alternative frameworks, and to be aware of the pros and cons of each, particularly how processes impact behaviour, and to consider the company-wide cultural impact of implementing a strategy deployment framework. For example, Spotify Rhythm is highly successful in Spotify but has evolved to meet the needs of their unique business culture and organisational model. It may be hard to replicate elsewhere. Skarin’s concludes:

“If I were to compare them as tools, OKRs are like a sledgehammer whereas Art of Action strategy briefing is more like a scalpel – the precision and the lightweight make it a good fit for Agile Strategy.”

He identifies that Art of Action strategy briefing (see note below) asks many of the key questions required in an alignment process. However, he warns that companies need to be committed to sticking with the selected approach to get the implementation right. This requires investment in recruiting, developing and retaining competent leaders able to handle an agile strategy environment.

Skarin’s final words:

“Read Stephen Bungay’s The Art of Action. Attend a class. Look outside your company and learn from the best.”

Read Mattias Skarin’s article
Buy The Art of Action

A note about strategy briefing

The Art of Action Strategy Briefing technique is itself derived from a military planning technique called the commander’s estimate. These military planning techniques are based on 7 questions facilitating situational analysis, plan creation and decision-making. They may be adapted for use at different levels of management, and for single or complex problems with different levels of urgency.

Our team members with extensive military experience adapted the Army’s 7 questions into a strategy briefing tool suitable for commercial application. We call 5MAP™ (a 5 question Mission Alignment Process).

Chapter 6 and 9 of Army Doctrine Publication Land Operations provide the doctrinal basis of all UK military training and operational practice, and put mission command and military planning in their original context. See ADP Land Operations for full details.

Picture of a soldier

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