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
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
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
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.
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
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!
About the Author: 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 Linked in at www.linkedin.com/in/agisaari.