#strategy and #agility, but then versatile

Mission, vision and strategy

(There is also a Dutch version of this blog)

In order to go somewhere, you have to know where you have come from. If the destination is a moveable goal, you regularly change direction. We expect leaders to offer us a path, which leads to a good future. The CEO leads his company to more profit in a, per definition, uncertain future. Pursuing such a future is the same as shooting at a moving target. Not infrequently, when the current goal is out of sight, the executive has to search for a new goal. Similar to what the hunter must do when his prey is too smart for him.

The mission is the starting point; the organisation’s right to exist. The vision is the future as we see it, and the strategy is the plan that we believe we must follow to achieve that vision. At least, that is what the professors at the business schools will have us believe. Think up the mission and strategy and during the execution achieve the vision. The reality, however, is many times more complex than the study books promise us.

Waterfall and future tolerate each other badly, very badly

It is tempting to think that if you spend sufficient time in advance thinking about the vision and the strategy, and you then plan these very well, that you have a better chance of achieving these compared to just getting on with the work. The conviction that you can plan and design a great deal in advance is what we call the waterfall method, which is still highly popular. But something that perhaps works for simple projects, no longer works when the project has a long duration. Then, all sorts of things can happen which can throw a spanner in the works of all the wonderful plans which were made to begin with.

A good strategy is always agile

Because the future is unpredictable, the organisation’s management must regularly adjust the vision according to the changing circumstances. This is one of reasons why agile has had an opportunity at all to make inroads into our organisations. When the vision changes, there is a significant chance that the strategy will also change! An organisation, which has a problem adapting itself to this arbitrariness, has an enormous problem.

I was recently at an organisation, which found it necessary to make its project managers agile. I questioned them further about the reason, but no clear answer was forthcoming. It transpired that, on average, making a decision took an average of one and a half years, and then the implementation by the project managers was carried out pretty quickly. When I proposed that it was perhaps better to spend some time looking at the decision procedure, everyone looked at me sheepishly. I seldom have an easy message to tell.

The mission is more certain than the vision

It is not about the vision and the road leading to it. The basis of a versatile strategy is a stable and solid mission. Knowing what your right to exist is, and from there ‘conquering the world’ step-by- step. The strategy emerges and meanders slowly towards the horizon, which we shall never reach; behind each horizon is another new horizon.

If, as organisation, you do not know what your mission is, then success is often nothing more than sheer luck. If you dare to decide what your mission is, then you have a handle for making progress and overcoming setbacks. With a mission you are able to achieve something, and when fate happens, the mission keeps you going.

Four basic questions we have to ask

Who are we? What are we capable of? Who do we know? What do we want?

Who we are determines what motivates us, and how we want to do things; an important ingredient for a good mission. But now, the following:  what can you bring to this world, and what is the organisation able to do with the resources available to it? Without co-operation, you cannot get anywhere, and it is the people in your network, therefore, who can help you in achieving your goals and fulfilling your mission. If you have an answer to the first three questions above, then there is no longer any difficulty in answering the fourth question.


Crossing the #agile borders

Agile is here to stay

(There is also a Dutch version of this blog)

At one time agile working was a trend, but no more, it is now a fact. What started as a revolution is now the result of that upheaval. A different way of working, initially in IT, but now gradually being adopted, or at least thought about, by every industry. With everyone embracing of this new paradigm, in which for the sake of convenience, I also include lean and self-steering organisations, I now dare to say that agile has become traditional, and therefore we need new agile leaders!

When something like this happens, we become involved in a new collection of challenges. In the project management world, we have also seen this when we embraced PRINCE2, when everyone was using it. After the honeymoon period had ended and love was put to the test, it appeared that the ideal and reality were much further removed from each other than we thought. The same is now going on with agile: it is fantastic, but there is still a gnawing concern.

The limits of agile have been reached

By which I don’t mean that agile has had its day. On the contrary, I am convinced that we are going to take major steps forward. But how? When an approach reaches its limits, agile leaders can do one of two things: take a step back to the source, or a step forwards and try to bridge the gap between the real and the ideal.

When a choice is made to go back to the source, people point to how something has come into existence and state that you have to aim towards this over and over again. Many agile opinion leaders have chosen this strategy, and we see references to the agile manifesto. The frameworks, which must not be called methods, are provided with values and principles. Everyone reminds everyone else of it all the time, whether it is relevant or not.

This, dear reader, leads to professional sectarianism.

The agile mindset lies in the future

The reference to the past is understandable. The authors of the agile manifesto had a future in mind. The founding leaders of this movement, of which many are still active, want to provide this future with substance and, in this way, remain as close as possible to that ideal. Some of those trailblazers have become disappointed and quit, due to the direction agile is taking, which does not match with their desired ideal. An attitude, which in my opinion bears witness to a narrow-minded frame of reference.

Agile has become traditional, and has moved many years on from what was originally conceived. The leaders from the past should now receive more respect for what they initiated rather than a sympathetic ear for what they now have to say. Just as the ideas a grandfather has on, in his opinion, the ‘disastrous’ consequences of modern technology, the past leaders do not have much more to tell us about the present and future of agile working. They are the historical heroes, and that is about the most that can be said.

We need new leaders, and I challenge you to become such a leader.

The new agile leader

What do we see happening now? Organisations want to become, or are already, agile, but at the ‘boundaries’ of the ‘tribe’ or ‘release train’ there is an environment that although in a state of flux, is certainly not working agile. Think about a sect, which thinks that everyone has to think and become the same as them! When you demand that senior management also has to have the agile mindset, you are becoming one too. Perhaps, with the danger of group blindness, it succeeds, but often or mostly in fact, only in a limited way. Suppliers do not want to, or cannot as legislation gets in the way and prohibits certain things. Often we have to accept these impediments. Time and again, the agile leader sees a discrepancy with the harsh truth, which he or she has to reconcile.

And also in the team some gaps need to be bridged. Self-management is not to everyone’s liking, not everyone is intrinsically motivated and not everyone is waiting for a ‘why’ or a ‘wow’. A lot of people work for the money they can use for the things they really find important. There are limits to the motivation and the readiness to embrace the agile mindset. It is the new agile leader who has to bridge this gap.

The gap is as wide as you imagine it to be

When you have a strong conviction, for example that of agile working, your mindset is everything but agile. What I mean to say, in plain English, is that someone with a strong conviction (often) has an uncompromising and inflexible mindset. The leaders we now need have to be versatile in order to manoeuvre between paradigms.

Each time we have to bridge a gap, we look for a compromise, which is what leaders do. They work with what is available and understand how to get the best out of people imprisoned in their own systems. In all of this, they deliver value which is what agile leadership means. That is not something that lies in the past, in the roots of the agile philosophy, but on the contrary it lies in the future, that vague spot on the horizon called ‘valuable outcome’. The journey they make follows a road on which, without doubt, they will have to build many bridges and at the end, at the horizon, there will be a new horizon. And so it goes on, and endless journey of innovative steps.

Do you, together with me, want to be such a leader?


#Strategie en #agility maar dan wendbaar

Missie, visie en strategie

Om ergens naar toe te gaan moet je weten waarvandaan je komt. Als de bestemming een bewegend doel is, verander je regelmatig van richting. Van leiders verwachten we dat ze ons een weg bieden naar een goede toekomst. De CEO leidt zijn bedrijf naar meer winsten in een, per definitie, onzekere toekomst. Het najagen van zo’n toekomst is als schieten op een bewegend doel. Niet zelden moet de executive wanneer het doel uit zicht is, een nieuw doel zoeken. Vergelijkbaar met de jager wanneer zijn prooi hem te snel af is.

De missie is het vertrekpunt, het bestaansrecht van de organisatie. De visie is de toekomst zoals we die voor ons zien, de strategie het plan dat we denken te moeten bewandelen om de visie te realiseren. Althans dat is wat de professoren ons op de business scholen doen geloven. Missie en strategie bedenken en al uitvoerend de visie realiseren. De praktijk is velen malen complexer dan de leerboeken doen geloven.

Waterval en toekomst verdragen elkaar slecht, heel slecht

Het is verleidelijk om te denken dat als je nu maar voldoende tijd op voorhand besteedt om na te denken over de visie en de strategie, en je deze laatste dan heel goed plant, je dan een grotere kans hebt om deze te realiseren dan wanneer je gewoon aan de slag gaat. Die overtuiging dat je van te voren heel veel kunt plannen en ontwerpen noemen we de watervalmethode. Nog steeds is hij heel populair. Maar wat misschien bij simpele projecten werkt, werkt niet meer wanneer het traject heel lang duurt in de tijd. Dan kan er van alles tussentijds gebeuren dat roet in het eten gooit van alle mooie plannen die op voorhand gemaakt zijn.

Een goede strategie is altijd agile

Omdat de toekomst onvoorspelbaar is, moet de leiding van de organisatie steeds de visie bijstellen aan de veranderende omstandigheden. Dit is de voornaamste reden waarom agile überhaupt een kans gehad heeft om door te dringen in onze organisaties. Als de visie wijzigt is de kans zeer groot dat de strategie ook wijzigt! Een organisatie die moeite heeft zich aan deze willekeur aan te passen heeft een levensgroot probleem.

Ik was laatst bij een organisatie die haar projectmanagers agile wilden maken, dat was nodig vond men. Ik vroeg door naar de reden, eigenlijk kwam men daar niet goed uit. Het bleek dat het nemen van een beslissing gemiddeld anderhalf jaar in beslag nam, daarna ging de implementatie door de projectmanagers vrij snel. Toen ik voorstelde dat het misschien beter was om eens naar de besluitvormingsprocedure te kijken, keek men me schaapachtig aan. Ik vertel zelden een gemakkelijke boodschap.

De missie is zekerder dan de visie

Het gaat niet om de visie en de weg ernaar toe. De basis van een wendbare strategie is een stabiele en solide missie. Weten wat je bestaansrecht is en van daaruit stap voor stap de ‘wereld veroveren’. De strategie komt op (emergent in het Engels) en meandert langzaam naar de horizon die we nooit zullen bereiken. Achter elke horizon is weer een nieuwe horizon.

Als je als organisatie niet weet wat je missie is, dan is succes vaak niet meer dan dom geluk hebben. Durf je te besluiten wat je missie is, dan heb je een handvat om vooruit te gaan, om tegenslagen te overwinnen. Met een missie kom je nog eens ergens. Wanneer het lot toeslaat dan houdt de missie je op de been.

Vier basisvragen die we moeten stellen

Wie zijn wij, wat kunnen we, wie kennen we en wat willen we.

Wie we zijn bepaalt waartoe we zijn gemotiveerd, en hoe we zaken willen doen. Een belangrijk ingredient voor een goede missie. Maar dan het volgende:  Wat heb je deze wereld te brengen en  wat kan de organisatie met de haar beschikbare middelen? Maar zonder samenwerking schiet het niet op, dus de mensen in je netwerk bepalen wat je kunt. Als je een antwoord op deze eerste drie vragen hebt, is het niet meer moeilijk om de vierde vraag te beantwoorden.