Agile Strategy — 2.07

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Many strategies feel stiff and high-flying, like they are soaring above the cloudsa bit like if they are something an ordinary person doesn’t need to worry about. This is not how things need to be! Take a look at this. It doesn’t have to be the case!  A strategy can be agile!

Text: “What makes a strategy agile?”

What makes the strategy agile? Let’s think! Is it the fact that the strategy is altered and updated constantly? – Unfortunately, no. The strategy becomes agile when it’s on people’s minds and they live & breathe it and they update it. 

Text: “The fact that it’s alive and on people’s minds.”

Usually, the problem is that the word strategy is not understood. Here is a simplified explanation for what strategy means. Strategy means how the company fulfills its purpose.

Text: “Strategy = HOW”

Strategy has become a difficult word to understand over the years, therefore it must be demystified. We can make the strategy truly exciting and also simple to understand. When this takes place the strategy can be understood, which means it can be implemented, which means that it becomes agile. 

Strategy between the ears

Drawing of a human head with mess inside the head represented by a red line. Text: “Strategy between the ears”

An entrepreneur starting a company has the strategy between their ears. They don’t even notice when they update the strategy. After a while, they may come face-to-face with some situation, which causes the strategy to become confused. Their mind becomes a mess, and since the strategy exists only in their head, it too becomes a mess. The company is suddenly in trouble. The more people are employed by the company, the bigger the problem is. 

Too many directions

Drawing of a five people and an icon of many red arrows going in different directions. Text: “Too many directions”


In a company with tens or hundreds of people, the lack of focus starts to show. Too many directions easily are discovered. In this case, the CEO or founder no longer controls the situation. There comes a time when the CEO realizes something needs to be written down. 

Drawing of two heads, one has a mess inside the head and the other has a clear structure. An arrow points from the mess towards clear structure.

Yearly clock

Let’s think about the yearly clock for a bit. This is the annual schedule when things take place inside companies. From a certain perspective, the yearly clock is a sad thing to have to deal with. Bigger companies have considered the yearly clock to be nearly essential for successfully running everything. The strategy is created in the spring, operation and budget planning happen in the fall. It repeats again the next year. Since corporate legal entities are typically required to do accounting, and hand in the books at the end of the accounting period, which usually is at the end of the year, then it becomes really tempting to set up a schedule that goes hand in hand with it. That’s the yearly clock in a nutshell. Next year’s goals must be planned and the dividends paid yearly to the owners if there is an opportunity for it. Therefore, it’s understandable to use the yearly clock also when strategy updating takes place.  

Figure of a circle with four sectors, each sector representing a quarter and text: “Yearly clock”. The figure represents strategy update schedule.

It’s possible to challenge the springtime strategy hassle. It’s worth taking the time to think if the yearly clock is the smartest way to do things. Likewise, many people associate the word strategy with thick slide decks consisting of multiple presentation slides. Many people hate the amount of work that needs to be put into keeping these slides up-to-date and constructing new ones. It’s a huge amount of work.  

Here’s how working with thick slide decks typically goes: Take the last year’s slides and alter them slightly. After that, the management team sits cross-eyed over many workshops. In the end, they get excited when a new update and a new core are discovered. After that, a big briefing is held, during which the new strategy is presented and everyone is confused why people don’t begin implementing it and the strategy doesn’t become concrete. 

This begs the question, is there a better way to go about this? Well… of course there is!  

Strategy checkups quarterly

Start doing quarterly strategy checkups. In practice, this means, that a day or a two-day meeting is held once every quarter. The first thing is to look back and see if the goals of the previous quarter were achieved. The next step is to define the relevant goals, which should be included in the next quarter. This way proceeding happens in sprints and the strategy is looked at several times a year. It concretizes into quarterly goals. This is pretty solid! It works great in larger organizations, which usually have this in place in some form. However, not all ways are born equal. Some are preferred over others, at least if the management team desires to be agile. There are some very agile methods out there, and there are likewise very inefficient ways. It’s all about the meeting design and how things are followed up.  

Figure of a circle with four sectors, a drawing of two people and text: “Quarterly strategy check-ups”, representing regular strategy checks.

The agile way. During the strategy days, different unit leaders explain what, in their minds, would be the smartest move in the next quarter. They also explain how well they achieved the previous quarterly goals. If something wasn’t achieved, these goals are included in the next quarter for the finishing touch. Proceeding becomes very clear. 

Drawing of a meeting around a large screen, two red arrows, and text: “Q1, Q2”. This drawing represents a quarterly strategy checkup.

Check for updates

At the end of the strategy day, the Strategy 1Pager is checked for updates. When the strategy is on one piece of paper, it’s easy to update. Certain issues specifically are included on the page:  

  1. What is our Purpose? Purpose can be thought of as mission + vision. The mission is here now, and vision is the mission in the future. It only improves and deepens. The Purpose is the shining sun to the customers. 
  1. Focus areas. Strategy 1Pager consists of usually three or four focus areas. 
  1. Goals. Concrete goals are listed under the focus areas. They can be strategic development projects, or merely headlines for a task that needn’t be projected. 

When these points are looked at and updated once every quarter, you also look at the strategy. This is absolutely fantastic because this is how the operation becomes agile. Strategy is no longer carved in stone. Instead, we can proceed according to the market situation.  

It can be that the strategy needs to be updated much faster henceforth, than how things were done in the past. If the management team desires to use an agile strategy henceforth, then after setting it up it becomes possible to update it very quickly whenever the need arises. Agility provides huge benefits like this compared to more traditional and slower approaches. In short, if a company desires agility, then the strategy update can’t take too long. The work method needs to allow for speed, and a speedy method brings quality when the method is designed well. A badly designed approach always brings bad results. A good method, on the other hand, gives good results. It’s all about the output.

At the end of the quarterly check-ups, the big picture is looked at as well. Does the strategy page need to be updated? A helicopter perspective unfolds. It’s a bit like the hamburger model, in which top-down and bottom-up are combined and the operation is the juicy patty in the middle.  

Next goals

Drawing of a corporate hierarchy with goals, two red arrows, and text: “Q1, Q2”. This drawing represents the definition of new goals.

In order for quarterly agility to work in practice, we need the strategy to be displayed on a digital board, not only in PowerPoint. The common digital board allows everyone to look at it and to edit the contents as required. Goals are followed up and updated constantly in meetings between the quarterly check-ups. 

This digital strategy board consists of columns, in which the goals are written down on cards. Goals can be marked according to color to indicate how the task is progressing. This means that the strategy is constantly in front of people’s eyes in everyday leadership!  

With this approach, the strategy becomes agile, even if people are not paying attention to the fact. When one focus area is finished, it is replaced with a new one. This might happen faster than at a yearly pace. 

In conclusion, I could say that this is very easy to run in practice, but it is not possible to do without using technology. The analog alternative is too slow and cumbersome. If you don’t want to use technology, you will be facing lots of practical challenges. 

agile updating, strategy 1pager

Agile updating

When we operate with an agile strategy approach, things start to happen at a faster pace. We have quarterly check-ups, which are booked for the whole year at once. Tasks finish on time. Otherwise, there’s not enough time to think about the big things because of the hurry. 

People are happier because operating is so much lighter and, in fact, much more efficient. Competitiveness increases. 

This is a super strong way to do things!

Create an agile strategy and ignite it! Read more.🔥

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