Agile manifesto meets strategy formulation

The Manifesto for Agile Software Development came to life in the Wasatch Mountains of Utah in 2001, driven by self-proclaimed “organisational anarchists” from all walks of the software development industry, from extreme programming to SCRUM to Crystal to Pragmatic Programming.

By putting their minds together, they have managed to change the paradigm in software development processes. Thumbs up to these inquisitive souls. The manifesto, which supports an alternative to documentation driven, heavyweight software development processes, has the following core values, meaning that those on the left are valued more and are desirable

  • Individuals and interactions over processes and tools
  • Working software over comprehensive documentation
  • Customer collaboration over contract negotiation
  • Responding to change over following a plan

You’re probably wondering what all this has to do with strategy formulation. At Vaibmu, we strive to apply these values to the strategy formulation process, constantly experimenting and discovering better ways to bring agility into our projects. On a high level, and in terms of the four values of the agile manifesto, we could map the approach we use in our customer cases as follows:

Individuals over interactions

We start each case trying to make sure that we identify those parts which are based on assumptions and not facts, and find ways to test them (very much in the spirit of Eric Ries). Big eyes and big ears. Listen. Observe. Ask. Explore. Understand. Over one or many sessions where the issues are located and where the stakeholders are based, we communicate as much and as candidly as possible to fully understand their needs. Direct interaction, exploration, fluid and direct communication are key. Without this transparency, we cannot even begin to think about what process to follow (if any!) or which tools to use.

Working software (or outcomes, or strategies)

We want to build a working strategy, one that will solve our customer’s challenge with flying colours, not an expensive, verbose, complex, biased or unrealistic one. Our task is not to make a terabyte of slideware. Our goal is to build a winning, well informed strategy for our customers. We will seek the critical information, not all the information; focusing on the strategic items as well as those that will assist in removing bias and myopia is critical and will eliminate a lot of non-strategic work, freeing up everyone’s time for the important parts and a case or prototype that can be tested and validated at low-cost and low-fidelity.

Customer collaboration

Nobody knows better their business and their market than our customers, but they can also benefit from new ways of looking at their business; they also benefit from more voices from different areas of their business having a say and sharing their needs. For this reason, throughout our project, a candid, fluid and ongoing collaboration will be instrumental to reach great outcomes, to build trust and an understanding of the business which is key to formulate strategy. Focusing on solving problems together and bringing in stakeholders from the customer’s business from multiple areas will overrule bargaining for each project milestone. Solutions, new insights and an enriched foresight will be our currency in the process of exploring, testing and validating strategy.

Responding to change

Agile practitioners around the world understand the virtue of deferring decisions. Late decision making is excellent when there is uncertainty. As a result, late decisions may prove better decisions based on more fact and less speculation. As Mary Poppendieck writes in her brilliant book Lean Software Development: An Agile Toolkit, “in an evolving market, keeping design options open is more valuable than committing early. A key strategy for delaying commitments when developing a complex system is to build capacity for change into the system”. Building this adaptability into our customer projects is a cornerstone of our approach.