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How To Eat The Strategic Elephant In The Room

5 March, 2019

There's an old saying that goes something like, "How do you eat an elephant", answer, "One bite at a time". Perhaps the modern equivalent might be "One byte at a time".

Despite the slightly troubling notion that anyone would be so mean as to contemplate eating an elephant, it does conjure the right image for those faced with a seemingly impossible task.

When it comes to implementing their strategy, many businesses are hanging on to the old notion that they need to eat that elephant in one sitting. I'll stop with elephant analogies now.

Each sprint achieves something shippable and has a beginning and an endEach sprint achieves something shippable and has a beginning and an end

This approach makes getting traction and executing a strategy difficult. There's always something else to do, something with a clear beginning and end that will achieve something 'tomorrow' as opposed to 12 months.

If this is you, then you're still hanging on to the remnants of an old way of executing strategy. By 'the old way' we mean, the top-down management method of trying to plan everything up front, and then trying to hold everyone accountable to execute your plans over an extended period.

If that ever worked is debatable, that it works during times of significant change is laughable. Today most businesses need a way of working that breaks their strategy into chunks and lets them respond to the environment in which they operate.

So, what's the better way?

Be Agile!

Agile project management is the opposite of the traditional method of managing projects.

Agile project management involves teams planning and executing projects in short phases where cross-functional teams prepare and implement each step one at a time.

Large projects get broken into smaller projects to the extent that they each become a deliverable 'thing'. In terms of software development, a branch of engineering that pioneered agile methodologies, it might look something like this.

Project 1 – Create login screens, allow people to log in and log out. Bingo, we have an app, let marketing know we're good to go.

Well, not quite. There's probably not a huge market for an app that allows users to log in then log out.

Incidentally, in agile parlance, it's common for these mini projects to be known as sprints. Each sprint achieves something shippable and has a beginning and an end. Here's what it looks like with a bit more meat on the bones.

  1. You identify a project or sprint (something you want achieving, e.g. open a new store, implement a new computer system).
  2. Give the project an owner.
  3. The owner selects the cross-functional team to implement the project plan.
  4. The team delivers the project.
  5. The owner reports back on the progress of the project.

It's common for some aspects of a sprint to get moved to another sprint, so the overall objective gets done even if some of the rats and mice are set aside for the next sprint.

Things can get more complicated when you've got a ton of strategic projects underway, alongside a ton of operational plans and other initiatives, but that's where collaboration tools come to the rescue.

It's a lot easier to coordinate and report on tons of projects – both strategic and operational – with platforms like these. Furthermore, with these platforms, it's easy as to add new Projects to your strategy as they arise, and to archive them when they've completed.

An agile approach makes the execution of your strategy a continuous and easily managed process. It makes rolling it out much less daunting.

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