Does this feel familiar? In your company, agile methods are used, but nobody understands why exactly which method is used and what it is there for. Phrases like “We’ll do the hybrid!” are the answer to the question of whether you should now stringently follow an agile approach. Or a self-purpose mentality has already developed.
Classical approaches to the development of IT strategies are less and less able to meet the general requirements in dynamic situations and market environments. Therefore, we have intensively dealt with agile IT strategy development as a solution approach. In this article, we want to help you to get a clear understanding of which agile methods support an IT strategy development process. The development process does not dispense with different phases, but is able to break up traditional planning cycles and provide the necessary speed and flexibility for the increasingly event-based strategy process. We show which agile frameworks and methods play an essential role and what the motto “Flexibility beats Stringency” means.
Looking at the initial situation and the basic question of how the IT strategy development process can be designed and implemented in an agile way, it is clear that the methodology is not only crucial for the success towards an IT strategy, but also for its content and quality. As in a previous article about the key aspects of the agile strategy process, it becomes clear that a diverse methodological framework for process organization can meet the requirements in terms of transparency, agility, customer orientation, co-determination, real-time and duality and at the same time result in a robust IT strategy.
Agile Frameworks are the basis of the method toolbox – the right question is the key to success
The agile IT strategy development process can be designed in many different ways, but is always based on a framework of different agile frameworks. It has been shown in many parts of the company that the decoupling of method and business is an important criterion for success.
Another important element of experience is that the implementation of the strategy must be controlled according to the decision levels. Here too, the use of agile methods should be thought of holistically. Classical hierarchical reporting structures are hardly suitable for providing management with sufficient implementation controls and feedback on the correctness of decisions made.
Basically, a distinction must be made between agile frameworks and supporting methods. One method or framework should not be used in a generalist manner for the entire strategy process. A basic principle is the intelligent selection of the right method for the right context or sub-aspect. Flexibility and diversity in the process organization creates the right support, and the right questions have the greatest possible effect.
Kanban opens up an agile method in which existing processes are improved in small steps (evolutionary). By making many small changes, the risk of acceptance for each individual measure is reduced. As numerous field reports show, Kanban can be used in many different areas: from small agencies and start-ups, traditional medium-sized companies or larger web platforms to international corporations.
Flight Level Modell
Although the flight level model is a full-fledged implementation framework, we use it primarily as a communication tool to visualize the impact of specific improvement steps at different levels of the organization and to find out where an organization stands in order to achieve possible improvements. Due to its overarching structure, the model is very well suited for the implementation of agile strategy development. The model is divided into three levels:
- Level 1: Team level/operative level
- Level 2: Coordination level
- Level 3: Strategic portfolio level
It is therefore also an effective tool for monitoring the implementation of the strategy, determining the impact of measures and providing feedback for the further strategy process. In addition, all ongoing projects and initiatives within the company are made transparent in line with the strategy.
Objective und Key Results (OKR)
Objective and Key Results (OKR) represents the basic idea that goals and priorities for the company are set in a short, limited period of time. In the framework, the customer value is consistently brought into focus and the strategy process is iteratively run through in short cycles (often quarterly). The high effectiveness lies in the changeability, as OKR represents a framework that can be individually adapted to the organization, and goals can be cascaded at different levels. In the two elementary parts of the concept, qualitative objectives (O), which are part of the corporate vision, and corresponding quantitative key results (KR) are worked out at different levels through Objectives (O). The OKR framework transparently maps the core elements of strategy development and uncovers dysfunctional processes and structures. In contrast to classical models, ideas, experiences or results are reinforced on team and divisional level and continuously communicated back to the upper strategic level.
„Transparency seeds collaboration“ (John Doerr)
The central element of Kanban and of flight level models is the visualization of work flows with boards – haptically or electronically.
„To manage a system effectively, you might focus on the interactions of the parts rather than their behavior taken separately.“ (Russel L. Ackoff, Pionier für Organisationstheorie und Systemdenken)
In addition to the general frameworks, there are formats that can support the agile strategy process in the company. Each of them affects partial aspects of the strategy process and is not to be understood as a model solution, but as an inspiration.
Scrum is a framework for developing, delivering and maintaining complex products. In practice, Scrum is used as an agile framework for the development of IT products; i.e. the focus is on application at team level. However, the iterative approach, the goal-oriented structure of the development and further development of products as well as the clear allocation of roles and responsibilities correspond to a high degree to the requirements of a strategy in times of digitalization. Therefore, more and more companies use Scrum as a basic procedure for agile strategy development and complement strategic elements.
Customer Journey Map
The Customer Journey Map methodology focuses on consistent customer orientation, can be a central part of agile strategy development and helps to review both strategic goals and their impact on the customer. Particularly in the course of digitalization and the new business models and services associated with it, the methodology is very well suited to support the agile strategy process. In the context of agile IT strategy development, the focus should be on strategy evaluation.
Design Thinking offers a systematic approach to complex problems that companies and especially IT organizations have to solve in the context of digitalization. At the core of Design Thinking is the assumption that problems can be better solved and user-oriented products, services, business models or innovations can be better developed when people from different disciplines and with different perspectives work together creatively. The described Design Thinking process is therefore well suited to support agile strategy development – especially for the generation of vision, mission statement and new business models.
An overview of the available frameworks and methods shows that, in addition to the correct adaptation for partial aspects of the strategy development process, an agile mindset with principles such as openness, transparency or customer orientation should always be reflected and specifically integrated as an integral part of the development. The realization that the agile mindset must be thought of holistically, but that the application of a framework cannot be goal-oriented for all concerns, helps in this process. Only through intelligent selection and the targeted use of the agile toolbox can the agile strategy process overcome its classic weaknesses and succeed in a dynamic environment. The various agile methods strengthen the transparency of the real states along the entire process and push the organization away from a mentality in which, hidden behind status reports, one can evade the true implementation control.
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