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Speeding up Success: How a Strategy Sprint Helps Teams Create Winning Strategies



If you are thinking about developing a new strategy - whether it’s a business strategy or a people strategy (or any other kind, really) - you are going to want to read today’s issue.


Because you probably have had some pretty brutal experiences.


We certainly have.


Developing strategy often comes in two main flavours. Both can leave a lot to be desired:

  1. A one or two day strategic offsite: This approach is often overwhelming and exhausting, and can leave you feeling like you’ve left a lot on the table (or just done a ‘rinse and repeat’ of your previous strategy)

  2. A months-long series of meetings: This approach can seem endless and drawn out leaving you feeling like there’s a lot of wheel-spinning, circular conversations, and ultimately many of the people involved check out - or just lose the plot.

You’ll be happy to know there is a different way to design strategy.


An innovative, collaborative and dynamic way that helps your team quickly align on challenges, build breakthrough solutions, and define tangible actions - and it’s actually fun.

It’s called a Strategy Sprint, and we’ve helped pioneer it over the last 2-3 years.


What are the Benefits of a Strategy Sprint?


The Strategy Sprint is basically a modification of the Design Sprint, which was developed primarily at Google Venture, and is an effective method for developing and testing new products and services.



The Design Sprint is a unique and structured application that integrates concepts from Design Thinking (as well as Lean Startup and Agile). This suits strategy well - because, as Roger Martin says, “Design Thinking helps make strategy better.


Now, a strategy isn’t exactly a product, so the Strategy Sprint is purposely different from a Design Sprint.


But many of the core principles and methods fit really nicely with building strategy, and give the Strategy Sprint a number of unique benefits:


1. Speed and efficiency


Progress is made quickly through a series of structured and time-bound workshops. On average, the main work for the Sprint Team happens through what we like to call a 4 x 4 Sprint - 4 sessions of roughly 4 hours each.


The Sprint can be run over a two-week period, or a maximum of four weeks.

We’ve found that it’s important to keep momentum so discussions and ideas stay fresh in people’s minds. But at the same time, research shows that there are diminishing returns after about 3-4 hours of deep thinking work, and reflection time between sessions is important to allow for the kind of slow processing that big concepts and ideas need.


That’s why we have found it best to spread out the work over a few weeks in smaller sessions.


The pace keeps everyone on their toes, so sessions feel energetic and highly productive to stimulate sharp, creative thinking.


All in all, the draw on the Sprint Team is not too high from both a time and brain-drain perspective - your strategy is moving fast and you can keep moving fast, too.


2. Iterative progress


It’s all about progress over perfection.


That’s the key to stimulating innovation and creativity in the Strategy Sprint. It breaks through ‘analysis paralysis’ and allows for more open minded, out-of-the-box thinking because you aren’t committing to final decisions until it’s tested.


It sets the stage for more innovative thinking and as a result, better ideas emerge.


We focus on putting ‘stakes in the ground’ to move forward with speed, and continuing to iterate ideas from session to session. The strategy is also validated with stakeholders before it is fully baked, so the team can test and refine the strategy until the best possible outcome is achieved.


This approach not only allows for incremental improvements as you go. It also identifies areas of the strategy that need to be more ‘fixed’ and which can be more nimble - or require more experimentation to fully form the direction to take.


It’s not about creating big fancy decks. It’s about letting the best ideas win and getting the best end product.


3. Collaborative approach


One of the most important parts of setting strategy is getting everyone to opt in. And this only happens when there is a true co-creation mindset.


When you build a Sprint Team that has the right diverse perspectives and experiences - and decision-making authorities - you have everyone you need in the room.


In a Strategy Sprint, no-one is allowed to sit on the sidelines. Everyone participates, and everyone’s voice is heard. Open communication is encouraged, including dissenting views. Consensus might not always be achievable, but decisions are made together.


This is so important to avoid the bobble-head effect: lots of nodding in the room, and opposition when everyone gets back to their day job.


“The people who make the plan, don’t fight the plan.”


4. Customer (or stakeholder) - centric focus


Like design thinking and traditional design sprints, the Strategy Sprint makes deep engagement and understanding of your stakeholders’ needs a priority from the beginning. And they are also asked to validate the strategy to hear how it’s resonating with them.


This signals how important it is to have their views heard, and creates an openness and transparency that helps uncover strengths, opportunities, and great ideas.


The stakeholders we engage include leaders, employees, key partners - and ideally customers. Where end customers can’t be part of the Strategy Sprint process, data about their needs are still included to help inform the strategic direction.


The result is a strategy that is rooted in the perspectives of your customers and stakeholders.


5. Reduced risk


The Strategy Sprint involves testing and validating the strategy before investing significant resources in its implementation. This approach enables companies to identify potential issues before they become a problem and make informed decisions.


It also is geared toward creating a more nimble and adaptable strategy. There’s a focus on creating experiments that help you learn before you commit.


By reducing risk, companies can save time and money and ensure that their strategy is investing in efforts that will effectively drive the outcomes they set out to achieve.



Now that you know the key benefits, let’s talk a bit about how a Strategy Sprint works.


How It Works



Our Strategy Sprint is a series of structured working sessions where leaders align on purpose and vision, identify critical challenges and opportunities, and co-create the goals, outcomes and actions that will be needed.


The result is a winning, action-oriented strategy that positions your organization for the future – and a team that is clear and aligned on the path forward.


Input


Before the Sprint starts, we like to do a proper Listen and Engage phase. This is where we interview the team members, the key stakeholders across the organization and conduct focus groups with employees.


We also recommend that the team does some research about external trends they believe will impact the organization’s future.


All of this input is critical to truly define the problem you are trying to solve with your strategy. (We recently did a podcast on this phase, which you can watch here).


Building and refining the Strategy


The key aspect of the Sprint is that it is very collaborative and iterative.


We usually spend the first 2-3 sessions getting to an MVP - a Minimum Viable Product. We help the team iteratively build this by:

  • Processing the inputs to determine the most important challenges and opportunities that the strategy needs to address

  • Aligning on purpose and vision

  • Determining the areas of focus for the strategy

  • Defining the outcomes that must be achieved for each area of focus

This gives it enough substance that the strategy can be ‘stress-tested’ and validated with key stakeholders. Has it defined the right strategic issues to address? Does it have the right areas of focus? Do the outcomes resonate?


Based on the feedback, we work with the team to refine the strategy, sharpen the areas of focus, and get more specific on outcomes as well as potential measures of success.


Mobilizing the Strategy


A 3-4 year strategy is a great anchor to help with decision-making and focus action.


But a 3-4 year plan is not terribly useful.


That’s because a strategy is to a large extent a hypothesis. And many courses of action or initiatives are ‘best guesses’ (highly informed guesses, but still guesses) about what will get you your target outcomes.


That’s why we focus on setting a plan to mobilize the strategy over the first 3-6 months, some key priority initiatives to commit to, and - especially for some of the newer directions - an approach to define a set of experiments.


It’s really important to stay nimble in today’s volatile business environment.

So your strategic plan needs to balance solid investments with low-cost experimentation, and test and learn to see what is working and what isn’t.


Most leaders we’ve worked with feel they should be spending more time talking about strategy, and we agree. It’s incredibly important to share progress, ideas, and make adjustments as you learn.


In Summary



A Strategy Sprint will jumpstart your team and accelerate results when building your strategy.


Taking a page from Design Thinking and organizations like Google Venture, the Strategy Sprint is an innovative, creative and dynamic way to collaborate that helps your team quickly align on challenges, build breakthrough solutions, and define a clear path forward.


By the end of a Strategy Sprint, you will have:

  • A team that is clear and aligned on purpose, goals and outcomes

  • A set of prioritized solutions to overcome barriers and leverage opportunities

  • A roadmap of tangible actions and new ideas to test and scale

If you enjoyed this issue, feel free to subscribe and/or reach out to us.

Thanks for reading. See you again next week!


We hope you enjoyed this newsletter. Whenever you're ready, there are more ways we can help you:

  1. Run a Strategy Sprint with your leadership team to define your next innovative and winning strategy.

  2. Help you define your Future of Work strategy, design employee experiences, and/or define a target culture.

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