Practical example of how a distributed team can address new challenges with a combination of three strategy sessions: Discovery, Response, Review.
Here are the key topics of the article:
- Strategy meeting for distributed team
- A template for strategy meeting
- Example of strategy meetings
- Software toolkit
- Executive summary
Strategy Sessions for Distributed Team
Any organization has its own approach to strategy meetings, in essence:
- A strategy meeting is a disciplined way to analyze important challenges and find the ways to deal with them.
BSC Designer is a distributed team. One of our core values is “Support remote work, hire talents globally.” Before, we discussed how we manage our remote team. As for the strategy meetings, our approach depends on where we are in terms of understanding the challenge.
We defined three types of strategy sessions:
Between each of the strategy sessions, we have an implementation session.
Let’s review these sessions.
1 – Discovery and Analysis of the Challenges
This session focuses on understanding the roadblocks and exploring new opportunities. During this session, we focus on discussion and look at the challenges from the viewpoints of:
- Value that they could create for the customers, and
- Alignment between the new idea and current strategy
Any strategy planning framework can help to come up with interesting strategic hypotheses. For example:
In our case, in addition to the business frameworks, many valuable inputs come from the calls and meetings with customers. We try to collect the ideas, even if they are just implied. Being a customer of your own product also helps to see the challenges from the customer’s perspective.
We finish the discovery session by focusing on the most promising hypotheses. In the difficult cases, a MECE principle (mutually exclusive and collectively exhaustive) + formalized prioritization helps to pick a few hypotheses to focus on now.
When starting to work with a new hypothesis, we typically don’t have an in-depth understanding of a hypothesis. For this reason, right after the Discovery session, we do a short validation session. We plan a series of experiments to do some basic proof of concept.
The goal of this session is to formulate a hypothesis in detail, explaining its nuances and reasoning.
2 – Formulation of Response Strategy
For this session, the team has more data to define a detailed response strategy and describe it on a strategy map.
- During the response strategy session, the vague ideas have to be converted into something more specific.
For example, we can no longer talk about abstract “quality,” we need to do a decomposition and define what exactly we mean by the quality in this very context and how we can quantify it.
During this session, we formulate:
- Specific goals
- KPIs with targets and thresholds and
- Initiatives with rationales, sometimes budgets and specific timelines
As we discussed before, we avoid using KPIs for reward calculation (it’s a good idea to clarify your opinion on this with your team). The most important role of the KPIs is to better understand what the goal actually is and make the goal more tangible.
This implementation session is what is generally called strategy execution.
The team has a business context framed with:
- Initial hypothesis,
- Formulated goals,
- Initiatives and
- Some performance metrics.
Team members are free to choose the best way to achieve those goals or introduce additional indicators to better understand the expected results.
3 – Review of the Execution Results
During this session, we learn from the achieved results and plan more discovery sessions.
- Some lessons become obvious right after the implementation session. We write them down as the comments for the goals or initiatives. If one day, we get back to this part of the strategy, we’ll have those conclusions in the strategy document.
- Some ideas require more time to get the necessary data. We plan to get back to the KPIs where there is more data to analyze. In this case, software helps to collect data automatically or reminds us about the need to update indicators.
A typical review session generates many improvement ideas. To close the learning loop, we convert them into the input candidates for future strategy discovery sessions.
Fixed Schedule vs. Variable Timeline
Many organizations schedule regular (quarterly or annual) strategy meetings. In our case (a distributed team), there is no fixed schedule for strategy meetings. The discovery session is typically provoked by some interesting insight from the customer rather than by the date in the calendar.
We do scheduled reviews of the performance data, like a monthly analysis of the overall performance. Those reviews can generate a hypothesis that we will discuss during the next discovery session, but we try not to plan two things at the same time.
A Template for Strategy Meetings
Here is a template for strategy meetings. It will work best if your team has a look at the illustration of the article and review and example discussed below.
|Strategy Session||Challenge||Output||What’s important for this session|
|Discovery||Find roadblocks; explore possibilities.||Hypothesis formulated||The hypothesis should fit an overall strategy.|
|Validation||Test hypothesis; formulate rationale.||Proof of concept done||Do basic validation of the hypothesis before you assign your main resources to it.|
|Response||Strategy description: formulate goals, find KPIs, prepare initiatives||A strategy properly described on the strategy map||Use KPIs to achieve an agreement about the exact meaning behind the goals.|
|Implementation||Strategy execution||Initiatives executed; performance data updated.||Validate achieved results from the performance indicators.|
|Review||Learn from the results||Hypotheses added to the backlog of the Discovery session||Make sure the findings get into the shared memory of your organization.|
Example of Strategy Meetings of the Distributed Team
Let’s use some examples adapted from our practice to see how exactly the strategy sessions work.
Discovery Strategy Meeting
When looking at the user activity data, our team noticed that not all paying customers were using the software actively. In the context of one of our core values – “Provide excellent customer experience” – it was not a good signal.
This was something unexpected, so we decided to explore this finding deeper. We formulated a hypothesis:
- Less active users bought a paid subscription, so they understood the potential of the software for their organization, but for some reason, they did not have enough impulse/motivation to unlock and start using the key functions of the software.
Right after the meeting, the owners of this hypothesis received an automated email with a link back to the new strategy scorecard.
The owner of the initial hypothesis developed it further.
The high level goal (“Provide excellent customer experience”) got a new measure:
- % of paid users who are active with their accounts
To get more accurate data, we looked at a period of a few months after the initial subscription date. We set up this metric to be updated every quarter.
It was clear that we were missing something important about the needs of the users, so a new goal was formulated in the Learning and Growth perspective:
- Understanding the challenges of new customers to find out what’s stopping them from using the software.
A specific action plan was to do some interviews with paying users, which was tracked by lagging metric:
- The number of qualified interviews
The team set targets for this indicator with a 20% participation rate in mind:
- Send 60 invitations for an interview
- The target for the second metric was 10 qualified interviews within a 2 week period
- In the description field for an indicator, the concept of “qualified interview” was explained
In a few weeks, we have enough insights to discuss at the next strategy meeting.
Response Strategy Meeting
We looked at the newly obtained data. It appeared that there were two major challenges for the users:
- Migration from a spreadsheet. Most of the users already had some kind of strategy scorecard in a spreadsheet software, so their challenge was to migrate it to BSC Designer.
- Help to Get Started. Many users were new to strategic planning and were not sure how to get started.
A person responsible for the goal added a link to the transcribed interviews to the initiative to make sure we could get back to interesting details when needed.
With these two inputs, we were able to formulate a response strategy.
The idea of better migration from a spreadsheet generated several goals for our strategy scorecard:
- [Learning perspective] Understand the data formats of spreadsheet scorecards. That’s what our team needed to understand better before converting this knowledge into the requirements for the developers.
- [Internal perspective] Improve the importing function in the software. An import function already existed, but it was too complicated for most users.
- [Internal perspective] Provide data migration as a service. It was not clear if customers would use the improved import function or would prefer our help in migrating their data.
As for the second major challenge, strategic planning still looked like a complex challenge for our clients. We had some articles on our website that explained the process in detail, but it looked like it was not enough.
Our new idea was to automate the strategic planning steps in an automation tool that we called a strategy wizard. We formulated this goal in the Internal Perspective:
- Develop a strategy wizard tool
We had some discussions about the best ways to quantify the goals. The KPIs were not formulated, but we wrote down the recommended approach via comments.
That strategy meeting ended with some specific plans for the owners of the goals.
The team responsible for the goal defined some performance metrics to make sure they were on the right track.
- Leading: # of interviews about data formats
- Lagging: developers have two-three popular data structures to support [binary indicator]
- Lagging: complexity index of import function, % (based on our previous experience dealing with complexity) [optimization=minimize]
- Lagging: % of users who used the spreadsheet migration service
- Leading: % of scorecards created with the strategy wizard
They copied comments from the previous session in the description fields for the KPIs and defined the general properties for the KPIs:
- Measurement units
- Measurement scale with baseline and target (to be able to normalize the performance of the indicators)
- Optimization function (maximize or minimize value)
- The type of the metric in the context of the goal (leading or lagging)
To prioritize the efforts of the development team and make the total performance reporting more accurate, the weights of the goals from the Internal perspective were adjusted as:
- Importing function, 50%
- Data migration service, 30%
- Strategy wizard, 20%
While we were in the “implementation” stage, the discussions about the details continued. When they needed to exchange some quick ideas, the owners of the initiatives could simply send an internal message, saying something like:
- “Finished another interview, added some thoughts to this initiative: %link_here%. Development team, please give your opinion if we can possibly do it.”
The development team focused on implementing new features according to the new requirements…
Strategy Review Session
In a few months, we had many things to discuss. The one-page strategy map that we used for the discussion grew from one initial hypothesis to six goals, two initiatives, two success factors, and seven performance indicators.
The team did some additional interviews with the clients. Many clients were kind to participate in the interviews and even shared with us their strategy scorecards. As a result, we found two popular structures of the data that the software was not really good at processing. That gave the development team a key about what the software should automate.
To our surprise, the strategy wizard (initially, the weight of just 20% was assigned to the goal) became quite a popular tool, but its functionality was still limited. Our new challenge was to give it more power, keeping it simple at the same time.
The migration from the spreadsheet service we promoted as part of the subscription did not work as expected. Users preferred to do the import from a spreadsheet themselves with the importing feature of the software, and only a few contacted us for help. Some users commented that the possibility of our help in case of a problem was a positive factor in the purchase decisions.
These findings were written down as the comments for respective goals/KPIs so that in case we had to get back to this topic, our team would be able to review the previous outputs.
Some of the findings were formulated as a hypothesis to be discussed during the next strategy discovery session. For example, a new hypothesis was that an automated assessment tool for strategy maps would help users to unlock more value of the software.
As always, we wanted key team members to keep track of what will happen with the goals/KPIs:
- The software automated it for the owners of the goals (all owners receive notifications).
- Owners of the KPIs would receive a reminder to update the KPI with fresh data (if not automated).
Additionally, we scheduled a regular PDF report to be sent to the supervising user by email every month to see how the initial hypothesis would evolve.
Software That Facilitates Our Strategy Meetings
I foresee the questions about the software toolkit we used. We try to keep it as simple as possible.
We use Shortcut for all internal discussions, and strategy meetings are no exception. We prefer to avoid live calls, as they don’t really add value to our preferred format (explained before) for working remotely.
Discussing strategy in writing takes time to formulate the ideas, but it pays back in the form of more focused communications. Such communications are documented by default, so we can add cross-reference to a goal/initiative in the strategy scorecard or add a link to a certain story to the initiative so that we can always get back to it.
Strategy Execution Software
Our obvious choice is our tool – BSC Designer. Being a user of your own product helps in planning new features and understanding a customer’s needs better.
Besides the obvious functionality – mapping business goals on strategy maps and setting up KPIs – a lot of important details are written down in the initiatives – some notes along the way, reasonings, thoughts about the successes and failures. All this helps to see some story behind the performance data.
Before the Discovery session, all the ideas related to software development get to the backlog. A backlog is a spreadsheet in Google Sheets where the requirements are weighted according to the customer who is interested in them.
We typically select the request with high weight and requests that were asked independently from several customers. The list also helps to send a follow up to the customer when the requested feature is released.
The implementation sessions generate some supporting documentation, like, for example, transcripts of the interviews with clients. They are typically shared via Google Docs and can be linked from a strategic initiative to be able to look at the source data if needed.
Most live calls are with the customers. The platform depends on the preferences of the clients. After a typical live call, we create a story, where we briefly discuss the main takeaways. We are happy to see that our tool can solve most of the client’s challenges, but we are focused on finding those problems that the tool was not able to solve effectively. Such stories are used for the Discovery sessions.
In the article, we discussed some key ideas that will help the distributed team to be more effective in strategy meetings:
- The most productive strategy sessions are provoked by some interesting insights from a customer or market.
- The best time to do the session is shortly after you have an insight; scheduled quarterly meetings don’t fit this idea well.
The degree of understanding of the hypothesis will change – adapt strategy meetings accordingly:
- The Discovery session is where the team formulates the hypothesis better and finds out if/how it is connected to creating value for customers.
- The goal of the Response session is to describe strategy properly with goals, KPIs, and initiatives.
- The strategy is successfully executed when the team analyzes the outcomes and discusses the lessons learnt – you have a Review meeting for this.
- Ambitious hypotheses and goals always require some homework, plan validation and implementation sessions between the strategy meetings.
Software should help in:
- Facilitating and documenting the discussions.
- Seeing the big picture with business context and numbers.
It is not about making group calls every day.
- Access templates. Sign-up with a free plan at BSC Designer for immediate access to 31 scorecard templates, including Example of Strategy Meeting discussed in this article.
- Master skills. Check out free video tutorial for the Balanced Scorecard. Master your strategy planning and execution skills with Strategy Execution training.
- Automate. Learn what Balanced Scorecard software is and how it can make your life easier by automating strategy execution, KPIs, and strategy maps.
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