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DON´T DO IT!: the strategy that deceived us (Chapter III)

There are times when, having finished a job, we feel that everything is perfect, that everything will go well, and that it will be part of our history as professionals. And, BOOM !, things do not finally turn out as expected. It is even more complex, sometimes, not to realize in time that there are very simple and basic signals that lead us to realize that everything is bad and that it has to be modified in order to move forward.

Simple signs. Like cardboard.

We came from learning about agile and the 'agile mindset' was being progressively tattooed in my brain.

February was approaching and it was my turn every month for a board session that the truth bothered me a bit because I had to report the results of the company and I was not used to that, I had always been on the other side of the table.

The day comes and, I believe that at the right time, the board asks me to design a strategy for 2018 and I commit myself as a good soldier to present it in the next session ... March! Everyone was happy. It is the right thing to do. "This company needs a north!", Typical phrases that everyone knows and applies. Clichés of good aging.

It was clear that we needed a new direction.

We were entering March and the weight of not fulfilling my commitment was on my shoulders. I had a month to design and present it. It was going to be very hard work for the simple fact that it was the first time that I had led a process of this nature and I wanted to do something different, innovate, show my stamp.

The pressure was great because it was the path that all Makers would follow. The strategy would define the work that we would have to do during the year to meet the established objectives. What if we were wrong? Would we work in vain?

Real photograph of the first strategy

I meet with the team and tell them, "We have a month to define a strategy, but it has to be agile," the biggest stupid thing I've ever said. The strategies are not agile, they are strategies per se, how you execute them is something else. I think I made myself understood anyway.

We thought about the best strategic solution. One that would make us climb several steps to get closer to a new Imagemaker. Makers would be happier, we would improve our service level, we would optimize our processes, we would grow in sales and billing, etc. As we were already familiarizing ourselves with using post-its, it occurred to us to make a transparent and visible strategy to execute it with agility. Sparkly! We are all puzzled as if we had discovered oil.

We sat down to think and concluded the following:

A great strategy has to encompass at least 4 drivers: People (the Makers), Customers, Finance, and Processes.

For each of these drivers, it is necessary to establish Annual Strategic Objectives,

For each Annual Strategic Objective, Annual Specific Objectives must also be established,

And, finally, for each Specific Annual Objective, we established initiatives/tasks that we had to do to meet the objectives.

The thing is that we sat down to discuss the strategic objectives, initiatives, etc., and we managed to make a nice board that you can see in the photo above. It looked like a work of art: the post-its organized by color, by objective, each initiative that we would do in the year, with its estimated effort. Each initiative with acceptance criteria, we send each other a monumental job, hours and hours nodding off how to move the papers so that order is not lost. A headache, but we made it, or so we thought.

Already near the middle of the year, the strategy was on the ground. Literally. The cardboard on which we pasted the post-its with the objectives, KPIs, and initiatives fell all the time, messing everything up. It was chaos. But worst of all, it wasn't that the cards fell off: it was that we worked and worked, but we didn't see the impact our work was having on the KPIs. As in the previous chapter, we talk again about the value that our work generates and the impact it has on the business.

We had planned a full year of initiatives, organized by quarter, but priorities change, and just as they change, the strategy has to adapt to the new scenarios, and ours was rigid. Big mistake.

When I got to the board, they asked me to tell how the strategy was being executed, and, honestly, I didn't know where to go because I was completely muddy. We had not advanced at all. The only thing we had were the KPIs that we could measure. That is little or nothing.

Today (2020) after going through a long process we realized that there is a tool that for us is fundamental and very powerful when one knows how to use it well: the blessed OKRs.

We apply this framework to the company's strategy. We were not that far away, we already had the discipline, we just lacked the right tool and learn to take advantage of it.

What did we do differently ?:

We plan ambitious and motivating Annual Goals (without numbers) EJ: “Get to the moon”,

For each Annual Objective, we define KRs, (Key Results. ‘Key Results’ for the acronym in English). These KRs tell us how close we are to meeting our goals.

We now repeat points 1 and 2, but this time only for the first quarter, for example, the objective would be "Build a rocket".

Finally, each member of the team defined what initiatives they would do according to their expertise and role within the company, to contribute to obtaining each KR that would lead us to meet the objectives.

What did this new way of planning bring us? First, we realized that we had to be flexible, that the frameworks should not always be used as defined, but are to get the best out and be able to “adapt” it to different scenarios and environments.

We also learned that:

  • Planning a full year is crazy, especially in the technology business that advances at an abysmal speed,

  • It is better to run several short races than a long race, in this way one can correct the course before each stumble,

  • The alignment, in our case, works more to a KR than to a Target. You work to achieve a result that will lead you to meet a goal.

  • We learned to work as a team, something that is key in the proper functioning of a company, especially if you are immersed in the field of technology.

This was true in every sense within Imagemaker. The strategy is a work that is reviewed quarterly, it is refined as a team, including the board of directors, who contribute their experience in very enriching work sessions. We all learn from everyone and agree on the north as a team.

We leave you here what are the good Imagemaker practices for the proper use of OKRs, something very important… Bah! True, that is not for this article.

In the next chapter, we will delve more into the blessed OKRs. Now things will get good.

Feel free to ask whatever you want.

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