Wednesday, December 21, 2016

About Vision & Strategy - How to develop it, other challenges and considerations

We had a motley crew of awesome people show up to the AppsJack Share gathering last in Kirkland to talk about Vision & Strategy. I got a lot of great input (see everything below) that will help me better direct the January version of the podcast.

Key Takeaways:

  1. Strategy and approach (what to do) depends on the stage and situation of the business
  2. Work Breakdown Structure (WBS) a good way to break down complex projects
  3. Internal and external lenses/views/perspectives key to understanding and thinking about strategy
  4. Personal and corporate authenticity key to successful implementation
  5. Aligning an essential skill
  6. Nuance and readiness for seeing, understanding, integrating and working with outliers and anomalies is another key
  7. Timeframe matters for strategic thinking
  8. Context matters (and therefore controlling/limiting scope and having focus)
  9. There is a general prerence toward rapid tests of assumptions (failing fast) rather than long and protracted 'strategic' actions but there are times when the latter tactics (strategic actions) matter
  10. We couldn't determine whether or not models mattered. Models are meant to be broken, so why manage to them or even think about them?
  11. The mitigation and reduction of risk is key to successful strategy
  12. Design thinking is a key and related skill
  13. Strategy isn't and shouldn't be thought of as linear

We wondered at the very beginning if we should start by discussing vision or strategy and the answer, perhaps not surprisingly, was 'it depends'.  Chris brought up a good point that it very much depends on the stage, phase or status of the organization.  Assessment and triage (qualification) is first needed.  Steve raised challenges he has about breaking down a compelling vision into the component parts.  To me, these are the skills of project managers and other leaders who make complex and challenging things easier, that can be communicated to the necessary suppliers.  Work breakdown structure is a common method.  Mike Pritchard shared that he thinks there is an internal and external vision.  Joe Okonek refers to the vision, values and valued behaviors as things that can / should be externally communicated and publicly shared.  Missions, for example, can be internal documents and communications that help internal relationships focus on comm and strategic goal.  Public/open and private/closed is another dimension on which to explore strategy.

Good parts / what attendees liked: mentions of sex, swearing, arguments, passionate discussion, British accents, food, beer.  Authenticity was brought up as a key factor in this area.  Without true authenticity (and value, quality) your audience will see you as a fake and disengage (won't authorize).  Berry talked about the importance of alignment.  For example, aligning yourself and your company with the market and environment and their vision, values, purposes, needs, interests, ideas, etc.  Dominic talked about the difference between power (which can be personal and thought of as influence) and force, which can be applied from the tops down if someone has a lot of money or ability to coerce.  10 types of power are discussed in this article.  David brought up the point that strategy usually requires a longer and more futuristic timeline.  For example, he said that it's hard to be strategic for two minutes.  

Dominic led us in a discussion of the definition of a strategy and there were many different thoughts and opinions.  Someone defined a strategy as choosing an approach or an approach chosen ie a decision and commitment was necessarily made. I brought up the notion that it is hard to create a perfect product but many people disagreed: that within a domain, there can be a perfect product.  But there is a context, and knowing this context well is critical for product success.  Dominic wanted us to separate 'strategy' generically with 'strategy with a purpose' (a clear why). I brought up an issue I was having at work making a decision to build a feature for a big customer or not.  I am in the process of determining whether their request is qualified or not.  There is much skill required in qualification of certain issues.  Many at the table believed that 'if you are going to fail, fail fast' and people didn't like the idea of dragging on some elaborate process but others believed that caution and due diligence, not just action, were required in certain ambiguous political situations.  There are also scenarios where people cannot afford to fail fast, especially when there is not yet a powerful coalition, agreement and a clearly articulated and communicated vision.  

Richard wanted to know, "How do you know you have strategy?"  It's a good question.  We agreed that force, power, belief, authenticity, conviction and in many ways consistency were required for strategy.  But flexibility and other leadership qualities are also required.  We talked for some time about whether models were important or not.  David did not believe they were beneficial.  I gave the example of NoSQL database strategies where the data gets stored independent of a rigid table schema.  Many new data storage strategies do not rely on a centralized schema.  Differences between abstractions and concrete proof, evidence or data were interesting.  "Insight" or mental models are interesting when derived from data or science.  Steve talked about millennials and their needs.  He says that they share a desire for a better world and have this impediment of the rest of the world who is still alive, their elders.  

Someone pointed out that it is important to seek out anomalies in your data and to test assumptions.  Andy Scott made the point about the import of assumption testing on Episode 2 of the podcast.  Assumptions are a category or area of risk.  Steve shared the saying, "The presumptuous assume, the sumptuous consume."  People do need to build and test (at least mental) models.  Jean brought up the saying to test early and test often.  I shared about test-driven development (TDD), which is about only writing enough code (doing enough) to pass the next test.  It is a Lean approach.  Richard talked about the Site Reliability Engineer (SRE) role at Netflix and how they have build their strategy and plan around mitigating risk.  Managing and reducing risk is a key element of good strategy.  We talked a lot about design, design thinking and its import and spent quite a bit of time talking about Steve Jobs as a visionary and who else he surrounded himself with that helped make him successful.  It was suggested that Jonathan Ive at Apple was very critical to Steve's success and controlled and manipulated him in many ways.  He did of course have many failures as well.  Someone shared the idea of designing for failure, not success.  

Dominic wanted to make it clear that strategy was not linear and that it runs off of principles related to non-linear dynamics and non-linear systems.  Berry shared that it is our intention as managers to create systems that control and constrain--and this is necessary--but does indeed rub up against the truly dynamic nature of people and systems; feedback loops and quality systems that continuously transform and improve systems are indeed required.  We talked about automation and its important and how design decisions like 'who does what' plays big-time into strategy.  In my opinion, users should be the preferred and default / de facto actor and some (many?) of them should have the option to do a task themselves (value add) or delegate a task to a computer or someone else.  We started talking about the podcast toward the end of the event and Bruce recommended The Boss Show, which is a Seattle-area recording about bosses.

Berry posed the question, "How do you know that your vision is not a unicorn?" which is basically to say that you are not living a delusion or tilting at windmills.  The book Black Swan was recommended.  Richard talked a lot about the many types of currencies which relates to the idea of non-monetary economies.  I wondered out loud and Steve agreed that there is some sort of harmonic mathematical equation that describes a leader's oscillation between hypothesis tests and failures.  Bruce brought up 7 Habits of Highly Effective People by Steven Covey and I mentioned that The 8th Habit is about "finding your true voice and helping others find theirs".  The book also talks a lot about connecting strategies of the head with those of the heart which is probably truly about authenticity, believe and conviction.

Questions and topics for further consideration:
  • A Strategy (noun) vs. Strategy (verb) - What are the differences?
  • The skill of qualification; how to qualify, what to qualify, what to ignore?
  • Modern automation thoughts - who does what and what to do with the displaced workers?
  • Why do the ideas of internal/private/closed and external/public/open help us in thinking about strategy?
  • How do you know you have strategy?  (What is strategy?)
  • What are the differences between real-world models and mental models and/or thought processes?  
  • Test-driven design in management?
  • The applications of flexibility and rigidity in strategy development

Which topics, ideas and points would like to see covered on the podcast about Vision & Strategy?