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Posts from the ‘Strategy’ Category

Feel good Scrum or wishful thinking Agile

I sat with one of our customer last week to review the 2011 budget for their Agile initiative. The client had a good start in 2010 with 10 pilot projects adopting Scrum. Not a small accomplishment considering their objective of transitioning over 3,000 people to Agile. The client shared with me that in addition to highlighting potential issues around their projects and increasing the teams’ performance, Scrum helped many of these teams substantially increase employee satisfaction – which is an important factor for employee retention within that organization.

During the meeting, the client explained that now that they had experience with 10 pilot projects, they no longer needed help coaching other project teams in the organization. They recognized the benefits of working with coaches to quickly develop the rights skills and abilities but they could now do it all by themselves.

Let me state it clearly, I believe the end goal of external consultants is to ensure their client can become fully independent and autonomous.

That being said and before I go on with this post I need to say (to be truly candid and transparent) that I have told the client – in person – what you are about to read.

The client’s objective is to successfully complete over 20 Agile projects in 2011 and then 200 in 2012. In itself, that sounds like an aggressive but feasible plan but here the catch: the client believes in magic!

Magic? You be the judge.

The client explained that they had to cut back on the budget for the coming year – which I fully understand – but despite the set back, they were continuing their organizational wide Agile transition. “We have everything we need”, they said.

  • “We are heavily recruiting Agile coaches” – considering the size of our market, it is doubtful they will find all the people they need;
  • “We are putting the heads of the various PMO (project management office) bureaus in charge” – having worked with some of these traditional individuals, it is difficult to see how they could lead an Agile transition;
  • “We have produced a detailed guide to adopting Scrum” – I asked if they remembered Individuals and interactions over processes and tools;
  • “Our people managers are already Agile” – I wondered what that meant;
  • “We have hired a change management expert to document the roll-out process” – Individuals and interactions over processes and tools;
  • “We expect each project team to go out and get the help they need to transition to Agile” – Why not help them?.

“Are you involving the teams and people who will be impacted?”, I asked.

“No need”, they answered. “They only need to execute on the plan we will give them”.

I hope that there is something I am not seeing and I truly hope for them to be successful but as it currently stands, I have serious doubts. Maybe I should offer some magical-Scrum-powder…


Silence is worth $600,000 per hour

Picture by CRASH:candyI already talked about silence as a communication tool but I can now estimate the value of silence at nearly $600,000 per hour. I recently came to this surprising conclusion when I bought my new car a few weeks ago.

Before I tell you my surprising story, I need to explain a few things about silence. During my coaching development program, we were explained that leaving room for silence allows the other person to clearly express their thoughts and feelings. Without silence, those thoughts and feelings would be unspoken and hence, unknown.

Keeping silence in a conversation also puts an uncomfortable pressure on the person spoken to – to speak. Try it for yourself and see how strange the situation becomes when no one is speaking.

To help us as coaches, we were told to keep our mouth shut and mind focused by counting in our head. You leave room for silence and start counting (in your head, otherwise there is no silence!). 1, 2, 3, 4… While you are counting, the other person feels some pressure and most probably will start talking – usually what follows the silence is very useful information.

So back to my story.

After seeing a few dealers and selecting the car I was going to buy, I entered into the typical negotiation scheme with the car salesman.

  • Salesman: “$xx,xxx. This is my final price”
  • Me: “Sorry, that’s too high. I did research on the Internet and I have a pretty good idea what the markup is on this car”
  • Salesman, looking shocked: “Let me see what my supervisor can do for you”
  • Salesman, coming back after a few minutes: “It’s your lucky day, my supervisor says that he wants us to reach our quota, so we’ll take out another $1,500”
  • Me: “That’s nice but it’s still higher than what I’m willing to pay for this car”
  • (…) a few more rounds of negotiation (…)
  • Salesman, somewhat surprised: “You know, (blah, blah, blah)…”
  • Me: “I understand. Listen, thank you for your time. I’m not in a hurry so I’ll keep shopping”
  • Salesman, getting anoid: “Listen, if you are that serious. I’ll take out another $1,000 but that’s really the best I can do!”
  • Me, pulling out my credit card to make a deposit: “I don’t believe this is the best price you can make. What else can you do…”
  • Me (counting in my head): “1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6…
  • Salesman: “I’ll take out another $1,000 but I can’t and won’t go down anymore”
  • Me: “Deal!”

$1,000 off the final price for 6 seconds of silence. Isn’t that a nice hourly rate!

The Strategic Café or “A bottom-up approach to setting a corporate strategy” (Day 2)

As a follow-up to my earlier blog post on this topic, below is the agenda of our meeting as well as the questions asked during the sessions. If you are not already doing so, I strongly recommend you start using this facilitation approach to improve your meetings – including your next Strategy Definition meeting.

Strategic Café

If you would like more information on how to organize your own Strategic Café, you can drop me an email (martin [at] I’d be happy to help.

Strategic Café

Agenda – Day 2

Breakfast (8:00 to 8:25)

Welcome and meeting introduction (8:25 to 8:30)

Presentation of our initiatives for the next 6 months (8:30 to 11:00)

Strategic Café

Pause (11:00 to 11:30)

Strategic Café

Prioritization of our initiatives for the next 6 months (11:30 to 12:15)

Lunch (12:15 to 1:00)

Strategic Café

World Café – Strategic assessment of our environment (1:00 to 2:30)

Background: To correctly set up our strategies, we must understand the environment in which we operate for: our consulting service, our products, and our training.

Question: What are our strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats in each sector of activity?


  • Products
  • Products
  • Consulting Service
  • Consulting Service
  • Training

Mechanics: The participants are allowed 12 minutes at each table.

Strategic Café

Pause (2:30 to 3:00)

World Café – Operational improvements (3:00 to 4:30)

Background: In order to continue our growth, we must give ourselves the means to grow up, what are the improvements that wants to carry out: sales, marketing, finance, human resources and SME.
Question: How does improve on our operations to do the goals we had set?
  • Sales
  • Marketing
  • Finance
  • Human Resources
  • Subject Matter Experts
Mechanics: The participants are allowed 20 minutes at each table.

Strategic Café

The Strategic Café or “A bottom-up approach to setting a corporate strategy” (Day 1)

If you ever had a chance to participate in a Strategy Definition meeting, you either had a good time because YOU were dictating the strategy to follow or had an awful experience because your recommendations were totally altered, down-graded to a point of irrelevance or blown out of proportion making them un-achievable. Needless to say, for most people a Strategy Definition meeting is an experience comparable to a visit to the dentist for a root canal.

As I already mentioned, not only is our organizational structure different from most organizations but so is our strategic process. As opposed to a top-down Strategy Definition where the Top Executives come up with the Strategy, we use a bottom-up approach. Once again, we rely on the wisdom of the crowd to come up with the best strategy we can achieve. Not only is the strategy sound, it also removes the need to obtain buy-in after the fact since employees participated in the definition of their strategy.

We’ve implemented a Balanced Score Cards approach to our strategic planning process 6 months ago. This approach is helping us move forward but the format of our previous meetings left a lot of room for improvement. After asking around for an alternate approach for the meeting, François suggested we try a World Café format. After reading about the principles and the book (The World Cafe: Shaping Our Futures Through Conversations That Matter), we spent time preparing and planning for the meeting. Needless to say, the Strategic Café was a huge success.

World Café used to Define the Corporate Strategy

I want to sharing with you the agenda of the meeting as well as the questions asked during the sessions. If you are not already doing so, I strongly recommend you start using this facilitation approach to improve your meetings – including your next Strategy Definition meeting.

If you would like more information on how to organize your own Strategic Café, you can drop me an email (martin [at] I’d be happy to help.

Agenda – Day 1

Breakfast (8:00 to 8:25)

Welcome and meeting introduction (8:25 to 8:30)

Warming up the brain cells (8:30 to 8:45)

We asked participants to compete in a friendly game of Rush Hour. The intend was to introduce a fun element in the day in preparation for the meeting.

Strategic Café

World Café – Retrospection of the previous 6 months (8:45 to 10:30)

Background: What should be done to improve the organization on the following 5 dimensions: communication, accountability, prioritization, leadership and decision making?

Question: What are the challenges encountered within the organization and what is my contribution to meeting these challenges?

5 Tables: Communication, Accountability, Prioritization, Leadership, and Decision Making.

Mechanics: The participants are allowed 15 minutes at each table.

At the end of the exercise: Each of the 5 paper-table-cloths is assigned to an individual responsible to come up with a plan of actions.

Strategic Café

Pause (10:30 to 11:00)

Presentation of the new governance model (11:00 to 12:30)

Unfortunately, this part is confidential 😉

Lunch (12:30 to 1:15)

Strategic Café

World Café – Improvement to the well-being of people (1:15 to 3:00)

Background: In 1 year from now, what will be the impact of our organization on the following 4 sectors: employees, existing customers, stakeholders, and potential customers?

Question: What programs should we develop to meet our objective of improving people’s well-being?

4 Tables: Employees, Existing Customers, Potential Customers, and Society.

Mechanics: The participants are allowed 20 minutes at each table.

At the end of the exercise: Participants were asked to select the top 4 priorities for each of the sectors and write them on a master flip-chart. Participants were then asked to vote to select the top 4 priorities overall on which the organization would invest time, energy and resources to move forward.

Strategic Café

Pause (3:00 to 3:30)

Strategic Café

World Café – Selection criteria to prioritize our initiatives for the next 6 months (3:30 to 5:15)

Background: Given the limited resources and the large number of initiatives within our organization, which criteria do we want to use to prioritize and select the initiative that we will move forward using the following areas: Financial, Customer experience, and Employee learning and growth?

Question: Which criteria we will use to determine our priorities?

3 Tables: Financial, Customer Experience, and Employee Learning and Growth

Mechanics: The participants were allowed 20 minutes at each table.

At the end of the exercise: Participants were asked to select the top 4 priorities for each of the sectors and write them on a master flip-chart. Participants were then asked to vote to select the top 4 priorities overall. Those would become the criteria used to prioritize our initiatives for the next 6 months.

Strategic Café

Dinner (6:00 to 8:30)

As an analogy to our Strategic Meeting, we had organized dinner at O’Noir.

I’ll be publishing Day 2 of our meeting shortly.

Monthly Strategic Meeting

As a follow up to my post about our Strategic Planning Meetings and our strategic planning process, this blog post describes the Monthly Strategic Meetings.

Every month, the strategic meeting is an opportunity to monitor and track the achievement of our objectives. It is an opportunity to assess what has been accomplished, to revise our goals and to adapt them based on external and internal changes. In short, this is an opportunity to inspect and adapt. It is also a time to consider new opportunities that may arise.


Making decisions on proposals made to the strategic committee and support the people responsible for the various goals by helping the remove the obstacles they encounter.

During the meeting, presenters should explain what they need to achieve their objectives and propose a plan of action that can be accepted (or rejected) by the strategic committee members. The strategic meeting is not intended to present the work completed to date – since it is the responsibility of leaders to ensure that their tasks are completed – but have a plan of action that allows the successful achievement of the objectives.


The meeting is held every month (the last Friday of the month).


Who can be present at the monthly strategic meetings?

All employees interested and available can attend the meeting as “chickens“.


Who should be present at the monthly strategic meetings?

Each blue bubble (see diagram below) must have at least one representative present at the meeting. In addition, at least 2 of the following 3 people must be present: President, General Manager, Process Owner.

Organizational Structure

Strategic Committee


Who has the right to vote for decision-making?

All members of the strategic committee present at the meeting are entitled to vote.

Following the vote, what rule should be used to make a decision?

The decision-making will be the super-majority (2 / 3 of the votes). For a proposal to be accepted, the number of votes in favor of the proposal must be greater than or equal to twice the number of votes opposing the proposal.

Weekly Tactical Meetings

As a follow up to my posts about our Strategic Planning Meetings, our Monthly Strategic Meeting, and our strategic planning process, this blog post describes the Weekly Tactical Meetings.

Every week, the tactical meeting is used to plan the goals for the week and choose our priorities based on our current capabilities.


  • Establish a quick plan for the week to come
  • Consider possible options for improvement and set priorities based on our ability to achieve them
  • Prioritize tasks and assign resources to support the activities.

The weekly tactical meeting is modeled after the daily stand up meeting used in Scrum with a key distinction. The group is much less interested in knowing what has been done but prefers to focus on what needs to be done within the next 5 business days to complete an objective. The meeting rarely lasts more than 30 minutes.

Strategic Planning Meetings

As a follow up to my earlier post about our strategic planning process, this blog post describes the Strategic Planning Meeting.

Every 6 months, the strategic planning team meets for our strategic planning meeting with the objective of assessing our progress towards achieving our vision and developing a strategic plan for the upcoming 6 months. As I already mentioned, strategic planning is an iterative process and as such, our strategic plan defines the objectives for the organization but does not carve them in stone.

The strategic plan is a realistic and pragmatic wish list of objectives and activities that we will strive to successfully complete – the plan is not a definitive set of end goals. For us, the plan is a road map to achieving the vision. It is more important to get closer to the vision than it is to stick to the plan or achieve the objectives as they were originally defined.


Define and prioritize our strategic goals for the upcoming 6 months and assess our progress toward achieving the corporate vision.

Strategic planning

The strategic planning meeting sets the direction for the next 6 months. The goal is to make progress in achieving our vision and strategic goals in order to get us closer to the vision.

During the meeting, we establish the strategic action plan, which contains several targets for improvement in our service offerings, in our commercial software, and in our internal processes. After the meeting, the project office is responsible for the management of the strategic plan.

Each of the areas of expertise is responsible for monitoring their goals and in particular, they must ensure that their objectives are achieved or adapted to reflect the market conditions.

The objectives are documented in the backlog of the organization. Over time, the items documented in the backlog are broken down into activities and sub-tasks and are monitored through the monthly strategic meetings and the weekly tactical meetings.

Simple Definition of Strategy

I’m spending a lot of time working on our Strategy these days and working with colleagues to define our objectives in order to achieve the corporate vision. Coincidentally, I got to the section of the book (Winning) where Jack Welch describes his perspective about strategy and his three steps to defining a good strategy.

In a nutshell, Welch states that strategy isn’t much more than selecting and prioritizing the right activities in order to achieve the vision. More specifically, he explains that strategy as promoted by strategy gurus is overly complex and that the process can be simplified to deliver better value. In simple terms, determining which activities (at a macro level) are required to reach the vision, prioritizing and sequencing them logically, and then allocating the right amount of resources to achieve them.

Once we understand Welch’s perspective on strategy, it becomes easier to understand his threes steps:

Step 1: Come up with a big “Ah Ha” for your business – a revelation, an insight that will give you a true competitive advantage within your industry

Step 2: Put the right people in the right job to drive the “Ah Ha” forward – matching the right personal attributes to the task at hand is critical

Step 3: Relentlessly seek out Best Practices to pursue your big “Ah Ha” – develop and/or borrow best practices to establish a competitive advantage.

Although it may sound simplistic, I like these 3 steps as it forces the organization to pick a direction to take and then work hard at implementing the strategy. Welch’s perspective of strategy is very similar to what we use within our organisation. Strategy is an approximate course of action that needs to be revisited and redefined according to market conditions. Strategy is an iterative process and more time should be spent implementing the strategy than defining it.

Owner of the Strategic Process

I officially took on the role of Strategic Process Owner. My role is to own (and lead) the process and ensure it works well in order to define and implement a global strategy to achieve our corporate vision.

The strategic process will look like this – more on this topic in an upcoming post.

Strategic Process

Strategic Process

As owner of the process, I am responsible for:

  • overall effectiveness of the process;
  • working closely with the leaders of the various areas of responsibility so the organization supports them in achieving their objective;
  • updating the backlog of objectives and activities required to achieve the strategy;
  • setting SMART goals in relation to the strategic map and ensuring coordination and alignment of objectives between the various leaders;
  • promoting constructive exchanges in relation to the objectives and potential opportunities to achieve them;
  • maintaining a decision log and following up on the items moved to the “parking lot” for future discussions;
  • communicating the process to all stakeholders and communicating the strategy to all employees;
  • establishing and using performance measurement to monitor progress toward achieving the vision;
  • holding the meetings and ensuring attendance;
  • ensuring commitment and support of the process by all parties.

In a nutshell, this management role is similar to the role of the Scrum Master in software development projects. We are adapting (as much as possible) the Agile principles to the management of the organization, in the hopes of establishing Agile Management.

Some companies are like 8 year-old boys

Does your company loose its focus?

Does your company loose its focus?

I was teaching my 8 year-old son how to make a grilled-cheese sandwich on the week-end and realized that some companies do act like little children.

At home, we have a rule that the twins are not allowed to use the stove unless there is a parent around to supervise them. Our objective is to allow them to learn and experiment while we control some of the risks. So in line with our rule, my son asked if I could teach him to make a grilled-cheese sandwich.

After I explained the steps, he took out the ingredients – bread, butter, and Swiss cheese. He turned on the stove and warmed-up his pan. He then buttered the slices of bread and put them on the warm pan.

He turned to me and said “I’ll be right back. I want to bring in the house my rubber dinosaurs before the rain starts“. He dashed through the kitchen and out the patio door while I stood next to the stove. Two minutes passed and my son wasn’t back. I could turn over the bread so it wouldn’t burn but I realized this could be an opportunity for him to learn something.

I walked to the patio door to see why he wasn’t back in the house… The rubber dinosaurs were still on the patio table and my son was trying to pick up a caterpillar. Indeed, this was an opportunity to learn. I opened the door and told him “your bread is burning“…

Some companies act exactly the same way. They launch an important project and then get distracted by a cute project along the way. The distractions do not always need to be shinny objects for people to loose focus. Eventually, someone needs to remind them that the original project is about to go bad or worst, the company is about to loose some big business.

Sometimes, only the bread burns but in other circumstances the entire house can catch fire…