The Agile Approach: How to Benefit from Agility in Strategic Planning

by Andy Sio*, February 12, 2018

Strategic planning should be a naturally flexible, and dynamic process. In today’s ever-changing business environment, the brands that thrive are the ones that can deviate and adjust their course naturally, to meet with new industrial trends, or apparent obstacles. Not sure whether you’re agile enough? A good way to evaluate yourself is to ask your entire company how quickly it could make a change if you needed to completely re-work your plan. After all, when we engage in strategic planning, we prepare for the future using the information we have in the present. Unfortunately, that leaves us vulnerable to sudden changes in the world around us.

For instance, the financial services industry recently saw rapid development as countless organizations began to use new financial technology. The emergence of “Fintech” pushed companies to re-evaluate their business strategies as quickly as possible, to ensure that they could stay competitive in a new environment.

No matter what industry you’re in, it’s safe to say that the modern world is complicated, unpredictable, and full of rapid changes. That means that taking weeks to develop a rigid strategic plan may no longer be the best way to ensure growth. Instead, the most successful brands are taking a more dynamic approach to strategic planning, and embodying a culture of agility in their decision making.

By the end of this post, you’ll know everything you need to know about benefiting from agility in strategic planning. Need extra help? Just comment below, or get in touch on LinkedIn for some advice!

Bringing Agility to Strategic Planning

Originally defined as a thoughtful, in-depth process, strategy has long been a practice of careful deliberation for stakeholders and executives in any business. For years, we’ve focused our efforts on strategic planning on a practice that involves evaluating and using as much information as possible, to create a long-term plan.

Unfortunately, the current environment is too dynamic and changeable to benefit from long-term strategy. In today’s complex and volatile marketplace, the value of traditional forms of strategic planning is beginning to diminish.

Of course, that doesn’t mean that you should ignore the corporate plan entirely, or develop a strategy within five minutes during your morning coffee break. There’s still something to be said for the comprehensive research and scenario planning that go into making a solid business plan. However, today’s brands are focusing more on the immediate future, than strategies for long-term brand success.

How many times have you designed an impeccable five-year plan for your business, just to have your strategy become obsolete within a few months?

Today’s Business Plans Should be More Fluid

Netflix has given us an incredible example of how an agile mindset can transform the future of an organisation. For instance, when Netflix first began, it was a mail-order company that delivered videos to people around the country. As the 2000s hit, and people began to discover the power of streaming video online, Netflix decided to change its business to include an on-demand service for streaming television and media.

Eventually, Netflix transformed its business model to focus most of its effort on the “streaming” side of the business, while other rental companies like Blockbuster stuck with their initial strategy. As most people know today, it’s Netflix that came out ahead of the pack, revolutionizing the entertainment industry, and transforming the way that we consume media.

In a world where strategy is becoming more fluid, companies are focusing more on “vision” and “improvisation” when they come to plan for their brand. While vision allows us to continue looking at the long-term, as well as the purpose and principles of an organization, improvisation gives companies a sense of flexibility that allows them to adapt to the ever-more significant changes in their industry.

How to Make Your Business More Agile: 5 Steps for Success

When you incorporate both improvisation and vision into your brand strategy, you not only get a powerful north star to direct your decisions with vision, but also the strength you need to make quick changes with improvisation too. The question is, how can you redesign your business plan according to agile principles?

Here are a few simple steps that could help:

1. Create a Clear Vision of the Future

Begin by polishing a compelling and clear vision of what you think success means to your business, before you ever bring your team together to start discussing plans. This is your moment to reflect on what you really want to set out to accomplish. If you have a solid goal in mind,then you’ll be able to adjust your strategies and plans to approach the same outcome from a different angle when problems in your strategy begin to emerge.

2. Be Careful of the Set and Forget Mindset

Once you’ve carefully established your goal, the last thing you want to do is simply assume that everything will simply fall into step. Frequently review your plan and address any problems or gaps that might have emerged in the current fast-changing environment. Most companies today will need at least an annual process in place that allows them to review their strategic planning and identify possible issues. However, if you’re in a particularly disruptive industry, you may need a quarterly process instead.

3. Make Sure You Can Keep Your Team Updated

One of the most important things you can do when you’re developing agility within your business, is make sure that the people within your team are always up-to-date on the latest changes in your plan. The last thing you want is for the people in your marketing team to be working towards an outdated set of goals, because they didn’t get the memo that you changed your plan in your last executive meeting. A collaborative planning and prioritization tool can ensure that every segment in your business is aligned towards the same outcomes – no matter how often your strategy needs to change.

4. Think Short-Term, not Long-Term

Agile methods of strategic planning are all about setting short-term goals and quick-wins. While these minimal goals might well be part of longer-term, larger objectives, they’re broken down into simpler tasks that can be achieved during short sprints instead. This means that you don’t waste any time on unnecessary projects, because you can address the value of each plan as it’s put into action. The aim of this short-term thinking is to capitalize on immediate opportunities, and quickly mitigate apparent threats. The more you act in short-term, the more you can change direction easily when needed.

5. Experiment and Innovate

One of the best things about “being agile” in business, is that it allows your company to try out new things. You’ll be able to conduct lower-risk, smaller experiments, instead of taking huge, potentially high-risk plunges. Just make sure that you gather as much data as you can from each experiment and respond to it accordingly, rather than reacting based on opinion instead of fact. With the right experimentation, you can adopt an organic sense of agility that allows you to respond naturally to change, rather than diligently following a pre-set plan.

Why Should Companies Go Agile?

When it comes to strategic planning, an agile focus can mean a huge shift in mindset for many companies. However, if you can use agility to your advantage, then you may be able to accomplish unprecedented innovation and market disruption that places you ahead of your competitors in the marketplace. Some of the benefits of agile planning include:

1. The ability to Adapt to Changing Priorities

Implementing agile strategic planning means that you never get left behind when new trends and preferences emerge. Because you have your finger on the pulse of the market always, you can decide when you should make changes that could positively impact your business. When you’re agile, you’ll be able to meet an ever-evolving set of business priorities, that are informed by your customer’s actions and responses. In other words, you’re always ahead of the curve.

2. Overcome Problems Faster

Although the purpose of strategic planning is often to avoid issues whenever possible, it’s hard to protect your business from every potential problem that might happen in its future. Unfortunately, if a hurdle arises that contradicts your rigid business plan, you might find that it takes weeks for your executives to come together and find a solution that can keep your brand moving in the right direction. With an agile business, you avoid these potential hurdles, because you’re always prepared to evolve with the times.

3. Improve Customer Satisfaction

Finally, an agile business model allows you to adapt your strategy according to the information you learn about your customer’s preferences and requirements. The more time you spend running your business, the more you’ll learn about how customers use your product, what features they like and dislike, and what you can do to improve the experience for your target audience. An agile business model allows you to respond to each revelation as it appears, so you can take full advantage of the marketplace.

Just remember, as complicated as agile strategic planning might seem, you need to stick to it if you want to see results. Once you’ve got over the initial growing pains, you might be surprised by the speed at which you begin to see results. How do you feel about the agile approach to business? Share your thoughts in the comments below, or share this article on social media to get the conversation going!

(original article here)
(*) About the author: 
Andy Sio is an Agile Coach who helps organizations to deliver more values to their customers faster via lean and agile methods. Andy is the founder StrategicQuadrant.com, a collaborative planning and prioritization tool for distributed teams. Andy likes to write about leadership, product management, and his favorite topic personal branding.

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