Enter the Strategy Sprint

Oh Gosh, it is that time again.

Strategy days …


Sounds familiar?

Strategy formulation within companies is often a daunting task, encompassing various facets such as business, product, technology, and organizational strategies. It’s a laborious process, with no definitive playbook on how to approach it. The ambiguity surrounding the concept of strategy itself—what constitutes a good strategy, how to align on its definition, and the deliverables expected—only adds to the complexity.

As a result, organizations frequently find themselves grappling with strategy formulation. Some may shy away from it altogether, while others cling stubbornly to poorly articulated strategies or hastily switch strategies in a constant state of flux. Strategy becomes a buzzword, thrown around without a clear understanding of its implications.

Before we delve into execution, let’s address the fundamental strategic issues and understand why strategies often falter. And why it’s time to depart from conventional approaches.

Continuing to do the same thing while expecting different outcomes is a recipe for stagnation, if not failure. We need to embrace a paradigm shift in how we formulate and implement strategy.

The challenges of strategy formulation are manifold:

  • Lack of consensus on the definition and purpose of strategy.
  • Unfocused, uncoordinated, and messy processes leading to frustration and unfinished plans.
  • Individuals questioning their own contributions or dominating the process.
  • Fear of the unknown future and aversion to failure paralyzing decision-making.
  • Management relying on jargon rather than practical, actionable tools.

Strategic planning often becomes a cyclical ritual within larger organizations, with planning documents collecting dust until the next planning cycle. Conversely, smaller or newer organizations may neglect strategic planning due to urgency or resource constraints.

Surprisingly (oh yeah?😏) only 63% of businesses plan more than a year ahead, failing to grasp the importance of deliberate, forward-thinking strategies. John Kotter emphasizes the dynamic nature of strategy, advocating for swift adaptation to opportunities and efficient execution of initiatives.

Nowhere is dynamic forecasting and strategy more crucial than in the tech industry, characterized by rapid mergers and acquisitions and disruptive innovations. Knowing where we want to go – and why’s that – is essential to navigate the ever-changing landscape.

In essence, the challenge lies not only in formulating strategy but also in embracing its fluidity and dynamic nature, adapting swiftly to seize opportunities and drive future success.

At Spotify the talented Mauricio Portilla and yours truly experimented to find a way to make Strategy formulation more efficient and less costly for leaders and teams : enter the Strategy Sprint.

Btw what is Strategy?

It is true that there are so many definitions for “strategy”, all quite relevant depending on the context. For the success of the workshop it is preferable to accelerate the alignment between leaders by providing them with one definition that we took from the bestsellers “Good Strategy, Bad Strategy” by Richard Rumelt.

In the book strategy is defined as a coherent and focused plan of action that guides an organization to achieve specific objectives amidst complexity and uncertainty. It combines a clear vision of the future with well-defined steps to get there, all based on a realistic assessment of the organization’s capabilities and its competitive environment.

Strategy Sprint ?

Inspired by Google Ventures’ Jake Knapp infamous Design Sprint, the “strategy sprint” is a dynamic and accelerated approach to developing or refining a strategic plan. Instead of dragging on for months, it brings together a cross-functional team for a short, intense period (a few days to a few weeks) to answer key questions, make crucial decisions, and chart a clear path forward.

Imagine a room buzzing with energy, filled with bright minds from different departments – marketing, product, sales, leadership – analyzing data, identifying goals, tackling challenges, brainstorming solutions, and creating a concrete strategy that they would test and stress at the end of the process. All within a record-breaking timeframe thanks to:

  • Intense Focus: Participants fully dedicate themselves to the sprint, setting aside other responsibilities for maximum engagement.
  • Time Constraints: A defined deadline creates a sense of urgency and prevents endless decision-making loops.
  • Structured Process: With clear phasing powered by proven methodologies, like design thinking or SWOT analysis.
  • Clear Deliverables: The sprint concludes with tangible outputs, such as a strategic plan, actionable steps, or a roadmap.
  • Cross-Functional Collaboration: Diverse perspectives enrich the strategy with participation from teams across different areas of expertise.
  • Iterative Approach: Some sprints may involve revision cycles to adapt and refine the strategy based on new insights.

How does it work ?

Let’s walk  through the process : how does it start, what are the activities, what do you end up with at the end?

Day 1: Understand and Define

  • Set the stage with talks and sharing on various topics : economical situation, sales, product performance, technical assessments – what makes sense for you and your business 😉
  • Analyze the current situation (SWOT analysis, etc).
  • Align on the challenges and on small set of SMART goals.

Day 2: Ideate

  • Review insights from Day 1.
  • Brainstorm and create divergent options to answer the strategic challenges
  • Play with “what if … ” and “How might we…”
  • Develop detailed concepts aligned with top ideas.

Day 3: Decide

  • Review Day 2
  • Present and discuss strategic concepts.
  • Collaboratively choose the more juicy concepts to pursue.
  • Outline key components of chosen concepts.

Day 4: Prototype

  • Review day 3
  • Create the prototype

Day 5: Test and Iterate

  • Test prototypes with stakeholders => for this we used the pitch’n’critic
  • Gather and synthesize feedbacks.
  • Refine the strategy based on feedback.

What challenges of creating a strategy are we solving with the Strategy Sprint format/process ?

By design, the Strategy Sprint format/process solves challenges related to time/delay, decision-making, alignment, innovation, adaptability, collaboration, and efficiency in the creation of effective strategies.

Amongst all the benefits, the 3 key challenges seems to be :

  • Creating alignment => it quickly aligns participants on objectives, goals, and action plans, reducing misunderstandings and ensuring everyone is on the same page (impact as well positively ownership)
  • Cross-Functional collaboration : by bringing diverse perspectives together in a structured and collaborative manner, we can leverage collective intelligence and ensure a holistic and well-rounded strategy.

Also Testing and Feedback: we steal from the design sprint process the creation of prototypes and the gathering of user feedback early on, applied to strategy it really helps to validate ideas and strategies before full implementation. ⇒ and test traction

What are the success factors ? What are the pitfalls ?

Success in a strategy sprint depends on several factors : a good and thorough preparation, a good facilitator, a team that gathers a wide range of skills and knowledge, stakeholders mapping and connection, decision making and prioritization skills, an interactive mindset etc ..

But at the end of the day what makes it successful – or not, is really collaboration, communication and psychological safety => fostering an environment where  participants feel comfortable sharing ideas and engaging in open constructive discussions, and feel safe also to engage in crucial conversations (saying no and saying i don’t know)

Some common pitfalls to avoid: unclear or unrealistic expectations,  no or poor preparation: (Failing to adequately prepare for the sprint, including assembling the right team, gathering relevant data, and ensuring necessary resources are available,etc…), lack of leadership buy-in, Ineffective facilitation and/or dominant personalities and behaviors, avoiding or ignoring the users’ feedback, and finally lack of Follow-Through.

Despite these challenges, successfully navigating them is an integral part of the sprint process. Overcoming these obstacles through effective collaboration, communication, and problem-solving often leads to the development of a more robust and well-rounded strategic plan.

Want to know more ?

Mauricio Portilla and I are writing a small book on ” how to’, if you are interested to review it and provide us feedback : raise hands ! And if you can’t wait for the book to be release please ping us !