Designing strategy remotely.

In this article, I’ll showcase the technical side of how a strategy design and transformation journey can be delivered 100% remotely. Will the entire journey be 100% remote in a post-pandemic world? Absolutely not. On the other hand, I can’t see designing future agendas with large groups huddled around a whiteboard 100% of the time either. My goal is to showcase the tools and techniques I’ve used in my past and the technology I am leveraging today to deliver everything remotely. I place you, the reader, in a classic business school use case by starting with purpose. From there, we will define a strategy and strategic plan upon which we will shift the culture of the current organization.

In a series of related articles, I take you along an end-to-end “remote” strategy design journey using my son’s hockey organization. We tackled our strategy work following a version of the attached agenda. The board elected to hold a series of 2-hour workshops over a 4-week window given schedules (vs one 8-hour day). As it turned out, the schedule worked in our favour. The unraveling of our current strategy and purpose provided everyone time between sessions for reflection and introspection. We all got on Zoom to meet face-to-face and used Mural for our white-boarding segments. Purchasing two sets of templates from New Haircut saved me hours of prep time. My purchase also included some one-on-one time with Jay Melone from New Haircut (thank you Jay!).

I pulled apart the first methodology, the Problem Framing Toolkit, to support Sessions 1-3. Here are the components of the Problem Framing Toolkit I used on-line over Zoom and Mural, along with my facilitation notes on each:

  1. Problem Discovery – This is a problem surfacing activity using a discussion around a sailboat using metaphors for the Harbour (make sure everyone is sailing in the right direction), Wind (what we are doing well today), Anchors (problems we face today) and Icebergs (problems we will run into tomorrow). Note, you can also run this as a glass half full exercise and reframe everything as opportunities.
  2. Problem Sensing and Problem Categorization – These are two great group exercises to focus on problems and prioritize them based on Impact and Difficulty. I’ve used a similar framework in the past and there is an art and a science to getting through these two steps. This forms your roadmap and helps people to understand what you are addressing the next 6, 12, 18 months and beyond.
  3. User Mapping and Problem Reframing – This helps the group look at all potential users experiencing the problem to decide who is most impacted. The group uses the info gathered to write a clear, actionable problem statement. I found this really useful in creating a problem statement that everyone can focus on. Without a clearly defined people brainstorm different issues.
  4. Journey Mapping – This is not used at this point in the process but will be reintroduced in the discussions with each Pillar breakout team. I love this piece of the toolkit as it takes the mapping experience out of the classic Design Sprint and moves it up front. It also provides a visual map to kick off the Understand phase of the Design Sprint itself. Very unique as it brings the user problems and business problems together out of the gate.

I also needed to create pieces ahead of time to support the other parts of our discussions. Here are the pieces:

  1. Purpose Bullseye – Without getting to the core of who we are as an organization the whole strategy would be built on a hollow foundation. I built out a mural in Mural based on Simon Sinek’s Golden Circle framework with exploration questions and exercises attached to the framework. The objective to help everyone get to WHY; by examining what we create, what we believe and how we inspire.
  2. Outcome Map – This detailed strategy map highlights drivers, levers and capabilities. I have used this over the years in many different forms and formats. For this exercise I decided to create this template using Excel. Given the size of the strategy map and level of detail, I surmised it was the optimal format for a final Outcome Map. I also created multiple murals to explore the supporting elements of each Pillar. And then I strategically aligned them to produce the final Outcome Map. Very powerful artifact.

I get a lot of questions around the technology used for facilitation as well as the process used to bring everyone along. What I’ve found so far with the technology:

  1. Speed kills. I’ve been on a number of working sessions with people around the planet and have been made very aware that everyone has a different connection speed. If you are asking people to share their screen or take the lead, test this out ahead of time.
  2. Plan for the unexpected. The day before my first remote strategy session, Mural went down. Wondering how that was even possible I contacted their support team and they were just as puzzled as none of their fixes seemed to be working. Ugh! I lost most of that day and ended up making slides in PowerPoint just in case. Ended up being a good thing as those slides were emailed to participants not attending the workshops.
  3. You need to accommodate everyone. I delivered training back in the 90’s-2000’s and taught people how to use a mouse. Since then, I’ve been acutely aware that you need to accommodate all skill levels. There will still be people who have problems with the chat window, voting and “muting”, (my personal favourite as a facilitator). Again, having a PowerPoint or PDF document to fall back is not a bad idea.

What I’ve found with the process:

  1. Plan ahead. Delivering a remote workout session is not the same as doing it in person. Not even close. Maybe because I’ve delivered so many in person I can “improvise” when things do not go according to plan. With everything on-line and so many variables there is a lot more planning and preparation going into each session.
  2. Plan to listen. It’s very difficult to listen intently if you do not have a co-facilitator to rely on and keep you on point. If you are trying to navigate and bring everyone along technically, there is a good chance you’ll miss something right under your nose. I’m able to read body language better and pick up on side conversations in an actual room. I also have a co-facilitator sitting beside me. In order to listen online, you really need to split the duties with another facilitator to be effective.
  3. Zoom fatigue is real. Running everything on-line is exhausting and there is a reason, you have to focus more intently on conversations. You also have to watch your own facial expressions as well and the message you are sending to your team. When’s the last time you stood face-to-face with someone and stared them in the face for an hour? Plan your breaks accordingly. Break meetings up into 30-60 minute blocks.

As I outlined in my article, Riding the Next Wave, COVID is driving our current working environment. This means we all need to get a little creative. With travel bans, social distancing and remote working we are about to unleash a tsunami of “creative efforts” to solve the problems currently reshaping our way of life. We have the opportunity today, to work remotely and redesign strategies and business models to fast-track innovative thinking. Successful companies will realize it takes a village, now more than ever, to get creative and solve problems. The only difference is that they start and possibly complete their design journey, 100% on-line!