Is quarterly planning still relevant in today’s dynamic fast changing environment? The answer is a definitive yes, but with a twist. Quarterly planning should not occur only once a quarter, and its deliverable should not be just a list of projects. Instead it should be an exercise of continuous alignment on a quarterly horizon.
Some may ask – why do you need a quarterly cadence? With Agile, couldn’t we just continue iterating on product in sprints?
This brings to the need of 3 time horizons of strategy and execution within an organization.
Every organization needs longer term, mid term and near term 3 time horizons, each has its goals and respective strategies. Quarterly planning focuses on connecting the longer term vision (e.g. annual) with mid term focus (e.g. quarterly), which provides strategic guidance for the next level of iteration (e.g. bi-weekly). The quarterly alignment is for agile leaders to provide context for the agile teams.
Here are some common challenges for product teams without responsive quarterly alignment.
- Disconnect – Product or feature launched from previous period hit the market. The resulting business impacts usually differ from original assumption. Companies hence adjust goals and strategies subsequently. However these strategic changes often do not reach team in time or with enough context, which resulting continued team execution of previous strategies from 1-2 quarters ago.
- Poor allocation – Many companies adopt stable teams or full stack teams model (aka PODs, or Tribes) without adjustment. However as the business needs change, the previous allocation by team do not support current needs. Some teams will be under water with too many mission critical features where some other teams may not have the same level of delivery pressure and will in turn focus on locally optimized roadmap.
- Incongruent UX – Without frequent alignment across teams and across functions, silo’d decisions and prioritization happens. Dependencies are often exposed at the time of needs. To avoid lengthy delays, teams have to create work arounds. This creates suboptimal user experience and “products with org structure”.
The traditional quarterly planning aims to address these challenges, but it focuses on the output of a committed list of projects. While there are merits to this deliverable, it does not fit into the fast changing environment where the list of projects will change through the quarter.
This is why Quarterly alignment emerges. Quarterly alignment is the process connecting the longer term vision with sprints and activities responsively via collaboration between executives and leaders and across teams on what we want to achieve and the strategies to achieve them. The outcome is a set of initiatives (aka programs) with defined goals, which empower further innovation without misalignment.
How do you perform Quarterly Alignment? Here is time-tested framework.
- Define the top 2-5 goals and target metrics for the upcoming quarter. An OKR framework (Objective and Key Result) is a good way to start.
- Brainstorm and prioritize product features, marketing and/or other initiatives to achieve these goals.
- Identify gaps and dependencies in achievability and/ or resources (check out how to use MoAR to prioritize).
- Iterate between 2 and 3 until a good enough game plan (a list of initiatives enabling your OKR’s) is in place.
- Track both work progress and OKR progress to responsively adjust your team’s focus.
The Quarterly Alignment is not a build it once and rest forever exercise. It’d be reviewed frequently (bi-weekly or monthly) on its trajectory against the desire outcome, and adjust the detailed activities responsively.
Clarity and Alignment is critical to the success of any company. Quarterly alignment is a valuable cadence to enable it. It gives your company the opportunity to align teams and products against the goals at the OVERALL company level (see the MoAR Method). So your teams can innovate and move fast towards the same direction.
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