Impruver - Ace up Sleeve - Agile Strategy Execution Model
  • July 28, 2022
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Strategy development, deployment, and execution is a practice that the business elite once kept secret from general population as a means to increase competitive advantage. Nowadays, practically all leading companies practice some form of strategy execution to varying degrees of success. The business world, in general, still struggles with the inability to deliver on its greatest priorities. Several studies have revealed that a whopping 90% of strategic plans fail to deliver the desired outcomes. This is largely because companies approach Strategy Execution and Project management using what is called the Waterfall approach. Waterfall is described as creating the entire plan of action before starting any work and getting minimal feedback from stakeholders until the entire plan is executed. It’s like flying a plane with a map instead of GPS, except the landscape is constantly changing, therefore, the map is outdated from the start. Fortunately, a solution has emerged and is paving the way for the future of Leadership, Strategy Execution, and Continuous Improvement. This article will provide the details of the world’s most powerful model, Agile Strategy Execution, including an example of how it might work in your company.

Agile Strategy Execution Model is the simplest and most powerful approach to gaining alignment to a unified direction and achieving breakthrough performance results for any size and type of business. It is built on a century of learnings from Scientific Management combined with decades of first-hand experience working with leading companies such as Nestle, Mars, the US Military, and The Clorox Company on executing their agendas. Agile Strategy Execution takes an iterative, feedback-driven approach to executing on the organization’s greatest priorities. This iterative approach moves away from the presumptions that demands won’t change [they always do] or that we know up front what tasks or resources will be required to achieve success [we never do]. Agile Strategy Execution allows organizations to quickly adapt to current realities while remaining on track to achieve its goals.

The Agile Strategy Execution Process includes the following steps:

  1. Set a clear direction or destination for improvement
  2. Gain alignment and commitment to the direction of improvement from all
  3. Establish a coaching and talent development rhythm between people leaders and their direct reports
  4. Drive systematic execution of actions needed to achieve strategic objectives

The Agile Strategy Execution Model is a combination of Hoshin and Agile methodologies. The mechanism engages everyone in improving something important every day. It establishes a single, unique target condition for each person in the organization, aligned with the organization’s greatest priority for improvement. In doing so, it shifts the paradigm from project-centered strategy execution to people-centered, enabling faster development of both people and business processes.

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The Agile Strategy Execution Model Cascade Process works as follows:

First, the leader determines a direction (or Challenge) for the organization’s improvement. The direction is stated as going from X to Y by when as described in the 4 Disciplines of Execution. For example, the CEO may say that we are going to increase profitability from 20% to 40% by July 1st of next year.

Note: The process does not need to start with the CEO. It can start with anyone, including you. Also, if the leader’s leader has already defined the direction, this first step can be skipped.

Second, the leader defines a Target Condition that must be met in order to make progress toward the Challenge. This should follow a similar format, going from X to Y by when but with a shorter time horizon and more of a leading indicator of success. The example might be to decrease product lead time from 15 to 8 days by October 1st of this year.

Third, the leader’s direct reports will need to establish their own Target Condition as their Challenge has already been established by their leader. They will use a similar format, going from X to Y by when. For example, a Vice President of Manufacturing might say – in order to meet the Challenge of going from 15 to 8 days lead time in the next quarter (established by my boss), my Target Condition is to go from 40% to 55% plant uptime in the next month.

This simple hoshin-like mechanism repeats and cascades all the way to the frontlines. In the end, 100% of people will have a unique Challenge and Target Condition that is aligned with the company’s greatest priority for improvement.

The Agile Strategy Execution Model Coaching Process works as follows:

Once an individual has a Next Target Condition set, routine coaching cycles should ensue. The ideal coach would be the individual’s immediate leader; however, the leader can engage a professional coach to help until the skillset has been developed internally. Also, team-based coaching is encouraged so that the momentum of team dynamics can take effect.

The frequency of coaching cycles should be set based on the frequency that data from the business system can be produced; however, the shorter the cycles the better. Coaching cycles coincide with PDCA / PDSA cycles. While a CEO may have monthly coaching cycles, a frontline operator may have daily cycles. We encourage teams to start with weekly cycles until they have a good handle on the process.

The intent of coaching cycles is to accelerate learning and process improvement by encouraging more frequent experimentation, iteration, and ultimately success. At the core, the leader / coach wants to know that the coachee understands the greatest priority for improvement, what the coachee is doing to improve results, and what the coachee is learning from their effort. The coach also wants to know where they can assist to ensure success.



The Agile Strategy Execution Model follows a format like the Coaching KATA as described in Toyota KATA. It works as follows:

  1. What’s your challenge?
  2. What’s your next Target Condition and by when?
  3. What results have you achieved so far?
  4. What have you tried last and what did you learn from it?
  5. What obstacles might keep you from succeeding?
  6. What will you try next and by when?

This coaching cycle takes between 60 and 90 seconds for an experienced coach and coachee. Team sessions can be conducted in as little as 30 minutes per week. In time, following a scripted coaching routine like this improves the team’s accountability, focus, and Continuous Improvement behavior pattern, which are all key leadership attributes. It is a process of sharpening the axe, regardless of the target.

While individual contributors typically make tactical improvements to the processes they own, people leaders are looking for improvements to the business system that enable their people to succeed with less effort. In other words, the leader’s success is measured by the success of their people.

After people have had enough reps through the process as a coachee, they are ready to start coaching their own teams. We encourage that companies start at the top and cascade in.

Here’s a sample cascade of Target Conditions:

CEO (Challenge) – Increase profitability to 40% in by July 1st of next year
CEO (Target Condition) – Increase profitability to 25% by January 1st

Here’s how this priority might cascade horizontally:

COO (Challenge) – Increase profitability to 25% by January 1st
COO (Target Condition) – Decrease conversion cost to $20 per unit by November 1st

CRO (Challenge) – Increase profitability to 25% by January 1st
CRO (Target Condition) – Increase sales price to $100 per unit by November 1st

CFO (Challenge) – Increase profitability to 25% by January 1st
CFO (Target Condition) – Decrease cost of raw materials to $30 per unit by November 1st

CIO (Challenge) – Increase profitability to 25% by January 1st
CIO (Target Condition) – Decrease ERP’s Profitability reporting cycle to weekly by October 1st

CHRO (Challenge) – Increase profitability to 25% by January 1st
CHRO (Target Condition) – Decrease attrition of hourly workforce to 2% by October 1st

Impruver Horizontal Cascade of Targets

Notice how the entire CXO team has the same Challenge, which is defined by the CEO’s Target Condition. The sum of each members Target Condition should add up to the CEO’s success.

Here’s how this priority might cascade vertically:

VP Ops (Challenge) – Decrease conversion cost to $20 per unit by November 1st
VP Ops (Target Condition) – Decrease conversion cost to $25 per unit by September 15th

Plant Manager (Challenge) – Decrease conversion cost to $25 per unit by September 15th
Plant Manager (Target Condition) – Increase OEE to 75% by September 1st

Ops Manager (Challenge) – Increase OEE to 75% by September 1st
Ops Manager (Target Condition) – Increase Availability to 90% by August 15th

Supervisor (Challenge) – Increase Availability to 90% by August 15th
Supervisor (Target Condition) – Decrease 1st Shift Downtime to 50 mins / day by August 1st

Lead (Challenge) – Decrease 1st Shift Downtime to 50 mins / day by August 1st
Lead (Target Condition) – Decrease Line 2 downtime to 40 mins / day by July 15th

Operator (Challenge) – Decrease Line 2 downtime to 40 mins / day by July 15th
Operator (Target Condition) – Decrease Case Packer downtime to 30 mins / day by July 10th

Impruver Vertical Cascade of TargetsNotice how the Challenge at each level is pre-defined by their boss’ Target Condition. Each person suggests and aligns with their boss on their own next Target Condition.

The Agile Strategy Execution Model engages every single person in the company in the execution of company strategy, across functions and up and down the chain of command. It simultaneously develops talent, reinforces a culture of Continuous Improvement, and executes company strategy.

By establishing a single Target Condition for each person, the company activates a mechanism that leverages the unique talents, creativity, and efforts of all – in the direction of the organization’s greatest priority. Upon complete of each Action Item, the next is established; upon completion of each Target Condition, the next is established; and upon completion of each Challenge, the next is established. Setting a new Challenge and / or Target Condition at the leadership level produces a domino effect of re-prioritization for the company based on the greatest need for improvement given current realities. This creates a fluid and perpetual series of continuous adaptation and improvement. This way, you end up with a model of a continuous flow of transformation instead of discrete annual strategy planning. In today’s disruptive world, the annual strategy plan is woefully inadequate.

The great paradigm shift is going from multiple strategies in parallel with a long time to execute, to strategies in series with shortened, iterative execution cycles. This provides all the benefits that single-piece-flow / kanban brings to production and software development processes, applied to the leadership process. This is how the principles of Agile are applied to the leadership function. This shift enables better coaching and talent development, better execution of strategies, and a culture of Continuous Improvement, all in one motion.

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