Follow the North Star

Photo by John Fowler
Photo by John Fowler

We no longer rely on the large heavy tankers, which can carry a lot of cargo but can hardly change course if required. Projects should act like nimble speedboats: bring the cargo to its destination within a short time and, if necessary, adjust the course quickly and adaptively. The Admiralty should impose less structural regulations on the fleet – decentralized responsibility is the credo. But how do you make sure that the armada still travels in the desired direction and doesn’t get lost in all winds?

The introduction of Agile methodologies brings many advantages. The close cooperation between users and developers avoids misunderstandings. By decentralizing competences, the overhead gets reduced and employees enjoy more personal responsibility. The iterative approach leads to tangible results more quickly. As a result, the satisfaction of all participants increases at the operational level.

At the enterprise level, however, it can also end up in total chaos. Decentralization does not free you from overall responsibility for the big picture. The admiralty still has to give clear guidance about the long-term goal so that the dynamics are meaningfully directed and the unleashed power does not diffuse or even neutralize itself.

So far, this has been ensured by classic strategic planning: Medium-term corporate goals defined on a 3 to 5 years horizon and a tactical implementation plan for the next year to progress on the strategic roadmap. The focus was primarily on “strategic projects” – the flagships in the project fleet.

One of my managers once asked me what our strategy for the next 6 months is. I had to smile. There was confusion in the conceptual demarcation from the much shorter-term tactics.

Decentralization in an Agile organization makes top-down planning of a strategic roadmap difficult. Often, steering committees such as Project Portfolio Committees are also eliminated during this transformation. Similar to Change Request Committees, the main objective of these committees was to reduce changes by imposing process hurdles.

However, this gap must be filled to avoid chaos. In an Agile organization, I need even better control over the enterprise architecture and the project portfolio. Every Agile team works with a vision. This is the goal for which they are passionate and for which the product owner is accountable as helmsman.

But across all projects, there is also a need for an overarching vision towards which the company should develop – the North Star Vision. The individual helmsmen can then align themselves with this vision and ensure that his speedboat is on the right overall course.

The North Star vision defines what the company should be like in a few years. What is the purpose of the company, what is the business model and perhaps even to some extent: What is the operating model?

It is the target picture of how the company wants to be. If this is known, I can set off consistently with all available resources.

What about you?

Have you started an Agile transformation?

Do you have a North Star vision?

How do you make sure everyone is working towards the same direction?

Translation into English supported by DeepL and Grammarly

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