Strategy at a Human Scale

Focus on manageable iterations, not stakeholder proclivities.

Mark Ovaska

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Product Owners are often leading discussions around strategy, championing their development. Navigating these conversations can be tricky with many stakeholders and personalities. Harder still, Product Owners must reconcile various approaches — often in real-time — during strategy meetings.

I’ve noticed there are two predominant voices during strategy development; the Visionary and the Tactician. Watching for and recognizing these voices is crucial as both can be unproductive when shaping an actionable strategy.

Visionaries and executives talk about far-off long-term results. But long-term outlooks are often too speculative to be actionable. Discussing big results overlooks the work required to get there. It deprives the team of clear actionable goals and the time to discuss the approach. It makes it harder to have an honest conversation about the hard work ahead.

Likewise, Tacticians dive into small short-term changes which are a distraction to shaping a strategy. One, because minutia will distract from the bigger goal or win. Also, because short-term negative consequences are nearly always part of change or progress. Changing a UI will frustrate users. Winding down a client relationship will make someone feel bad. Etc. Focusing on immediate tasks or negative impact misses the bigger win and the work necessary to get there.

These two problematic approaches reveal the opportunity. If long-term is too speculative and short-term too detailed, then mid-term is the key. The goal is to find where smaller tasks collectively begin to coalesce to realize the long-term vision.

The ideal is human scale. A digestible timeline. I’ve found that the ideal planning scale to be about 6 months; Certainly no further out than 12 months.†

The amount of progress possible in 6 months is easy to grasp yet the impact of 6 months of work is easy to accommodate. It’s not scary nor trivial; Short enough to easily understand but long enough to deliver meaningful work.

In short, 6 months is a practical, defensible, human-scale development iteration. After all, the best way to realize a grand vision is to build progress cycle after cycle. Month after month, year after year.

Planning implies detailing actionable items that collectively produce a value greater than individual parts. Versus vision casting.

Mark Ovaska is a long-time business leader and turn-around artist with deep experience in technical SaaS products. Recovering journalist with contributions to the Wall Street Journal, The New York Times, TIME, and many others.

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Mark Ovaska

Serial entrepreneur and photojournalist. Husband, father, global citizen.