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Generative patterns: Right-to-Left Strategy Deployment

Right-to-Left Strategy Deployment is one of three key generative patterns in Agendashift, and is itself several patterns for the price of one. In particular, we bring together:

  1. Right-to-Left: Outcome-orientation – ends before means, outcomes before solutions, and the two MBMs, meaning before metric and measure before method (Meaning, Measure, Method) – combined with just-in-time (JIT) – not just pulling change-related work according to capacity but working backwards from the confirmation that the associated learning has happened, the organisation through aspects of its design sustaining the clear expectation that it will happen, and at multiple levels
  2. Strategy deployment as understood in Lean – often referred to by the Japanese term hoshin kanri – in which strategy is developed and refined collaboratively (with varying degrees of participation) over time and in response to the feedback generated through its implementation, solutions emerging from the people closest to the problem

Process-wise – process being only part of the story – you can view Lean Startup, OKR, and 4DX both as instances of this pattern and as valuable sources of inspiration for anyone wishing to implement it from first principles. When looked at the right way, Scrum is a potential starting point too (see the Notes & References section below).

Illustrating key components of the process, the image below uses the iconography of the Agendashift workshops. Each icon represents a tool or exercise common to both the transformation strategy and outside-in strategy workshop families:

RtL strategy image

A “right to left” (outcomes-first) and just-in-time approach (not committing too early, not leaving it too late, working in chunks neither wastefully small nor indigestibly large) is a great way to transform – or at least reinterpret – a one-shot change process into one of continuous learning. Analagously to the practice of reviewing a kanban board right to left, here’s a right-to-left review of the work managed within the above representation:

  • From our recently-completed experiments:

    • What did we just learn, and what did we learn about ourselves in the process?
    • How might we have obtained that learning faster, more cheaply, or more safely?
  • Of our active portfolio of experiments:

    • Which will we be bringing to a conclusion soon?
    • What issues (if any) are impeding our in-progress experiments? How did those arise?
    • As capacity permits, what’s next in the pipeline?
  • Of the ideas we wish to test next:

    • How do we size them for rapid learning, breaking them down as necessary?
    • How do we frame them for maximum learning?
  • Of all our available options:

    • Which will best advance the strategy?
    • Which will best challenge our most fundamental assumptions?
    • Which have the greatest potential to outperform, and under what conditions?
    • What alternative options and approaches have we considered?

Not forgetting:

  • Where do those options come from?
  • How do we measure success?

which via Mapping takes us to our other key generative pattern: Ideal, Obstacles, Outcomes (IdOO).

For the above questions to be asked systematically enough to be usefully generative over a sustained period – generating not just feedback but new options – other aspects of organisation design beyond process are also crucial. Strategy deployment is not just about merely delivering stuff and achieving the numbers; it must focus on determining that needs are being met in the manner to which the organisation aspires, increasing its self-awareness in the process. None of this happens reliably without appropriate meeting designs, cadences (rhythms) and other triggers for decision making, collaboration, participation, and leadership, several of which may have implications for organisation structure too.

These organisational aspects are introduced in relation to strategy deployment in the last chapter of Agendashift and covered in much greater depth in the last three chapters of Right to Left, after which book this pattern is named. Relevant models referenced here include Sociocracy, Servant Leadership, and Leader-Leader, the last of those David L. Marquet’s Servant Leadership-flavoured approach to Mission Command.

A right-to-left approach to strategy deployment means working backwards from deliberately-engineered moments of sense-making, meaning-making, and double-loop learning. Anticipating and amplifying them in a process of knowledge discovery, we seek to maximise their value to all concerned.

Chapter 5 of Right to Left describes the design of two review meetings that are highly relevant to this pattern:

  1. The outside-in service delivery review (OI-SDR)
  2. The outside-in strategy review (OI-SR)

The outside-in service delivery review (OI-SDR) provides a regular opportunity to ask the kinds of questions identified above, structured not just right-to-left but outside-in, ensuring i) that customer, organisation, and other external factors are given their proper weight, and ii) that a range of perspectives, voices, and metrics are juxtaposed in a sequence designed to bring misalignments to the surface. The short workshop Implementing your Outside-in Service Delivery Review (OI-SDR) walks prospective adopters of this meeting format through its design.

The outside-in strategy review (OI-SR) takes the same customer-and-external-environment-first perspective in combination with the IdOO pattern and is a great generator of options for the Right-Left (JIT) Strategy Deployment pattern. Both reviews are showcased in the Wholehearted:OKR workshop, which of all our workshops is the one that speaks to this pattern most completely.

Notes & References

References below are additional to those collected together on these pages:

Double Loop Learning

OKR and 4DX

  • Measure what matters: OKR – The Simple Idea that Drives 10x Growth, John Doerr (2018)
  • Radical Focus: Achieving Your Most Important Goals with Objectives and Key Results, Christina Wodtke (2016)

John Doerr is notable for bringing Objectives and Key Results (OKR) to Google from Intel, where it was developed by CEO Andy Grove.

The 4DX book doesn’t mention OKR by name but we find it a highly practical guide to operationalising it:

  • The 4 Disciplines of Execution (4DX): Getting strategy done, McChesney, Covey, & Huling (2015)


Here we describe Scrum not conventionally as a left-to-right, backlog-driven process, but right to left, and as an implementation of the pattern iterated self-organisation around goals, a close cousin of Right-to-Left Strategy Deployment:

  • A Scrum Team moves towards its objectives goal by goal.
  • For a timeboxed interval called the Sprint, the team collaborates around a shared goal. At the end of that period, the team reflects on how well the Sprint Goal was achieved, looking for ways to improve. It then prepares for the next Sprint, an opportunity to try new ways of working as it organises itself around a new goal.
  • The team’s best understanding of the work required to achieve the current Sprint Goal is represented by its Sprint Backlog (practically speaking a list of work items); options for future Sprints are maintained in a Product Backlog, an expression of unfolding strategy and the responsibility of the Product Owner.

Source Right to Left, chapter 3, Patterns and frameworks.

SAFe receives similar treatment in chapter 4.


Sociocracy’s four principles as explained in that same chapter:

  1. Informed consent: Decisions are made neither by imposition, nor by majority vote, nor consensus, but when all “articulated and reasoned objections” have been addressed. When all in a group are able to accept that a decision is “good enough for now and safe enough to try” after objections have been discussed and the proposal perhaps adjusted, the group’s decision is made. This approach invites emotional and subconscious aspects to have a voice in decision-making along with rational considerations.
  2. Organisation in circles: Those decisions are made in circles, a circle being an autonomous group of people with a shared mission and responsibility for a domain, an area of concern of the business. Circles may spawn new circles: lower-level circles to manage a more narrowly-defined subdomain, or higher-level policy circles. Importantly, people may belong to more than one circle.
  3. Double linking: Circles overlap, ideally by at least two people, one the operational leader of the lower-level circle as chosen by the higher-level circle, the other or others being delegated by the lower-level circle to represent them in the higher-level circle.
  4. Elections by consent: The principle of informed consent applies to the processes of people joining circles and to the spawning process; the net effect is that everyone is in their circles by consent.

Source: Right to Left, chapter 6, Upside down.

As given in the recommended reading, we reference John Buck and Sharon Villenes. John Buck also contributed the foreword to Right to Left. Sociocracy is sometimes known as Dynamic Governance or Circular Organisation, the latter due to Ackoff:

  • Re-Creating the Corporation: A Design of Organizations for the 21st Century, Russell L. Ackoff (1999)

This book was also an influence on the IdOO pattern through Ackoff’s concept of idealised design. We have found it useful to view existing organisation structures through that lens. Right to Left includes a case study from a UK government digital ‘examplar’ project. From there comes the figure below (shown also in the Rule of Three page):

Sociocracy image

Strategy deployment described in Sociocracy terms:

  • A challenge is formulated by a policy circle and shared for consideration by its connected circles, and so on out to operations circles
  • Responses come back not just in the form of plans for action, but in new ways of thinking about the challenge, potentially causing the challenge to be reframed.

The more that circles overlap and the faster the iterations of outward and inward collaboration, the faster the strategy evolves and the closer everyone’s work aligns to it. Adaptability at scale is neither top-down nor bottom-up; rather it is depends on the right choices being made at the right level at the right time, the opportunities for which are created continuously in the interplay within and between circles, based on how they operate, how they govern themselves, how they improve, and how they participate in those bigger conversations.

Source: Right to Left, chapter 6, Upside down.

Servant Leadership

Based on Robert K. Greenleaf’s seminal work, Servant Leadership summarised in three principles:

  1. The first responsibility of the Servant Leader is to help others to be successful – removing impediments, ensuring that basic needs are met
  2. For people to remain engaged, the Servant Leader must help others find autonomy and meaning in their work, together discovering, developing, and pursuing the organisation’s values, mission, and purpose in society
  3. For this process of transformation to be sustained indefinitely, Servant Leaders must help develop Servant Leadership in othersSource: Right to Left, chapter 6, Upside down.

Expressed like this, Servant Leadership can be seen as addressing timescales ranging from the immediate to the generational.

Outside-in reviews

The sequence suggested for the outside-in strategy review (OI-SR):

  1. Customer: What’s happening when we’re reaching the right customers, meeting their strategic needs?
  2. Organisation: When we’re meeting those strategic needs, what kind of organisation are we?
  3. Product: Through what products and services are we meeting those strategic needs?
  4. Platform: When we’re that kind of organisation, meeting those strategic needs, delivering those products and services, what are the defining/critical capabilities that make it all possible?
  5. Team(s): When we’re achieving all of the above, what kind(s) of team(s) are we?

Source: Right to Left, chapter 5, Outside in.

These questions are combined with the IdOO pattern in the OI-SR template.

Outside-in service delivery reviews have the same kind of top-level structure and a right-to-left (most complete first) feel at the next level down.

Copyright © 2015-2024 Agendashift Ltd (formerly Positive Incline Ltd). All rights reserved. The page Right-to-Left Strategy Deployment by Mike Burrows of Agendashift Ltd is licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 4.0 International License. To view a copy of this license, visit https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0/.

Source text maintained at github.com/asplake/agendashift-open/tree/master/framework/patterns/rtl-strategy-deployment.md (github.com)

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Agendashift™ is brought to you by Agendashift Ltd (formerly Positive Incline Ltd), UK-based specialists in leadership, engagement, strategy, and change. Founder Mike Burrows came to prominence in the Lean-Agile community as the originator of Kanban’s values model, out of which came his first book, Kanban from the Inside (2014). His more recent books Agendashift (2nd edition 2021) and Right to Left (2019, audiobook 2020) bring a resolutely needs-based and outcome-oriented perspective to change, transformation, and the Lean-Agile landscape as a whole, contributing meanwhile a number of popular tools, games, and other resources. He works as a consultant, facilitator, and trainer, and as a keynote speaker at events public and private around the world.

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