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Telling Executive Stories

Reading: Telling Executive Stories

Delivery teams manage and deliver value supported by the tool user stories. These teams tell stories about who, what, why, and acceptability using standard form, “As a <persona>, I want <capability> so that <delivered value> occurs,” and behavior acceptance form, “Given < context>, when <action occurs>, then < consequence >.” These stories form the foundation of repeatable delivery and management of value.

While these forms support delivery team conversations well, they are inadequate to support the richer conversation needed by executives to manage investment and value. What forms the basis of these stories? How do we tell stories about delivering product value to our customers and delivering investment value to our organization?

Developing contextual story-telling focuses on the kinds of conversations the product managers, product owners, business owners, and executives have when they meet to operate and run the business. We listen to these stories and then use existing canvas templates to develop contextually relevant canvas designs. These canvases become the fabric used when beginning new stories, and continuing old stories regarding business strategy and tactics.

To develop the canvases, we need to listen to these conversations and stories and develop a sense for topics and content of the strategic and tactical conversations. These questions form the thinking needed to create a first draft tool that can be used to bookmark a conversation.

  • What is the focus of each conversation?
  • What are the conversational topics?
  • What is the airtime of each topic?
  • What is the passion level of each topic?
  • In what order are the topics discussed?

These conversations may cover the following topics:

Product Focus Areas

  • Vision
  • Problem Space
  • Solution Space
  • Metrics
  • Costs
  • Alignment
  • Value
Market Focus Areas

  • Revenue
  • Customers
  • Delivery Channels
  • Strengths
  • Vision
  • Value

We also discover that there are quite a few topics of conversations that don’t quite fit into the strategic bucket and sound more like high-level tactics. This turns out to be the work of the executive and product teams. Those topics of conversation may cover the following:

  • Naming
  • Goal
  • Metrics
  • Leader or Owner
  • Customers
  • Stakeholders
  • Overview
  • Big Picture
  • Alignment
  • Solution Details

The key is identifying the key conversations in meetings and formulating a canvas around those topics. A common mistake is to use an existing template and force the conversations to conform to that template. Although tempting, this mistake leads to disengagement and abandonment of the canvas and tools. The tools are there to support the way the team works, not to force conformity to industry luminary ideals. These canvas designs will evolve as the organization improves its prowess at portfolio management.

The following is an example of the conversations important to an executive strategy canvas we recently developed:

  • Vision: Why pursue the strategy?
  • Customers: Who wanted it achieved?
  • Problem Space: What problems were they facing?
  • Solution Space: What solutions would work?
  • Value to the Customer: What epic stories would the customers tell?
  • Metrics:  What dials would move in the near future?
  • Value to the Organization: How does the organization benefit?

These topics of conversation are arranged canvas style so that new conversations take place to create a new strategy or so that existing conversations can be continued to check in on existing conversations. You may notice that while the range of topics available, this group focused around the customer. This is very clear by the absence of cost and revenue as a significant part of their strategic conversation.

The executives also had conversations about investments they would make in the strategy. The topics of that conversation included the following areas:

  • Goal: What is the desired outcome?
  • Metrics: What are the measures of success?
  • Customers: Who wants this?
  • Big Picture: What is the big picture?
  • Solution Details: What are possible solutions?
  • Alignment: How does this align with the strategy canvas?

We also listened for how the executive team intended to use the tools to support their work. They decided to use the canvases in the following ways:

Strategic Canvas

  • 90 Day True North
  • Investment Decision Filter
  • Organizational Strategic Alignment
  • Organizational Transparent

Investment Canvas

  • Tactical deliverable investment designed to experiment with some part of the strategy
  • Flow in a work system
  • Regular discussions about discovery, validation, delivery, and evaluation

We have created a glimpse of a strategic and work alignment system focused on portfolio management. The system and artifacts was developed based on the context of the organization and the thought leadership in the industry. The key point to take away is that context matters when developing the artifacts executives use to manage their strategic and tactical portfolio work.

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