Strategic Agile Routine

When strategy becomes agile

Call To Agility — Apr 2023 by Pedro Mota Santos

A look into Celfocus' Strategic Agile Routines

When strategy becomes Agile

A look into Celfocus’ Strategic Agile Routines

It was a post-covid time. The war in Europe was around the corner. In the face of immense global challenges and an urgency to respond to ever-changing demands the market was throwing at Celfocus, a different approach to the strategic formulation was becoming increasingly needed.

Despite having achieved a praise-worthy maturity in its Agile adoption at the delivery level, Celfocus was yet to leverage Agile principles and ways of working in how to discover and prioritize its broad strategic goals and planning. With that gap in mind, the Board, the Senior Leadership Team, and the Agility Lab initiated a program named Strategic Agile Routines.

The team set clear guiding principles for the new strategic process:

  • Value - focus on what brings more value to our customers and our people,
  • Agile - an Agile mindset to decide what to change and evaluate impacts,
  • Open - bring the voice of our people, customers, and industry-experts to our strategic discussions.  

From day one, this has been a learning experience and a team effort. In a true Agile fashion, the process evolved with whatever was experimented – what worked well and not so well - and from all the lessons learned along the way. We want to share some of that journey with you.

One of the primary characteristics of SAR as a strategic governance model, is that it is intended to be lean and lightweight. The intention of lightweight governance is not to eliminate documentation, but rather to focus on the primary objectives of governance – focus on the goals, progress, outcomes measurement, and continuous learning. Through the appropriate delegation of decision rights and accountability, the teams are empowered to execute the vision that the organization aims at.

Think of the rules that a family with kids makes to keep things running smoothly and ensure the healthy physical and cognitive growth of the children. Just like those rules to share toys, take turns, and be kind to each other, companies and organizations also have rules to follow. Edge lightweight governance is flexible and adaptable. It means that the rules are not too strict and allow people to make decisions on their own. And as that parent who guides their children to make decisions for themselves as they grow up and allows for some mistakes, this type of governance allows people to have more freedom and creativity to solve problems and come up with new ideas. It goes without saying that some mistakes were made as the Strategic Agile Routines became a reality in Celfocus.

The Lean Value Tree - Strategy clearly visualized

With SAR, we envisioned and experimented a strategic governance in Celfocus that would be about steering value creation first. At the core of that value-centric model, is the Lean Value Tree. The Lean Value Tree (LVT) is a conceptual tool to facilitate, visualize and share, as well as drive a company's strategy and vision across all levels and teams of an organization.

A relevant influence to the work done was EDGE, a book co-authored by Jim Highsmith, one of the writers of the Agile Manifesto and a founding member of the Agile Alliance. In EDGE, governance is characterized by two key principles: value monitoring, rather than activity monitoring; and speed and flexibility, rather than heavy process and documentation.


Fig. - Lean Value Tree illustration from Jim Highsmith’s firm ThoughtWorks website

The LVT is built upon a Vision and with the nomenclature that we adopted in Celfocus it is comprised of Goals, Bets (Value Hypothesis in Edge), and Initiatives (Use Cases in Edge). At Celfocus, we introduced an innovation not just to the naming convention, but also to the methodology: instead of starting the process with a unique Vision, we formulated a series of strategic challenges that Celfocus was facing and placed Goals against each of those challenges.

In hindsight, the Lean Value Tree added the power of shared understanding and visualization to the strategy and gave leadership a clearer sense of accountability from Goals and Bets to the corresponding Initiatives. Routines focused on Backlog Prioritization, or the review of Bets and Initiatives progress were added and the emerging feedback was incorporated.

The SAR Governance Team – keeping the ball rolling

In this experiment, we gathered a team that oversaw the SAR process governance, who embodied the values and principles inherent to the Strategic Agility mindset. It was critical to bring to this team a diverse set of skills and presence from the different components of Celfocus’ organizational structure to ensure the analysis and decisions were not biased.

Flexible time for Design and Conception was given to each Bet and Initiative team, as well as the empowerment to make decisions necessary to the existence of autonomous Teams. Shorter feedback cycles were preferred to longer, so that as early as possible evaluate our assumptions and hypothesis probed in the field allowing a more value-based data decision making. 

The Agility Lab did not just facilitated the meetings, but also designed and rolled out Goal-to-Initiatives blueprints, as well as enabling templates and tools to boost team collaboration and active workflow management within the Goal-Bets-Initiatives cycle.

How to connect strategy to progress measuring? The OKR framework

Quickly in this strategic process, it became clear that we needed to be able to discern if the strategy was moving along and having any progress. The OKR framework emerged as the natural option to answer these questions. As a framework tying Strategic Objectives to Key results, OKRs are a critical thinking framework and ongoing discipline that seeks to make different levels of the organization work together and ensure joint efforts to make measurable contributions to drive the company forward.

Once the preliminary OKR’s were drafted for some of the SAR Bets and Initiatives, it became clear that we should rollout this model throughout our organization. Presently, to speed-up that rollout and keep the momentum, a cross-functional virtual team was put together, the “OKRs Bet Team” whose mandate was to start the first set of pilots on the adoption of OKRs across Celfocus.

What have we learned? 

Bets were perceived as some long shot and take too long and were too fuzzy. Lack of vision in the beginning, where SAR was like a sensemaking exercise, to discover how in a simple way visualize how we do what we do, with the hope that a common Vision will emerge, and how we create value.

Therefore, SAR process needs fine tuning, Goals, Bets, and Initiatives with clear Owners and with Facilitator, Teams Liftoff’s, fixed cadences schedule in calendars for periodic reviews.  Include and integrate SAR in the organization's governance routines.

A feeling of too many things happening at the same time. Several people contributing and participating to different bets and goals, and not many new people involved from the rest of the organization. Lacked a useful place to get the big picture vision of where we are! Mural was used as a light way to visualize work in progress, but people found it hard to use for this purpose.

Therefore, WIP limit policies in place and respected, Goal team must include the bet owners, bet team must include the initiative owners, promote even more cross-teams collaboration and alignment.

Although some metrics have been defined for some goals they were not monitored. Several bets and initiatives without clear measures of success. Therefore challenges in having a clear view of the progress and level of achievement, a sense of feelings of slow progress, and too much discussion without data backing them up.  Therefore OKRs setting as part of Liftoffs, and an integral part of the bets and initiative plannings and reviews. Align and connect organization and Bets, initiatives, Goals, OKR’s.

What behaviors have changed and what lies ahead

Looking back to the last 18 months of the Strategic Agile Routines experiment, it is clear to us that the leaders that participated acquired an increased Agile mindset, are more willing to accept that failing fast is also learning fast, as well as some of the Do's and Dont's in Celfocus strategic process. We have an executive team more aligned with Agile lightweight governance practices, we have an MVP of an OKRs framework in place serving as a recurring strategic Goals setting platform.

Overall, Celfocus is now more ready than before to scale its agility through organizational design leveraging an environment that is conducive to agile methodologies and practices. We have seen a crucial strategy clarification that allowed us to prepare for 2023 in a much more coherent way with the defined priorities and make clearer investment and resource allocation choices. We also took important steps in ensuring that the entire organization is aligned around this common set of goals and values. The recent reorg initiatives in the Value Creation and Capture and Client Engagement areas are great examples of such alignment. We can all be confident for the future of Celfocus’ strategic agility. Let us all keep envisioning that future.


The Strategic Agile Routines have been utterly pivotal in aligning Celfocus with what clients value most about us, to better leverage our individual and collective potential. A good strategy is nothing more than using our strengths to make the best use of market opportunities, and these routines enable us to keep that tune over time.

By bringing together some important concepts - such as Agile principles and the Lean Value Tree - and using an open minded approach, we were able to create a collective learning experience where all participants could express their views and work together to craft a better future for everyone.

This is a work that we must carry on and further develop, as there is still a lot for us to learn. The challenge now is to embed these routines into our operational activities, engage and empower more people and unleash more creativity and value.

Luís Paulo Salvado, CEO