Galen Low is joined by Simon Severino—CEO & Founder of Strategy Sprints—to break down the processes behind an agile business and how you can make agile strategy a reality for your own.
- Simon’s background [1:57]
- At Strategy Sprints, they coach a couple dozen teams every day.
- Team: it’s consultancies, marketing agencies, PR agencies, recruiting agencies, UX/UI agencies, design agencies.
- They do a 90-day Strategy Sprint
- Month 1: they free up 10 to 14 hours of people’s time by better organizing, better processes
- Month 2: they improve the conversion rate, they improve sales
- Month 3: scaling via marketing
- At Strategy Sprints, they coach a couple dozen teams every day.
- The notion of Strategy Sprints: who is it for, and what problem does it solve? [3:12]
- Started from being frustrated with strategic planning because it’s a waste of time and it’s hard to change.
- Traditional strategic planning: you create a plan (a list of activities), then you have interdependencies. And so you have already wasted six hours just planning.
- Simon is frustrated with two things:
- Doesn’t want to stop and do strategy.
- Wants to do strategy while in action.
- Simon was frustrated with arbitrary timelines.
- When you want to change things quickly, and you have all these interdependencies, how can we simplify it?
- He wants something that he can change in half an hour.
- This is how the three habits were born: Daily Habit, Weekly Habit, and Monthly Habit.
- Monthly habit – the planning
- Weekly Habit – the measuring
- Daily Habit – time management
- Started from being frustrated with strategic planning because it’s a waste of time and it’s hard to change.
- Has Simon’s framework been inspired by agile project management? And if so, how? [9:55]
- They are standing on the shoulders of giants. There are decades of lean management, decades of design sprints on the product level, decades of rapid prototyping, scrum.
- Their question was: how can we use those fantastic processes to run a business? What’s agile for the CEO? What’s agile for the digital agency that doesn’t want to improve products or test products before they build them?
- They applied those agile things to strategy and applied them to sales and marketing.
- Simon quoted David Allen: “There are no problems. There are only projects.”
- In his world, a project is everything that is more than three tasks, three steps. If it’s just one task, it’s a next action. If it has three steps, it’s a project.
- For Simon, everything is a project in terms of – what’s the difference between business and project when you run a digital agency? You just decide, “I’m gonna do this or I’m not gonna do this.” If you’re gonna do it, then it either has a goal or no goal. If it has a goal, it has a timeline and a definition of done.
- There are just projects and programs when you run a business.
- They are standing on the shoulders of giants. There are decades of lean management, decades of design sprints on the product level, decades of rapid prototyping, scrum.
The goals don’t lift you, but the processes, they save you. You don’t raise to the level of your goals, you fall to the level of your current processes.Simon Severino
- The strategy sprint process walkthrough [18:04]
- A typical 90-day sprint is three months, three goals.
- One goal is usually around shortening the sales time. One goal is usually around commanding higher prices for the offer. One goal is getting more of the right people and less of the wrong people into the sales conversation. Another typical goal is to have more documented processes and having more time, just less stress.
- In the first month, that’s four sprints. So those four sprints will measure the progress every seven days. They have four times the chance to course correct and they have to solve four bottlenecks.
- The first bottleneck is always time. The team—one person from ops, one from marketing, one from sales and the owner— are in a time crunch. So in Week Zero, they have to free up 10 to 14 hours of their time each per week.
- The first thing that they do is the daily habit. Everybody writes down “this is how I spend my time today”. And then they review “what’s the one task that I will delegate tomorrow, either to a software or to a person”.
- Second question is, “if I would leave more freely and more intentionally tomorrow, what would I do?” And informed by this five minutes review day, write down their day, their daily flow of tomorrow.
- If everybody finds one task every couple days to delegate, now the whole system is starting to become documented. Because the first step of delegation is writing it down as a checklist, creating a short video, and then handing it over. Or directly giving it to a software, automating it.
- From week two, they have to identify what’s the current bottleneck. It’s a process of eight minutes, and basically it answers the question: “if we take on five times more clients next week, which is the first part in our business that breaks?”
- They have multiple loops of two, three days during the week and after seven days, there is measurement of all the activities. Which one did work, which didn’t? What do we learn? What’s the bottleneck for next week?
- A typical 90-day sprint is three months, three goals.
- The relationship between strategy sprints and projects within an organization [28:17]
- Good projects are end-to-end. There is no internal and external.
- Things Simon considers in the hiring process: “Can they decide? Can they budget? And do they have a process for escalation if needed?” He wants them to move quickly end-to-end, and not to have to ask anybody. That’s a project that has the highest probability of success and can move on quickly.
- Simon doesn’t want a separation between marketing, sales, and operations.
- Every Friday, his team looks at one sprint dashboard with those three numbers. If they don’t do that, now you have marketing that’s creating brochures and sales that doesn’t even talk to marketing because sales says, “I don’t even know what you guys are doing.”
- The biggest challenges agencies struggle with when trying to put agile strategy into practice [33:21]
- One problem is not getting data every seven days.
- The bottleneck in that week is obviously simplifying the data and tagging the data points in one place, which is usually the CRM.
- Having a 2 million budget and a big team of 11 people for two years is helpful. Even more helpful is to have end-to-end processes, weekly measurement and daily execution.
- One problem is not getting data every seven days.
- Can strategy sprints work for larger agencies and other kinds of digital enterprises? [36:44]
- Size is not a problem. Mindset is a problem.
- For example, Google works exactly like a Strategy Sprint. Size is not the problem. They work in sprints.
It’s not the size, it’s the mindset. If you decide to use real-time data to work in small cycles and to have quality control loops, then you can be agile independently of your size.Simon Severino
- What can business strategists learn from project management? And then the flip side: what can agile project managers learn from agile strategy? [39:33]
- Strategy Sprints recently worked with the military and found that it’s the most agile. It’s a team of teams. They break down everything in teams, and they have bottom ups, end-to-end processes. And it’s full of micro-processes.
- There are checklists for everything. There are processes for everything, and there is a culture of accountability and a culture of systems. And there is a culture of “you have to decide quickly, right now on the battlefield.”
- Simon found all the principles of Agile and of Strategy Sprints there.
Meet Our Guest
Simon Severino helps business owners in SaaS and Services run their company more effectively which results in sales that soar. He created the Strategy Sprints® Method that doubles revenue in 90 days by getting owners out of the weeds. Simon is the CEO and founder of Strategy Sprints which is a global team of Certified Strategy Sprints® Coaches that help clients gain market share and work in weekly sprints which results in fast execution. He is also a Forbes Business Council Member and a contributor to Entrepreneur Magazine.
Good projects are end-to-end. There is no internal and external.Simon Severino
Resources from this episode:
- Join DPM Membership
- Subscribe to the newsletter to get our latest articles and podcasts
- Connect with Simon on LinkedIn
- Check out Strategy Sprints
- Check out Simon’s book: Strategy Sprints: 12 Ways to Accelerate Growth for an Agile Business
Related articles and podcasts:
- About the podcast
- Agile Project Management: What You Need To Know For Success With Agile
- 3 Warning Signs Your Digital Transformation Is About To Stall & How To Course Correct
- 12 Important Agile Principles, Explained With Simple Examples
Read the Transcript:
We’re trying out transcribing our podcasts using a software program. Please forgive any typos as the bot isn’t correct 100% of the time.
Galen Low: Here you are again in another strategic planning meeting. The slides on the screen are explaining how the goal set at the start of last quarter are no longer the focus. That means the next 10 slides of tracked metrics aren't relevant, either. Instead, we need to start from scratch and set new goals with different KPIs for the next 12 weeks.
And probably you'll be in the exact same meeting 12 weeks from now.
For all their talk of being nimble and running agile, why do digital organizations struggle so much to adopt an agile approach to business strategy?
If your organization feels like a wagon on a Formula 1 track, keep listening. We're gonna be breaking down the processes behind an agile business — and how you can make agile strategy a reality for yours.
Hey folks, thanks for tuning in. My name is Galen Low with The Digital Project Manager. We are a community of digital professionals on a mission to help each other get skilled, get confident, and get connected so that we can amplify the value of project management in a digital world. If you want to hear more about that, head on over to thedigitalprojectmanager.com.
All right. Today we are diving into the world of business strategy and what business leaders can learn from agile principles.
With me today is business strategy coach, author, and creator of the Strategy Sprint framework, Simon Severino.
Simon, thanks for hanging out with me today!
Simon Severino: Galen, thanks for having me, and hello everybody!
Galen Low: Thank you for joining. It's a real honor, but also for our listeners, it's like night time for Simon in Austria. So thank you again, and I know you've been you've been on tour spreading the word about agile strategy. And I'm thankful that you're able to join us today and shed some light.
So I thought, you can play the business strategy role. I will lens it all through project management. But also, I know I've got a lot of folks listening who are agency owners, and I think this will be really helpful for owners, operators, and project managers alike.
But first, maybe I'll take a running start at things. Would you be able to give our listeners just maybe a little bit of background about yourself and how your business Strategy Sprints, how does it help digital agencies and other organizations?
Simon Severino: Yes, we coach every day a couple dozens teams. And when we say team, it's consultancies, marketing agencies, PR agencies, recruiting agencies, UX/UI agencies, design agencies. And the team is owner, one person from operations, one from marketing, one from sales.
And what we do in 90 days is — month one, we free up 10 to 14 hours of their time by better organizing, better processes. Month two, we improve the conversion rate, so we improve sales. And month three, now that we have a working machine, cause there is working operations and working sales. Now month three is scaling it via marketing.
That's a 90-day strategy sprint.
Galen Low: Wow. I love that the framework of freeing up time. Because I think a lot of folks, when they look at, well, strategy in general, right? Any kind of strategic planning it seems like it's gonna take more time, right? You've got your job, and then you've got the sort of strategic planning that sits on top of that. But I love that model.
We're gonna dig into that a little bit as well. But I'm just wondering, just this whole notion of Strategy Sprints, right? This like sort of 90-day model, three months, working really nimbly, like how did you land on that?
Simon Severino: Yeah, from being frustrated with strategic planning because it's a waste of time.
And it's hard to change. And now as you said, strategic planning takes time, right? If you think of traditional strategic planning, I don't know, porters five forces, and then you think of these five things, you create a plan. A plan in that world is a list of activities. Then you have interdependencies. And so you have wasted already six hours just planning.
Now, let's say you keep it at eight hours and then you go actually working and implementing that thing. Now seven days later, the world changes outside. You have to go back and put another six hours in interchanging all the interdependencies. If you change one interdependency, you have to change the parent task.
So I was frustrated with two things. First, I don't wanna stop and do strategy. I want to do strategy while I'm in action. So give me real time strategy. I'm Ironman, give me JARVIS.
Galen Low: I love that.
Simon Severino: That's what the entrepreneur needs.
Galen Low: Honestly, even just what you said before, right? I don't wanna stop and do strategy.
That's exactly what it feels like, right? Like it doesn't occur to us all the time because that's just how we've been doing it. But yeah, you literally need to pause operations in some ways, either like actually, or even just a mindset psychologically.
You have to like pause and then do your strategic planning and then hope it's really good. Because as you say, the world keeps turning and how do you make sure that it's going to be full of all the good decisions that are still gonna be relevant next time you go into strategic planning.
Simon Severino: Yes. And the old world was like that. You fly for six hours to the workshop, then you are eight hours in the Marriott Hotel. You do eight hours of planning, then you fly six hours back home. And that was a broken world already. But fortunately, all the things that happened in the last three years have stripped that away.
So now, how is life now really? Life is really, you wake up in the morning. Personally, I do my workout first, but then I play with my kids. I make them ready for school. And then, you have one hour hopefully of deep work. You don't have eight hours in any hotel doing one topic, right? So you do half an hour of some planning, then you have to actually ship stuff.
Then you realize that it's wrong. You have to make some calls. Now you need a coach. And maybe you just wanna tag them and say, Hey look, this is my draft. Give me work critic before I send this email. And you want it now. Not in three weeks when we meet in the hotel workshop. So now you need your JARVIS.
Should I do this or that? And you need it now. And it's quick. It's SMS, right? Should I do this or that? Oh, show me both. Okay. No. Do A. Okay, I'm doing A. See you later. And then for the next three hours, I don't need anything from a coach, but I need a real time progress tracking. Like when you have a sports coach, if somebody trains you on, let's say, running a faster marathon, they will check your training plan and they will give you an immediate, your garment will go and it'll say, You are running too fast.
Because it's real time feedback and that's important and you don't need to talk for 60 minutes about that. Okay, I get it. I should run slower. I don't want, but I get it. I should. Okay. Let me run slower.
Galen Low: I really like that in terms of like how on tap that is. Honestly coming into this conversation, I wasn't picturing that at all.
I was picturing okay, it's a 90-day engagement. They probably meet a couple times a week and with these sessions, they might be virtual, but it's still like this sort of planning mode. Versus what you just explained to me is just yeah, speed dial. Hey coach, is this gonna be right?
I found that isn't moving the needle the way we thought it would if we change this. What would that look like? And just getting that advice in real time. That's super cool.
Simon Severino: So out of frustration, I was frustrated with this arbitrary timelines, eight hours in three weeks. And also when you wanna change stuff quickly, and you have all these interdependencies. I was like, how can we simplify it? I want something that I can change in half an hour, whatever, even if it's, the whole strategy of General Motors in three countries. How can I put it on one spreadsheet so that if we change stuff, we can change stuff in half an hour. Because then I need to get, 20 people to execute it.
So I don't wanna spend time on that spreadsheet. I wanna spend time communicating to them and executing. So how can we make it simple? And this is how the three habits were born. Daily Habit, Weekly Habit, Monthly Habit. In Monthly habit is the planning. Weekly Habit is the measuring and Daily Habit is time management.
And these three things, they are now so simple and so quick. You never put in more than half an hour into them, but you have everything that you need. And now, you have orientation, you know the direction, and you know the speed that's needed. And both together is velocity. Velocity is speed, including direction.
So with that, you have the most important things, and the rest is execution and quality control loops. Loops that say, yes, we're moving in the right direction. Yes, we're moving in the right direction of this five activities. Those three worked, those two didn't work. So let's do a quick after action review.
Why? What do we learn? What's next? These loops continuously, small loops and frequently, and now if we can change it in half an hour, now we are agile. Because if you have kids, you know the difference between Duplo and Lego. You have a cowboy in Duplo, it's just a cowboy. That's it. You can do nothing with that cowboy.
But if you have Lego and it's a cowboy, you can quickly build an alligator out of the cowboy. The alligator, you can recombine to a house. And the house you can recombine to an airplane because it's small parts. And so that's the magic of small parts. And so when you do planning in small steps, meetings in short, crisp sessions, tasks, break them down into the next action, just the next action.
No interdependencies. Now you need only the long-term vision, which is usually three years vision in our world. And the next step. And then there is the seven days dashboard. 90 days, three goals, three numbers measured every seven days. And right now what's the next action? This is how simple I could make it, and I think it's very simple.
Galen Low: Oh, I love that. And I'm gonna ask you to walk us through an example in a little bit. But as a project manager, I have to ask — has your framework been inspired by agile project management? And if so, how?
Simon Severino: Absolutely. So we are standing on the shoulders of giants. There are decades of lean management, there are decades of design sprints on the product level.
There are decades of prototyping, rapid prototyping, scrum, all these things work really well on the product level. So our question was, how can we use those fantastic processes to run a business? So what's agile for the CEO? What's agile for the digital agency that doesn't want to improve products or test products before they build them?
But actually decide on are we moving in the right direction, at the right pace and what's the next thing to do? Which is running a business. So we applied those agile things to strategy and we applied them to sales and marketing.
Galen Low: I really like that notion because especially in the project management world, there's this very clear distinction between operating a business versus projects.
And then on the project side we're talking about, agile delivery. So some of the same challenges that we run into, are we still building the right thing? Four sprints down the road, and if we're not, how can we pivot? But I love this sort of transposition into, well actually you can operate a business that way as well.
You had said something in the green room before we started recording, which is like the notion that actually, everything is a project.
Simon Severino: Life is a project. I had David Allen from GTD on my YouTube channel and he said, "Simon, there are no problems. There are only projects."
Galen Low: I love that.
Simon Severino: In his world, a project is everything that is more than three tasks, three steps. So if it's just one task, it's a next action. If it has three steps, it's a project. So even bringing out the trash is a project for him because you have to pick it up, you have to open the door, you have to actually dump it and then come back. It's four steps. So for him that's a project. That's how his definition is.
For me, it's a bit loser. I think everything is a project in terms of, what's the difference between business and project when you run a digital agency? You just decide, okay, I'm gonna do this or I'm not gonna do this. If you're gonna do it, then it either has a goal or no goal. If it has a goal, it has a timeline and a definition of done.
So it's a project. If it doesn't have a goal and the timeline, that means it has a standard. It's a minimum standard that you have to keep, then it's a maintenance program. So there are just projects and program when you run a business. For example, hiring is not a project. It's a program. You have to continuously hire and you need your checklists ready and sharp.
But then there is this single project, which is, oh my God, we just lost somebody from the sales team. Let's hire a new salesperson. That's a project. When do we need them? Tomorrow. Okay. There's a deadline.
Galen Low: Right. Oh, I really love that model. It makes sense of sense. Like even operationally it looks cyclical, but actually there's the subset within that are little projects.
Simon Severino: Last week I had a, an experience. It's Friday, I get an email from Canada. Somebody from my sales team just leaves us. I was destroyed, cause we are a small sales team and the small marketing team is just five people and five people. So one fifth of my team is gone. That's a huge loss. And of course I was sad.
So I say, okay, I go running. I just quickly Slack to the team. Hey, we lost one person. We'll debrief later. I go running. I come back after three hours cause I'm training for a marathon. So I was running a lot. And then I come back and say, okay, let's debrief. Let's see what do we do with Canada now.
And then my colleague Michelle says, Simon, I have three new people. You have them scheduled for your final interview in three hours, five hours and eight hours. They are in your calendar. And I go, "How did you find three people in three hours?" And she goes, "Simon, I used the hiring process." And I go, "We have a hiring process?"
Cause typically, the CEO always, you are good at creating stuff and also at forgetting stuff. That's why we have teams. And so she says, yes, it's chapter 12 and chapter 13 of your book. Of course we have it in Notion. Of course I went through the checklist and did it. It's just LinkedIn. I posted it on LinkedIn.
I used the templates. I screened out 14. They did a video and the top three are on your calendar. They are in two hours. This is the briefing about them. So incredible, right? And that was Friday. So we onboarded them on Friday. Now we are talking, it's Thursday of the week after, two of them have already closed deals.
So I was, again, flabbergasted. How can you be productive in the first week? And they go, some of your checklist work. So there is a sales script, there is a checklist how you use the dialer. There is exactly a script. What do you say? And objection handling for everything. So the sales script, the cold call sales script is a proper template.
And again, I'm surprised how good processes work when stuff gets tough. The goals don't lift you, but the processes, they save you. You fall to the level of your processes. You don't raise to the level of your goals, you fall to the level of your current processes.
Galen Low: Interesting. What I really love about that is just, even the role that you play is it's surprising to you. And I think a lot of agile in terms of like nimbleness for a business or nimbleness for a project, you need that proof to know that it's possible.
Because I think you come in, not you specifically, but someone might come in and be like, yeah, but business doesn't move that fast. There's no way I'd be able to have another salesperson, like two or three really good candidates in like a handful of hours, and then have them delivering next week.
Like that's not possible. And sometimes that's what the limitation is that we don't think it's possible. We're skeptical of it, and therefore we never try and do it. And then to your other point, when we try and do it, we try and raise ourselves to those goals. And it's very ambitious and sometimes unsuccessful versus in a state of chaos or in a state of need, when you do need to pivot, you do need to act quickly.
You actually fall back down. To your point, to those processes, the things that you've set up, the foundations that you've put in place, and also the culture of nimbleness, right? That this can be done. Michelle didn't come back to you and say, all right, Simon, don't worry. We'll get someone, by August. It'll be fine.
Four or five months down the road. It was already that belief that, yeah, we can do this quickly.
Simon Severino: If you ask me what's a realistic timeframe to hire a new salesperson, I would say two months. And in that moment I was emotional, cause I was just sad that she left us, right? So I was emotional.
And when you're emotional, and it's a task that takes two months, it seems unrealistic. But what you forget is the collective intelligence of written down processes. Because there is the wisdom of, 10 times, 20 times, a hundred times doing something. And then that checklist has a lot of intelligence baked in there that you forget because the brain is not made for storing information.
It's made for creating new connections between new elements. That's creativity. That's what the brain is built for. And creative people, they just forget what they have already built. But the checklist remembers, and so there is wisdom in there and it will help you in tough times. That's why I'm all about systems and processes meanwhile, because they really support you when you need it.
Galen Low: I love that. Yeah. Even your own framework supported you when you had almost, we were at the brink of forgetting that it was going to save you, actually.
Simon Severino: Yes. And it's chapter 12 and chapter 2 theme of the book Strategy Sprints. So I should know actually. But yeah, I move on to the next problem to solve, right, to the next big project. And I forget that two years ago we already had a checklist that was working.
Galen Low: There you go. There's the proof. I was wondering if you might be able to step us through the framework a little bit. I know I'm keen because I'm interested to see how it works and its relationship with projects in general.
But as you mentioned earlier, right, this is a 12 sprint process over 90 days. They are one week sprints, and we were talking earlier about this focus on just a handful of goals. Like not too many goals. This is not an over ambitious thing. These are slices of strategy baked into your day-to-day more than it is, big ambitious, like sort of planning cycle that only happens a couple times a year.
But I'm just wondering, could you walk us through the process and like maybe with some examples of, what a business might need to do, how they can choose some of those goals and just like how that all works together?
Simon Severino: A typical 90 days sprint is three months, three goals. One goal is usually around shortening the sales time. One goal is usually around commanding higher prices for the offer. One goal is getting more of the right people and less of the wrong people into the sales conversation. Another typical goal is to have more documented processes. And having more time, just less stress.
Cause sometimes they're working like 50 hours, 60 hours, and they want to get to 40 hours. So how can we delegate automated systemized processes? Those are typical goals. And in the first month, that's four sprints. So those four sprints will measure every seven days the progress. In one marketing number one says number one ops number.
So we have four times the chance to course correct and we have to solve four bottlenecks. The first bottleneck is always time. The team, one person from ops, one from marketing, one from sales and the owner, they are in a time crunch. So in week zero we have to free up 10 to 14 hours of their time each per week.
Otherwise, we will not have the time to solve bottlenecks with them. So first thing that we do is the daily habit. Everybody writes down, this is how I spend my time today. And then they review what's the one task that I will delegate tomorrow, either to a software or to a person. Second question is, if I would leave more freely and more intentionally tomorrow, what will I do? And informed by this five minutes review day, write down their day, their daily flow of tomorrow.
That's what I'm gonna do tomorrow. And so you do this five minutes review every evening, you find the next thing to delegate. And if everybody finds one task every couple days to delegate, now the whole system is starting to becoming documented. Because the first step of delegation is writing it down as a checklist, creating a short video, and then handing it over. Or directly giving it to a software, automating it.
And we use, of course, every software and also AI cause that's quick and efficient and reliable and cheap. So we use that. That creates documentation and now delegation. From week two, we have to now identify what's the current bottleneck. So it's a process of eight minutes, and basically it answers the question, if we take on five times more clients next week, which is the first part in our business that breaks?
That is the bottleneck. We focus the team on that bottleneck and say, okay, you have to solve this. And this is now the template from the 274 templates in the Sprint University. The sprint coach pulls the one that's needed to solve this bottleneck. And now the team runs with it, puts in half an hour, uses the module.
The module is a five minutes video. And then a Google Doc or sheet, a template that helps them save time. They put in half an hour, they tag their coach, remember JARVIS and Ironman, so they tag quickly on their phone, Hey coach, this is my first draft. Give me work critic, cause then I send it out to the client.
And so that's one loop. And then they implement it, send it. And so we have multiple loops of two, three days during the week and after seven days, there is measurement of all the activities, which one did work, which didn't. What do we learn? What's the bottleneck for next week? And then again, the sprint coach pulls the right template to solve that bottleneck, and that happens 12 times.
Galen Low: I love that. And so in other words, I mean, we counted week zero as sort of freeing up time, right? Because as we were discussing earlier yeah, you need space to make this happen. And then you're starting at that sort of first bottleneck in the process. Your scale, like your scale limiter, the thing that like wouldn't allow you to scale towards your goal and just focusing on removing that and then moving on from there.
Iterating and iterating in until such time as, yeah, you're like, okay, well absolutely. We can hit the sales goal now, because I see this app with the businesses all the time where they're like, oh, let's just invest heavily in sales, direct sales. Let's just get as many leads and close as many deals as we can.
And then they hit that bottleneck and they're like, oh, the strategy didn't work. It's not that the strategy didn't work, it's that they didn't look at what that next stage is of, okay, well where's it going to fail next? And have the courage to look at that and go, yeah, this is not a isolated thing. This is an integrated thing.
Yes, it impacts sales and marketing, but it also impacts ops. It impacts the leadership team. It impacts everybody on the ground and making that plan and sort of iterating through that. Right?
Simon Severino: Yes. Let's say you just throw a ton of money into buying leads. And now you think you have solved the lead gen problem.
You are getting now 25 discovery calls per week in, your calendar is full. Now the next bottleneck is the conversion rate. Most teams have a low conversion rate because they don't know the 11 elements of closing the deal. So there are 11 elements, and if you just slightly skip one of those elements, the next step will be that you are ghosted.
So they told you yeah, I start the project with you, but then three days before start they ghost you. And you go, ah, how is that possible? I had an oral, yes. He said, we're doing this. I talked to everybody in his team. He said, yes. And if you go back those 11 elements and we get the sales recordings of the people so we can find exactly which one of those elements they skipped.
And if you skip it, then you don't have the needed information and openness in the next step. And that's why they will give you some information, but not all the information that you need. And so in the end, that's ghosting. That's the 11 steps of the sales process. That's usually the next bottleneck. Then you solve this one, and now ops becomes the bottleneck.
Because, okay, you sold it. I cannot deliver.
Galen Low: Fair. Yep.
Simon Severino: And so ops is now the bottleneck. You have to go and, okay, how does the client onboarding system look like? And they go we don't have a client onboarding system. Every single client is customized, is handmade. Oh, wonderful. Okay. That's a strong bottleneck.
So let's write it down. What do you do usually in day one, day two, day three, day four? And if you ask them, you can actually record it, their answer, give it to ChatGPT with a prompt to transcribe it and create a step-by-step process.
Galen Low: You know what I love about all of this? I'm glad you mentioned ChatGPT as well, because I was thinking about, okay, yeah, like some of the things that we started talking about, like you opened with things like velocity, right?
And some of the influences from things like Scrum. And I'm thinking, okay, well yeah, scrum, it's a pretty simple framework, but it is a framework because to your point, it empowers people to be creative instead of just remembering stuff. And then we're talking through these like processes and you're like, whoa, there's, 274 different templates you can pick from.
There's these 11 steps. And actually really it occurs to me that it's like the deeper level of the framework to be like, actually, yeah, let's free you up even more so that you can fall back on these processes, these proven things. You're not having to create them from scratch and you can focus on the thing that only you can do.
The thing that you couldn't delegate, the thing that you decided was amongst your top three things to solve in this program or in the sprint, and just focusing solely on that. So I know that there's some folks listening who are probably yeah, I mean, listen, my checklist is gonna be different because I'm a unique snowflake. And I'm sure you get that all the time with your clients as well.
But the reality is, there are things that are proven that you don't need to be creative about and just accept that. And then go on your merry way so that you can zero in on that thing that will make a difference, rather than like reinventing the sales cycle. Which frankly every other, digital agency that competes with you, probably they've got mostly the same steps, right?
It's choose where to be unique and innovative.
Simon Severino: Yes, the content is unique, but the process is the same. Think of yoga. 6,000 years that people do yoga, like it's asanas and just moving the body, the five parts of our body in a specific way. Now you are totally different from me, but we can both do the primary series of Ashtanga Yoga and it works for you and it works for me.
Even if we are unique, but it works. Yeah. It's a process. We have five parts of our body. We move them in the right order, we feel better.
Galen Low: I love that example. Yeah. Because you can still be unique, but a business operates a certain way.
Simon Severino: Yes. And the next step is, so sometimes agency owners tell me, yeah, but Simon, I cannot fire myself from operations because we always say you have to be two levels above delivery.
And they go no, but it's me. I am the attorney, I am the consultant, I am the advisor. They come for me. It's my personal brand. And I say, okay, do you have a yoga teacher? They go, yes. Let's say you move series. If you move to London, can you continue doing yoga? Yeah, I have to find another teacher. Would it work with this other teacher?
Yeah, I guess. Why? Because he has the same process. He has also the same asanas in the same order. I say, okay, so was it the teacher that was impactful or the process? Okay, it's the process.
Galen Low: I like that. That's super interesting.
Simon Severino: So you can change any person out of a system, but if the system works, if the process works, people can come in and out. You can have your yoga teacher in Los Angeles and then you move to London. You have a new yoga teacher, but it's the same process.
Galen Low: No, I like that. Let me bring it down a level, because you mentioned something within that. That was being two levels above operations. And then we're talking about these Strategy Sprints, right?
This framework of Strategy Sprints. The people in the room are the, like the leaders of ops, leaders of marketing, leaders of sales, like the owners, like very senior resources. And the old model, strategic planning would be those groups, but then they would spin off these projects, right? Which would then go to, a project manager to execute with a team.
Maybe that takes several months. But what does that look like in terms of how you implement this model? Is it that suddenly these leaders are incrementally doing the internal projects? In other words, it's almost negating the need for internal projects. Or could it be more of a blend where actually project management is the skill to have for anybody who is executing these strategy sprints, rather than having it you know, necessarily go to a project manager?
Or should project managers be involved in the process?
Simon Severino: Good projects are end-to-end. There is no internal and external. There's end to end. And who is the each project for in the end is to make us win. And so who is us is we are here to serve our clients and we win when we make them successful. So if you think it ends to end, now there is different parts of the value chain and each part needs to be managed.
But what is internal, what is external? We are here to serve them. So we are always external, whatever we do. Even if I'm hiring, which you might say is an internal process. I'm hiring in order that we can make our client successful. So I'm always having the client in mind. The definition of done is always our client is successful.
Even in my hiring process. When do I know that I can finish the hiring project? Well, when that person is selling. So I think even the onboarding part and the delivery part as part of still that project of hiring. So I always try to think them end-to-end. I look at blockages in between and try to remove blockages.
Can they decide? Can they budget? And do they have a process for escalation if needed? But I want them actually to move quickly end to end, and not to have to ask anybody. That's a project that has the highest probability of success and can move on quickly. The next thing is, I don't want a separation between marketing, sales, and operations.
I see it is happening, and that's why every Friday the team looks at one dashboard, one sprint dashboard with those three numbers. If you don't do that, now you have marketing that's creating brochures and sales that doesn't even talk to marketing because sales says, I don't even know what you guys are doing.
I don't even need you guys. I don't need brochures. Whatever you are doing, I don't care. I need to sell stuff here. And marketing goes, yeah, but our brochures bring you people. Your brochure doesn't bring anybody. What I need is something else. Oh, what do you need? And so if you created conversation, now they both can perform better.
Sales then sells and never talks to operations cause they think they slow them down. So what happens is that sales then sells something an operation can deliver. So they need to have a conversation. And so in the old world, I would have them on one whiteboard creating their goals together. And the workshop would end when they're committed to the same goals.
In the digital world, we have weekly sprint dashboards where we see if the activities really build upon each other. And we have to realign constantly every week and make sure that marketing understands what the next step is that sales has to do, that sales understands that the next sell will be done by operations because if the delivery is low quality, you can never upsell, cross-sell, or retain.
So the second sales is done by operations actually. First one by sales, the second one by operations. So those are the silos that we look at and try to eliminate. So it's actually end to end and it's fully aligned.
Galen Low: What I love about this overall is that, cuz you know, I'm making the assumption that in these engagements you're working with, the very senior people for these departments, but they actually become the project team.
The same thing that we might be doing on a smaller scale project. We're like a marketing campaign. Yeah, we need to all stay patched together and have shared goals. We're actually leveling that skill up to, the top brass of an organization so that they can be thinking that way in terms of nimbleness, in terms of alignment, in terms of just the overall speed to give strategy legs.
And not that it's a slow process, and I imagine that trickles down as well in terms of, yeah, okay, we need to solve a bottleneck. We need to solve it this week. How? Okay, well, let's make it happen. And it's spitting off these other sort of micro projects beneath it to achieve some of the goals for that sprint.
I mean, it sounds inspiring, but I imagine it comes with some challenges. So I thought what I'd ask is, yes, I know a lot of folks want to be nimble. They want to do agile strategy, but I imagine not every organization is set up to do it. What are some of the biggest challenges that you see for folks who are struggling with this, who are engaging your services, using your framework, but aren't really quite able to make it work, and how do you help them get past that?
Simon Severino: Oh, hundreds of topics pop up. That's why we have those 274 modules to solve them. So one problem is, but Simon, I'm not getting my data every seven days. My CRM gives me this data every quarter. Then the sprint coach asks them, how often do you take decisions? Every quarter? Oh no, every day you have to decide something.
Okay. And what do you base this decision upon? Which data? Gut feeling. How precise is your gut feeling? Random. Do you want to keep it running a corporation with randomness? And no. Okay. Do you want to see how you change this? Yeah. Okay. This is what you do in your CRM. Every day it gets tagged.
These people were on your website and they're ready to buy. This gets tagged. Somebody talked to them. Then the next step gets tagged. So the bottleneck in that week is obviously simplifying the data and tagging the data points in one place, which is usually the CRM. Oh, but we don't have a CRM. Okay. Those are the three that we recommend.
Pick one of those, takes half an hour to install a CRM. So that's how we move from week to week, and in each week we have to solve something. Oh but yeah, but we don't take the decision in this way because we have to wait for that committee. Okay, how helpful is to be organized in committees? Oh, actually would be better to have that decision earlier.
Okay, can we make the committee meeting shorter and more often? Oh, well actually that could work. So, okay. Let's do from monthly to biweekly and half the time. So every week you have to solve one problem.
Galen Low: What I love about all of this is that, and I know it, this is exactly the way you're approaching it. But for folks listening like, yeah, this is digital transformation, but step by step, right? You're solving problem by problem to achieve a focused set of goals, and it's creating the underpinnings to be as nimble as a business wants to be. Because you know that point where you started from, right? It's ah, we only report quarterly.
I don't have real time data. We have committees, right? Okay, but why, and what would be the first step to change that, to remove that limitation? And I've had enough exposure to some of the consultancies to know that, yeah, digital transformation is a, multimillion dollar engagement.
We have to change everything and it's gonna be this big house cleaning, wholesale transformation. Versus this approach, which is, yeah, it's a framework to constantly transform to be doing continuous digital transformation to help your business move faster and achieve its goals faster. Which I mean, frankly, I'm much more in love with, right?
It's every year we need to do a big digital transformation initiative to keep up, or maybe we can just iterate through. Figure out what our next steps are to be transforming all the time. I think it's really inspiring.
Simon Severino: Real time. I think we live in the real time now. So sure, having 2 million a budget and a big team of 11 people for two years. Sure. It's helpful. Even more helpful is to have end-to-end processes, weekly measurement and daily execution.
Galen Low: I'm chuckling cuz of the simplicity of it. I guess maybe just to address the elephant in the room, do you feel like the framework just isn't a good fit for some organizations? In my head, I'm thinking of the folks who are like, Yes, we have committees.
No, we can't change that. Yes, our procurement cycle to get a CRM is always gonna take six months. It's never gonna be different. Like at a certain scale, does this sort of top out? And is scale even the right word, or is bureaucracy the right word?
Simon Severino: Size is not a problem. Mindset is a problem. So for example, Google works exactly like a Strategy Sprint.
The whole company works like that. So size is not the problem. They work in sprints. If you think of the Federal Reserve, which is just a couple hundred people, they have a data leg of six months. So their job, their single project is to get inflation under control, and they have a data leg of six months and it's ridiculous.
Whatever they're doing, they're either overshooting or undershooting, and it's funny to watch if it wasn't that heavy for the planet, it would be comedy, right? To look at those PhDs and whatever decision they take, we raise interest rates. We don't raise them. Whatever they do, they never get the soft landing because you would need realtime data to do that, and they decide to have a leg of six months.
So it's not the size, it's the mindset. If you decide to use realtime data to work in small cycles and to have quality control loops, then you can be agile independently of your size. Look at Tesla. Tesla's a huge company and they're super agile. When the Ukraine had no wifi, you remember Elon's tweet, I'm on it.
20 hours later, the Ukraine had wifi. So it's not the size, it's the mindset. Do you want to live in a real time world or do you want to live in the last century?
Galen Low: I love that. Yeah. That is the core of Agile, not being at the mercy of lag and therefore putting all your goals at risk because you're not working in real time.
Simon Severino: And you know the funny thing, the Federal Reserve could just use a website called Truflation. Which has the real time data for each country.
Galen Low: Huh. So it's not even the availability of data. I see what you're saying. Yeah. It's the mindset, it's the process. Man, that's interesting. Listen, the one thing I'm thinking about in my head is okay, yeah, we kinda use the agile principles.
This notion of being nimble. Some of the values that comes along with it. We're taking a little bit from product management, but also project management in terms of how those things are done, and we're learning from that and then sort of using that to drive this mindset so that it's more about business strategy, not just the sort of implementation execution side of things.
But I wondered if you're also finding the reverse, like now that you are helping organizations, undergo continuous digital transformation in an agile way, are you finding that other branches of, project management, product management operations, are they learning from that? Is this sort of feedback loop where it's like, Hey, let's borrow a bit from the agile mindset, let's implement it here.
And then also let's teach back some of the lessons we learned so that we can change what other areas of the business look like.
Simon Severino: Totally. We have recently worked with the military and turns out the military is the most agile. It's a team of teams. They break down everything in teams, and they have bottom ups, end-to-end processes.
It's not top down, it's bottom up, and it's full of microprocesses. There are checklists for everything. There are processes for everything, and there is this culture of accountability and culture of systems. And there is a culture of you have to decide quickly, right now in the battlefield. You don't go back outside the battlefield, have an eight hours workshop, and then you think about how you react.
So they are real time. All the principles of Agile and of Strategy Sprints I found there. And they're there since hundreds of years. And it's actually in many things. And I don't know how people built the pyramids, but if you think the technology that they were lacking, right, that we have today, they didn't have any of those.
So I think they had also very agile processes to do that because in terms of productivity, compared to their technological assets, right? It was extremely productive. So just a military example, it's bottom up, it's team of teams. It's decisions on your toes and principles and checklists that make it possible that you decide on the spot.
And that you don't have to stop, go back, discuss, come here. Because you stay in action, you decide in action, you communicate from the action.
Galen Low: You know what's funny is that tying back to that whole theme of, you're meshing about yoga is something we've been doing for thousands of years and some of these things in terms of like iterative realtime ways of thinking and working, we've probably been doing for thousands of years as well.
But sometimes it's that mindset or the silos, right? That lack of communication, that like unwillingness to take a decision that has spun up this whole different infrastructure of business that is bloated and slow, even though the real time way of working has been there probably all along.
Simon Severino: Totally. And there are stories from the Romans and the Carthaginians that were totally agile.
Like the Romans at some point had zero ships. They never had ships. And the Carthaginian, they lose one ship in the storm. So that ship comes to Romans and they dismantle it. They figure out how it was built. They map it out and then they rebuilt it and they built 60 of those and had their first ships in no time, in almost real time.
They built from zero to 60 ships. So there were agile processes all around the globe.
Galen Low: I love that. I can talk to you about this for days. But also I don't wanna keep you up late. I know it's late there, but I wonder if we could wrap with this. If somebody, whether there are, a project manager, a product owner, a CEO, someone in operations, if they're interested in this and they're looking to get started, where would you recommend that they go?
Simon Severino: So they can grab the book "Strategy Sprints" on Amazon. It's being translated in Chinese as we speak. And many of those processes are open source, people can download for free on our website. It's strategysprints.com and if they want to talk to us, find out if a sprint is something for them, then they can go to strategysprints.com, click something and land on our calendar and we can talk.
Galen Low: Awesome. That's amazing. I will also include those links in the show notes below. And yeah, it's as easy as that. This has been really interesting to jam about. I know that business strategy arguably a bit higher level than the project management lens that we usually put on this, but you can see how it's all connected, right?
This is all interrelated and that's how businesses can keep getting better. That's how teams can keep getting better. That's how projects can keep getting better. So thank you. I really appreciate you sharing your insights and it was great to have you on the show.
Simon Severino: Thank you for doing this, for showing up with this consistency for your community and keep rolling everybody.
Galen Low: Cheers!
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