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#259 – Setting Strategy

July 2nd, 2021

Cliche Strategy Metaphor for Friday Ship 259 Banner

This week we kicked off a process to refresh Parabol’s high-level strategy, and adopted a new format for expressing it.

We believe good strategy tells a compelling story, is realistic about the present state, illustrates a future worth building together, and makes clear what hard choices must be made in order to reach where the company wants to go. Our strategy is refreshed once a quarter. At many other organizations, setting strategy is done by decree, to down. At Parabol, it’s an activity that involves the whole company. We follow this process:

  1. Signal is collected across the entire company, often via a Parabol Retrospective
  2. The CEO writes a 1-page strategy narrative and proposes it to the leadership team
  3. The leadership team adopts the strategy via consent
  4. The CEO, on behalf of the leadership team, proposes the strategy to the company
  5. The company adopts the strategy via consent

Anybody may object to the content of the strategy for any reason. If they do, they are expected to write their own counter-strategic proposal and integrate the differences with the CEO to a new proposal.

During this strategic cycle, for the first time, somebody objected.

A new framework

A member of the leadership team objected, “the [past strategic] framework is really bugging me,” they said. And they proposed a new one. The old framework used to look like this:

  • HORIZON ONE: important goal A, important goal B
    Narrative prose describing the why and the what behind the goals.
  • HORIZON TWO: important goal C
    Narrative prose describing the why and the what behind the goals.
  • HORIZON THREE: important goal D
    Narrative prose describing the why and the what behind the goals.

Our colleague didn’t think this format made sense. Some of the feedback they shared:

  • Big things take longer than a quarter, so it feels weird to have these thing [listed sequentially]
  • Each horizon doesn’t feel like a clear, distinct goal – they're often 2 things squeezed together
  • [As written] teams will apply different efforts to different horizons

This teammate proposed the following alternative format...

  • Goal A
    Timeline: completed by date
    Prose
  • Goal B
    Timeline: completed by date
    Prose
  • Goal C
    Timeline: completed by date
    Prose
  • Goal D
    Timeline: completed by date
    Prose

…with nearer-term goals at the top, and longer-range goals at the bottom. They then went on to propose these Goals be unpacked by the organization using the GIST framework, in order to preserve our ethos of remaining an agile organization.

Their proposal was adopted by the leadership team, and this week the entire company is reviewing the strategy.

The Return of the ‘Even Over’ Statement

Another important change we made in this strategic cycle was to re-adopt the use of the ‘even over’ statement to express the prose of our strategy more compactly (some might even say more “poetically”).  The reason these statements are so powerful is they are easy for a team to quote when faced with unplanned work. For example, if faced with a decision to “onboard a new partner” or “implement the new freemium feature” a team might behave differently if their strategy is “revenue even over new user delight” vs. “new user delight even over revenue.”

At the end of the goals, a brief bullet list defining our “Prioritization Rubric” is given to summarize the strategy in as few points as possible.

Metrics

Parabol Metrics for Friday Ship 259

While we’re continuing to see good increases in the top of the funnel, our mid funnel is softening as the summer vacation season ramps up. One bright spot: we saw record increases in the number of Sprint Poker meetings of 3 people or more, suggesting our newest product offering is being met well by the market

This week we…

began shaping a cross-functional design team at Parabol. With 3 designers on staff (and more being recruited), we’re looking into forming a cross-functional team with its own rhythm to spread practices across the organization

continued migrating tables from RethinkDB to PostgresDB. This week we made solid progress migrating the User and some integration-related tables

made an internal video (which we’re sharing with you here) for how embedded polls in Parabol will work. Also note the upcoming change to our Discussion threads with the addition of the “Actions Bar”:

shipped v6.19.0 into production. There are some slick new animations for the Meetings view,we no longer require a user to click “refresh” when we ship a new version, and we made a number of integration-related fixes

Next week we’ll…

celebrate Canada Day and the U.S.A. Independence Day.

kick off Sprint 84. We’re continuing to push on our migration to Postgres, implement major Jira and Github integration enhancements, and fix some high-priority bugs.


Have feedback? See something that you like or something you think could be better? Leave a public response here, or write to us.

 

Jordan Husney

Jordan Husney spent 20+ years helping technology serve people. His passion for collaboration, agile development, and remote teams led him to start Parabol, a free online retrospective tool.

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