Author Steve Denning Features Scott Maxwell's Approach

Meshing short work cycles with medium-term goals

Working in short iterations and focusing on eliminating delays doesn’t mean that there is no longer term view. Take OpenView Venture Partners, a Boston-based venture capital fund that got started in September 2006.13 It invests in small to medium sized software development firms, and provides operational assistance to those firms.

Founding managing director Scott Maxwell combines the work cycles of self-organizing teams with a balanced scorecard approach. At the highest level, the firm’s mission, vision, values are translated into strategic themes and goals for a year. Inside that is a quarterly cycle. And within that, the goals are broken down into initiatives, which can be spelled out in specific user stories to be implemented by the teams in weekly iterations. Maxwell calls it “extraordinary execution” and is introducing it to OpenView’s portfolio companies.

Maxwell says the approach works well because it helps deal with the reality that you can’t predict what’s going to happen. Traditional management assumes perfect predictability in which the entire project can be laid out from beginning to end, with a beautiful product coming out at the end of it.

In reality the world next month, or next quarter, will look very different from today, because the firm has impacted the world and because the world will have changed of its own accord. So drawing up a detailed plan about how exactly we are going to get to where we want to be three years from now is a waste of effort.

“Instead,” Maxwell says, “we need to put a stake in the ground as to where we want to be in three years, and then break that down. If we want to be there in three years, where ideally would we need to be in a year? And then let’s break that down further. If we want to be there in a year, what would we have to do? And so on. That then flows into the user stories to be implemented by the teams in weekly iterations.”