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Driving External Accountability Through 90-Day Cycles

The key to creating breakthrough transformation.

written by ASH MAURYA

When I first started coaching teams, I had an open-door policy on session scheduling. This was a recipe for never seeing a team again because most teams fall into the success theater trap and only want to report good news. When faced with an unexpected outcome or obstacle, they often wait too long or never reach out for help, eventually reverting to their old ways.

I wrote about my simple timeboxing fix here, where I also introduced the 90-day cycle.

In today’s issue, I’ll outline the structure, cadence, and ceremonies that go into running an effective 90-Day Cycle.

What is the 90-Day Cycle?

The 90-Day cycle breaks the journey to product/market fit into quarterly campaigns.

Why 90 days? Because it’s long enough to take on meaningful work and make measurable progress (achieve traction) while short enough to drive a sense of urgency.

Each 90-Day cycle is framed with a traction goal that is extrapolated from the team’s traction roadmap. Having a clear goal coupled with models and metrics aligns the team around a common mission while keeping them open to exploring multiple ways to achieve their goal, which they capture as one or more campaigns.

I further break the 90-Day cycle into 2-week sprints, which is about the right timebox for running experiments that make up a campaign.

Goals define the mission.
Campaigns define the strategies for achieving goals.
Sprints test these strategies.

A Typical 90-Day Cycle

A typical 90-Day cycle is organized into three phases: modeling, prioritizing, and testing.

The first two weeks of the 90-Day cycle are set aside for modeling and prioritizing. This is where the team creates/updates their Lean Canvas and Traction Roadmap models. They then use these models to identify their 90-Day goal, riskiest assumptions, and shortlist their most promising campaigns.

The remaining ten weeks of the 90-Day cycle are where they test campaigns.

The 90-Day cycle ends with a 90-Day Cycle Review where the team reviews

  • what they did,
  • what they learned, and
  • decide on what’s next, which starts the next 90-Day cycle.

The outcome of the 90-Day Cycle is making a 3P Progress decision: pivot, persevere, or pause.

Reporting Cadence and Ceremonies

The visual below summarizes the suggested reporting cadence:

Teams with an agile/scrum background should probably already have an established habit around daily standups and bi-weekly sprints. Others will require some easing in.

As habit change is always challenging, I recommend taking an incremental approach with your first 90-day cycle.

The three non-negotiables for me are establishing

  • a 90-day cycle kickoff where we review the models and campaign plans,
  • bi-weekly sprints where we discuss validation progress (experiments), and
  • a 90-day cycle review where we review progress and drive a 3P decision.

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