Quarterly Business Review: How to extract benefits beyond transparency

In previous research, our colleagues have outlined the importance for agile organizations to create both stable and dynamic practices. A periodic business review, prioritization of different activities, and alignment across organizational units (frequently called tribes) are often together referred to as Quarterly Business Reviews (QBRs). QBRs can be the cornerstone of an effective agile organization, linking overall strategic direction to agile organizational units and team-level backlogs.

When done well, QBRs can bring immense value to an organization by creating vertical and horizontal alignment. However, inefficiencies often occur due to limitations in the ecosystem around the QBR—even if the narrowly defined process is done well. There are five reasons behind these suboptimal operations:

  1. QBR ownership: The QBR and the broader ecosystem surrounding it are at the heart of an agile organization and must have a proper owner. This role spans three main activities: managing the QBR process, ensuring proper content quality, and continuously improving the QBR. A dedicated squad is required during QBR cycles, combining agile, IT, finance/budgeting and strategy expertise, and a strong and respected leader.
  2. Broad dependency alignment: During the QBR process, these units set Objectives and Key Results (OKRs) and plan what they will deliver to achieve them. Ideally, a substantial portion of the unit backlog can be delivered autonomously by the owner of the group, while a smaller fraction requires broader alignment. The QBR should serve as a forum to understand those dependencies and resolve them while not making the process highly technical and administrative.

    For instance, one LATAM company organizes a quarterly fair where each unit leader presents its initiatives and all other leaders are responsible to challenge them and understand potential dependencies.

  3. Traditional budgeting: Agility brings a paradigm shift in the logic of budgeting. Instead of projects, agile organizations use cross-functional teams as budgeting units. Agile organizational unit leads must assume resources are relatively fixed, and their job is maximizing impact, generated via prioritization. This is important, because if agile organizational units are subject to traditional project and business case-based budgeting logic, then QBRs cannot function properly. If fully agile budgeting is not realistic in the short term, companies can opt for a hybrid approach.

    For example, a leading bank uses QBRs to review budget status against delivered business results—and potentially make adjustments in a transparent and fast way during the QBR meeting, if circumstances require.

  4. KPI and OKR misalignment: OKRs are among the most fundamental elements of QBR logic, used by many organizations to set aspirational targets with motivating narratives to rally people behind a common vision. In the QBR, these units must define OKRs from strategic company aspirations. Yet, organizations often struggle to draw a connector line between the newly introduced OKR concept and end-of-year key performance indicators (KPIs).

    A Western European bank defined the value driver KPIs for each agile organizational unit and derived OKRs that helped to achieve these relatively fixed end-of-year KPIs.

  5. Disconnect from IT processes: In an ideal agile environment, agile organizational units can release standards and an IT architecture vision. This is rarely the case in large corporations due to legacy architectures and monolithic systems. Given that planning for major monolith IT systems often requires 12+ months, QBRs often need to co-exist with IT release planning.

    One European telco solved this by synchronizing the timing of IT release planning with QBRs, and then used them as a complementor forum—refining and breaking down the upcoming portion of the high-level IT roadmap.

Building proper QBR practices and enabling the ecosystem takes time and effort. However, once these pain points are addressed, the QBR can truly act as the nerve center of the organization, transmitting key impulses and strategic signals.

The authors would like to thank Gabor Takacs for his valuable contribution to this blog post.

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