A framework for collaborative alignment

Bring everybody on the same page.
Understand & agree with what you really, really want.

Autonomy through alignment

What is it for?

Strong product teams expect a high degree of autonomy in how they build their products. This makes sense because we operate in times of complexity & change – and a healthy level of autonomy helps to adapt & learn. But autonomy is not something you claim – it’s something you can only earn through successful alignment with stakeholders, peers and within your team.

We believe that good alignment should be a collaborative effort during which

  • the tricky questions about an upcoming initiative are discussed early
  • the underlying thinking of an initiative is sharpened for clarity of intent
  • the results are made transparent to get everyone „on the same page“

Auftragsklärung is a framework for collaborative alignment that can be used in large product organisations as well as in other contexts such as client/agency setups.

Two Components: Structured writing & dialogue

We often face the misunderstanding that Auftragsklärung is about filling out a form or a canvas. It’s not.

What’s much more important is the dialogues you have around such artefacts and how their structure helps to make sure you don’t shy away from the more tricky topics. At the same times we believe that putting your thoughts into compact, written form can help you sharpen your thoughts. But then again: Don’t stop with producing a document (or filing it away): talk about it with your stakeholders, peers and your team!

The Elements of Auftragsklärung

To guide our alignment process we are structuring our thoughts in the following way:


What is the starting point for this initiative?

Probing question
As little as possible, as much as necessary.


What is the problem or trigger for this initiative?

Probing question
Is this really why we're talking?

Higher Intent

How does your initiative contribute to what your company wants to achieve?

Probing question
Why is this a priority for you and your company?


What do you really, really want to achieve? (140 chars)

Probing questions
Does it give direction without dictating the solution?
Is it energising?


What must not happen as a side effect?
What is not in scope?
What are necessary conditions?

Probing question
Does it help to define the playing field?


What must be true so that your output leads to the intended outcome?

Probing questions
What user behaviour will change?
Do you mention all key assumptions which you make to link output to outcome?


Who needs to work on this?
How much money is needed?

Probing question
Is the required input confirmed?


What are you delivering in front of internal or external customers? (Think job-to-be-done not features)
What are the rough timings?

Probing question
Are you leaving enough autonomy for the team to shape the actual solution?


Which metric will you use to measure success?
What is the ambition level?

Probing questions
Will you know if you are making progress towards the intent?
Is it challenging, yet realistic?

Why did we choose the term „Auftragsklärung“?

We decided to stick with the German name „Auftragsklärung“ all attempts to establish a suitable English wording did not quite convince us. We also feel that name resonates with some of German heritage behind Auftragsklärung:


Helmuth von Moltke
image credit: militaryhistory

We started Auftragsklärung in-house as a framework for alignment. After a few internal iterations we met Stephen Bungay who introduced us to the thinking behind „Auftragstaktik“, a military concept by Helmuth von Moltke the elder, a Field Marshall in 19th century Prussian army. We learned about von Moltke’s ideal of empowering autonomous troops to act in alignment towards the same goals in times of complexity and unpredictability.

And indeed such aspects of 19th century war contexts have surprising parallels to today’s digital economy: This also becomes apparent when you compare von Moltke’s quote „no battle plan survives first contact with the enemy“ with the famous Steve Blank quote „no business plan survives first contact with the customer“.

Once we understood how well von Moltke's initial thoughts and the subsequent management concepts in Bungay’s book „The Art of Action" corresponded with our aim for Autonomy through Alignment we happily adapted some of Stephen Bungay’s suggestions for Auftragsklärung.