The Three Horizons

When we think of Agile, we often think of solution delivery.

One of the things I’ve observed about IIBA is that it looks beyond the boundaries of the delivery functions. The Business Analysis certifications look before and after the project, to identify activities leading to and resulting from the project.

Agile Analysis is no different. Here, we are looking at what goes on from the very beginning of an idea, through to its delivery. So, IIBA has identified three horizons – Strategy, Initiative, and Delivery.


  • The three horizons allow the organization to have a framework for response.
  • Having multiple horizons identifies the stages and shifts in focus that occur as an initiative matures.
  • To explore the interplay between each Horizon and how they inform each other.
  • To understand a fuller impact on the organization. This gets into why we are doing things in the first place, instead of merely what are we doing.

Strategy Horizon

The Strategy Horizon takes the broadest view possible, looking at the organization as a whole. Decisions made here support organizational strategy and resource allocation. We are identifying opportunities such as products, services or initiatives, or areas of risk and ways to mitigate against those risks.

Risk at the strategy level is different than at delivery. Here we are thinking of risk to the organization, not the project. These risks can include:

  • Regulatory Changes
  • Competitive Landscape changes
  • Disruptive business models that undercut your revenue stream
  • Public Relations issues

At the Strategy level, we are concerned with the overall organizational strategy. With that kind of a view, a strategy is never talking about the immediate term. It takes time to analyze, theorize, confirm, and set a vision for an initiative. Add to that the time to deliver it.

Initiative Horizon

Moving on to the Initiative Horizon, here we become more focused on a goal, initiative, or a team.

So, when I look at this impacts list, and I see a goal vs. an initiative, there’s a distinction. At this time, the purpose has likely been identified, but the means to achieve it has not. So, there needs to be a decision process to determine the solution. That solution becomes an initiative and is further refined until a decision is made to deliver it.

Just because something is in the Initiative Horizon does not mean there is ever an intent to act on it. The same can be said about strategy. But it is a preparation and exploration horizon.

Initiative based decisions include: 

  • Identifying how to meet a goal, which becomes an initiative
  • What is desired for that initiative
  • Identifying needs and options
  • Inform both the Strategy and Delivery Horizons

Delivery Horizon

Decisions made here affect the delivery of a solution and support the delivery time and product.

Delivery also:

  • Identifies the work breakdown, delivery, test and prioritization
  • Focuses on the needs of the stakeholder

3 Planning Horizon

The point of these Horizons is that they are not purely phases or stages. An initiative is not necessarily in one to the exclusion of the others. Instead, influence is bounced between the Horizon as feedback and knowledge are continually gained.

A clearer picture is illustrated below.

Agile Extension to the BABOK®  Guide – section 3.2

As you can see, information is bi-directional. Agile brings news back to the decision-makers from the delivery team. The information exchanged between each Horizon informs the decisions made at the receiving Horizon.

With this level of exchange, the organization goes beyond delivering a solution, to practicing Agility – the application of an Agile Mindset across the organization.

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