One of the many jobs of a leader (and probably the most important) is to share their vision for the product with the teams responsible for executing that vision. The tools traditionally used to share that vision, such as mission statements, are ineffective. They lack the level of clarity and actionability required to make them useful to the teams.
- Far too many leaders are frustrated by their team’s inability to understand and execute their product ideas. Teams are driven to distraction by their leader’s apparent lack of vision. They want to be led, but feel their leaders are clueless and out of touch. If the troops don’t understand your message, it could be that you aren’t communicating effectively, not because they’re slow or dumb.
- Most teams are anxious to execute on the company’s vision. They want to succeed, just like you do. How long will you continue to speak the language of executives to development teams and be frustrated at not being understood?
Effective companies need a consumable communication channel from leadership to the rest of the company. This technique provides that channel in an actionable format.
- The entire organization now understands the organization’s purpose and goals
- Helps the entire organization be effective and efficient by providing alignment and transparency
- All work is traced up to these goals. Any “orphan work” is eliminated
- Helps determine what needs to be done, and just as important, what not to do
- Progress is tracked and measured within the context of the goals
- Conflicting projects and initiatives that are spawned by different understandings of the company’s vision are also eliminated
- Enables delegation of decision making and prioritization of work
✓ Critical ❑ Helpful ❑ Experimental
Steps to first adopt this practice:
- Start with a Vision Workshop. Include top management and identify the overarching, multiyear goals for your company. What are the two to five things the company intends to accomplish? Keep it short, concrete and actionable. Avoid jargon and empty words.
- Communicate your goals to the development teams and the rest of the organization. Have a company-wide, or at least division-wide, meeting.
- Post the goals in a highly visible area.
- Break down the goals and/or categorize all work from goals (multi-year) to epics (multi-quarter) and features (multi-iteration).
- Ask any development team member to explain how their current work supports your high-level goal (it might support it directly or indirectly).
- Ask members of the executive and management teams as well.
- Were your goals well understood?
- If not, adjust your message to better convey the goals to that audience.
Communicating a clear executive vision forms the foundation of all future development, so it’s important to get this part right. Continue the Trial and Evaluate Feedback steps until you’re satisfied the message has gotten through.
What Does it Look like?
Most companies have 2 to 5 high level goals. Most work falls into categories like “Expand our customer base into the seven Midwestern states” or “Keep our customer retention rate above 95%”. Broadly the goals are usually keep our existing customers, continue to grow the company, and sometimes a particular strategic goal.
The format of a goal is flexible, but each goal must be short. A 3x5 card is an effective tool for limiting the text allowed. As we progress and improve this practice, benefits must have a dollar amount associated with them. Any high level goal is either designed to save money or earn money. Since the leadership team believes that the company should commit to these goals and expend the company’s limited budget, they should do the research and understand how much each goal will impact the company’s bottom line, and then share that information. It’s surprisingly easy to prioritize projects when we know approximately how much they’ll save or earn.
By the way, these dollar amount estimates will be just accurate as the team’s delivery estimates (which is to say, do not expect a high degree of accuracy. These are estimates, not promises).
These numbers allow the goals to be evaluated in the future, and the company will be able to understand which executives and sales people might be (ahem) slightly overstating the benefit from their pet projects and which are accurate. They’re also an excellent tool for prioritizing projects.
These goals are prominently displayed where the teams can see them.
Work is broken down in this way:
Most companies use either themes or epics, not both.
You’re doing it wrong if…
- Work isn’t aligned with the goals
- People are confused and misinterpret the high levels goals
- Teams are engaged in “orphan work” that can’t be traced to the goals
- High level goals are forgotten or ignored… in other words, irrelevant.
How to get to the next level:
- Ask team members how their work fits into the goals
- Ask customers/stakeholders/product developers how the features they’re asking for fit into the high level goals
- Connect teams so they see how their iteration deliveries make a difference and align with the company’s overall vision
- Make your goals simpler and more digestable
- Ensure every team member sees the goals every day
- Encourage team members to push back on work they don’t see as a part of a high level goal
- Refine the high level goals quarterly
Exercises to Get Better
- Take a day or two with your executive team and create your high level categories based on existing work. Then compare these buckets of effort against your existing perceived high level goals.
- Ask team members to explain a goal to you. If they can’t, rewrite the goal.
- Write goals for other companies.
How to Teach This Practice
The best way to learn this practice is to block off time and make the attempt. We often use a workshop environment to guide executives through the process. This “executive vision workshop” requires very little guidance once started. Having an external facilitator ensures the event stays on track, but the leaders usually already know the goals. They just need a bit of help sharing them.
How To Fail Spectacularly
- Content-free, un-actionable vision: “We’re a customer-centric organization focused on
actualizing best-of-breed cross-platform enterprise face time ideation.”
- 17 goals for a dozen team members
- A 10 year plan with excruciating detail
- One overly broad, nondescript goal: “Better quality” or “Faster delivery”
- Assume the existing communication channels are sufficient and blame clueless team members for not understanding your existing communication tools
- Do a great job creating well-articulated goals that are never seen again
More wonderful examples of really bad vision statements can be found online, see for example: laughing-buddha.net/toys/mission.
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