Usually we talk about a vision for a team, company or product at the beginning of its life. This makes perfect sense. The very first thing you want to set straight is what the ultimate goal is. Without it you might wander directionless into your journey.
Why is the vision important?
Having a meaningful vision can give everyone in the team a sense of purpose. It can help you stay motivated even when there are roadblocks ahead. It can also be your lighthouse when you have to make tough decisions. Asking yourself constantly if what you are doing is really bringing you closer to achieving your vision is a great way to stay focused and cut out distracting tasks for your team.
A vision can be your lighthouse when you have to make tough decisions.
So if your vision is so important what do you do when your journey has already started but you don’t have one?
A vision with hindsight
In the real business world often you have teams which run without a vision. Others maybe have abandoned their vision along the way.
A team might have some sentence about their purpose documented on some internal wiki page. But a vision which is not remembered means nothing.
So how do you get from this state to a team which has a strong vision that fits the team’s work and their goals?
Here are 5 simple steps you can use to craft your next vision.
State the What
The idea is to work backwards. let the team describe their current work in order to identify the essence of it. The ideal outcome of this essence can then become your vision.
First you start with the most obvious question. Ask the team WHAT they are improving with their daily work. Let every team member brainstorm quietly for a few minutes and give everyone the opportunity to share their results afterwards. You might get answers from different categories. business, like churn rate, revenue, conversion. Product: better group video, easier file sharing,. Technical: lower latency, higher availability.
Every answer is valuable input at this point.
Who is affected by your work?
For the next question you want to clarify whose life you are improving with your work. Beware of answers like “the customer”. With a few follow up questions you should be able to refine that customer to a clearer definition like SaaS companies with less than 5 employees or HR teams of multinationals. Depending on your team’s nature you might be serving an internal customer. Answers like customer support and marketing might be perfectly valid responses if your team is building tools which makes those teams lives easier.
How are you improving their lives?
With the next question you should get an answer to how you create value for your customer. Maybe your team is creating data which helps them make faster decision, cut cost or acquire new customers themselves. Maybe you make sure their website is always available while they can focus on the core of their business. Whatever it is, write it down.
Generalising the answers
Now comes the fun part – putting it all together. Unless you already have a very dominant answer for each question you should now give some time for everyone to find ONE word to describe each of the answers.
A team member’s answer should look like this: What: group chat, who: early stage startups, how: mobile friendly.
Now put those pieces together to create your first draft of a vision: enable mobile friendly group chat for early stage startups.
So far, so good. Chances are you now have a much clearer picture of what your daily business is all about. But probably what you have come up with is not yet all that great or inspiring. Now you will have to pull out the marketing language. To get everyone in this mood ask them to rephrase your first draft in the biggest possible way. Pro tip: If you bring a chocolate bar as a reward for the winner of this exercise you will get much better answers. Some of those could be: Bringing teams closer together. Company communication for the next millennium.
Most of the time you will find a winner which makes the team chuckle a bit but also makes them feel really proud of their work. Do not overanalyse it at this point. You have already made clear who is your customer and what your daily business is all about. Let the team go with what feels best at this point.
Be sure to check in on the mood of your team at the end of the meeting. Have you come up with a vision which is giving everyone a good vibe?
Benefits beyond basics
If you have managed to equip your team with a fresh vision you will hopefully see the benefits soon. The whole team should question tasks and decisions whether they are really paying into your vision. What’s more, the new vision can be a great starting point for conversations with stakeholders and sponsors. Is what the team is doing really the most important thing for the organisation right now?
You can also take the vision as input to reprioritise your roadmap and backlog. Ask everyone to write down 3 things the team could do to get closer to achieving your vision. The team might be generating ideas which are much more important than what you originally planned!