The previous post in this series about our 21shift model, focussed on how we run our “Identity” stage. Today I will look at what I think is one of the most important stages in our approach to shifting your organisation and that is the “Vision” stage:
What is your organisational vision and strategy? Consolidating a shared understanding of where you are going and what you need to achieve.
I assume you’ve heard of companies having a vision, most, if not all organisations at least say they have one! There’s a significantly smaller portion of those companies whose employees could tell you what that vision is and an even smaller proportion (the minority) that have a vision that is actually clear, platitude-free and they have a shared commitment to!
So what is a organisational vision, well to start with there’s the wikipedia definition, interestingly they’ve merged “vision” with “strategic planning” pages together, but embedded deep in the article is a definition of “vision”:
Vision: Defines the desired or intended future state of an organization or enterprise in terms of its fundamental objective and/or strategic direction
They are as can be seen above, usually long-term focussed, but fundamentally govern the day-to-day running of the organisation. I recently came across another and to me, much more compelling idea on Wikipedia, it was the:
Big Hairy Audacious Goal (“BHAG”)
A true BHAG is clear and compelling, serves as unifying focal point of effort, and acts as a clear catalyst for team spirit. It has a clear finish line, so the organization can know when it has achieved the goal; people like to shoot for finish lines.
— Collins and Porras, 1996
Now that’s a definition that rocks!
A “unifying focal point” for team spirit is a great way of articulating the “vision” concept, it’s not a command and control principle that everyone needs to fall in line with, it’s more like organisational governance, as in the Latin definition “to steer”.
But as an aside, is “team” actually the right word to use?
From a personal perspective I think there is a really interesting discussion to be had regarding the relative merits and effectiveness of “teams” versus “community” in today’s’ knowledge worker focussed environments.
There is a school of thought (that I personally support), led by Stephen Denning and well-articulated in his book The Leader’s Guide to Storytelling that asserts that in the context of “doing work”, there are two classifications:
- Teams – A collection of people “bound together” that have shared goals but are fundamentally focussed on achieving a specific set of tasks
- Communities – A collection of people “bound together” whose activities are values based and working towards the organisational vision and goals.
To my mind that means that actually, in the knowledge-rich working environments which we so often come across when implementing SharePoint projects, a culture of fostering “high performance communities” is ultimately more effective longer term at attaining the organisational vision.
But I digress…What’s the point of the Vision stage? The primary reason is that the “Big Hairy Audacious Goal” is what drives the company, it’s culture, it’s employees, its interactions with its customers and hence it follows is also the primary reason for your SharePoint project to exist, so ignoring this would surely be project-suicide?
We have made a very conscious decision to use facilitative and visual techniques in this stage to allow us to gain great insight into the clients vision and quite often a positive side-effect is that the client also gains a clearer articulation or re-purposing of their vision and a shared understanding across the project/programme stakeholders is formed. This is a powerful tool throughout the project engagement for ensuring that the business outcomes (we’ll talk more about those in a future post) align with the organisational vision, hence reducing the wasted effort and cost of implementing technical features that no-one needs.
Typically in the vision workshop we will start off with one of us drawing some kind of visual metaphor on a whiteboard for what we think their vision is or how it may be structured, this is, in our experience, a great catalyst to prompt comment, discussion and most importantly participation from the stakeholders. An example of one such simple vision catalyst is below:
As you can see it really doesn’t have to be too artistic!
In this case when we started to talk about the visual catalyst in the photo above (Organisational strategy, vision and culture) we ended up with everyone getting involved and “taking the pen”, adding words and pictures to the whiteboard and we ended up with a very clear 3 point statement for their overall organisational vision and the strategic goals.
In parallel to this we will often dialogue map the conversations and include those in the documentation as a neat way of articulating the rationale behind what was achieved and agreed.
Once we have a shared understanding of the vision we move on to look at what the Organisational Objectives and Strategic Focus Areas are, these are the bedrocks of the eventual technology project/programme.
Using techniques such as brainstorming (lots of post-it notes and sheets of MagicWhiteboard), affinity mapping and de Bonos’ Six Thinking Hats we work with the stakeholders to facilitate the Organisations Objectives i.e what “things” does the organisation and its employees need to “do” (as part of this “project” and/or the wider programme) in order to meet the Vision.
Affinity mapping is one of the primary techniques we use to group these Objectives into Strategic Focus Areas, these are the pillars that support the organisational vision and are a really useful checkpoint when validating very granular requirements against project “waste”. We use these Strategic Focus Area maps to visually articulate the relationships between the organisations objectives and Vision and start to consider how we measure the delivery of true business value.
It may be hard to grasp the value of such a session, focussed purely on “vision” when you are used to engaging at a technology features level, but the value to our clients is very clear:
- A shared understanding and commitment across the project team and business stakeholders of what business problem we are solving, the value it will bring to the organisation and how it supports the organisations vision
- Projects become focussed at a strategic level, which is statistically more likely to delight your clients than a technology driven projects
- An ability to drive and support technology project decisions based on strategic business alignment criteria.
An indirect benefit for us working with our clients in a visual and facilitative manner, and this applies across all stages of our approach, is that it enables you to embed yourselves within the very fabric of your clients culture, you understand what makes the business “tick” and gain insights into how technology can facilitate this and become a strategic asset rather than a necessary “cost”. This was illustrated to me in no uncertain terms when a client told me to:
“..go and get your own coffee as you are part of the family now”..
Definite proof that this approach delivers value on multiple levels!
Moving on from the Vision, and the subject of the next blog post in this series, is the Outcomes stage, it is here where we focus our attentions on what the project/programme needs to deliver, in measurable ways, and in a business context of course!