While every enterprise transformation program goes through a dozen behind-the-scenes administrative and executive maneuvers to build and validate the business case and to position and align its charter, this is mostly invisible to those responsible for project success.
What’s instead communicated to the project team is a generic program vision, or tagline, that lacks depth and clarity appropriate for those responsible for delivering the end solution. What the program vision should represent is the guiding light of what the transformation aims to achieve and ultimately how the company or product will look, feel, and operate in the future state.
Often program visions default to an aspirational tagline, and while that isn’t an issue by itself, taglines fall short of providing the necessary guidance required to execute in complex engagements. The impacts of a depthless vision can ripple throughout the program, but it particularly impacts the design phase, where the team is making fundamental decisions of how the company will operate, and often at a fast pace.
When Visions Make Problems Worse
Every program has constraints. Schedules are tight. The scope is overly ambitious. Resources lack necessary training and skills, or, worse, the resources aren’t available. These challenges can lead to failure on their own but a poorly-defined vision compounds every one of these constraints. When the vision presented is too high-level, it can be challenging to translate into tactical business design decisions.
I’ve experienced how tagline visions that lack depth can extend the design phase by months, which in turn, causes knock-on effects down the line, dragging the entire program down before it ever gets moving.
Recently, during a business transformation with a client in the media sector, the sales and billing teams began a cross-functional design discussion regarding invoicing. The company offers many products including subscription products, and the key design decision was whether to consolidate invoices or to send multiple invoices to customers. Ultimately, the product owners leaned on the technical team to devise pros and cons of each solution option and to recommend a decision.
Because of this approach, the team wrestled with this topic for weeks, holding multiple cross-functional meetings, and missing the sprint deadline for this functionality.
Although the program’s vision was to transform the company to “enable a better customer experience”, the team was unable to directly and quickly translate what that meant for the billing team.
Had the billing team initially translated the ultimate vision of “better customer experience” to a team-level vision of “simplified and streamlined billing enabling better customer experience,” it’s likely the team would have avoided taking an IT-led decision-making process, and instead, the design discussion might have started with this statement: “Our goal is to enhance our customer experience. Consolidating invoices so that our customers receive less paperwork (not to mention that they might pay faster) is aligned with our vision. How can we make this work?”
This is how a depthless vision exacerbated confusion and delays, on matters both trivial and ones of importance.
Solutions for Crafting a Better Vision
While having a big-picture vision can be helpful and necessary, it also needs to provide a tactical guide to each of the teams on transformative engagements. Doing this empowers product owners and enables faster decision-making. Here are a number of practices that can add depth and structure to the vision.
Think About the Vision Timeline
We define what we want to achieve, but when does the vision come to life? Right after the project? In a year? Ten? You should have visions for each phase that are cumulative and progressive, and that build upon each other with each step.
Build Consensus and Synergy
The vision-making process should incorporate team-level visions early. During the initial vision-making process, a common mistake is to create it at the executive level only.
It’s important to bring in the key project team representatives (process teams, data team, technical team, analytics team, etc.) during that process or create a high-level vision and then ask teams to create team-level versions of the program vision which align with it but expand it into tangible outcomes for each area of the business affected by the transformation. This is a key component of making the vision tangible as well as empowering the project team.
Incorporate People, Process, Data, Tech
When you include these four areas as a part of your vision or vision-dependent documentation, it provides the project team with a clearer and better framework to assess the maturity of each element.
What leading practices is your data governance organization going to adopt? How do you expect the program to change your distribution organization? Will the reporting structure change? How are the process changes going to affect the jobs and roles people do day-to-day? This type of analysis is particularly important for team-level visions.
Define Key Success Factors
Often, we see the vision as a nebulous entity, but it’s important to identify concrete key success factors as part of the vision. Here are a few examples:
“On-time supplier payments will be increased by X.”
“Backorders will be reduced by Y.”
Identify these metrics at the program and team level, and at points in time (at go-live, 1, 5, 10 years). Otherwise, you’ll get lost and won’t have a north star to follow.
A poorly designed vision will have a cascading effect from the beginning, and it’s important to understand the vision at a tactical level so that those involved can tie back what they’re doing to the bigger mission. Better defining your vision is empowering your business resources and setting up your program with the right foundation.