This article is part of a series designed to help enterprises become more lean. We’re partnering with Lean Enterprise co-author, Barry O’Reilly, to host executive roundtable sessions in London and Berlin, as well as an event in Helsinki, ‘Lean Rocks’, all during February. Futurice and Barry will be offering bespoke training and workshops with clients in Helsinki during February, if you’re interested in learning more about this please contact Timo Hyväoja.
The product vision sets the direction and guides the agile team. It is the overarching goal and reason for the work everyone in the team must share.
But what is the role of a company vision in becoming a leaner enterprise and why is the vision too often somewhat - distorted?
Surprisingly, when most of the management paradigms seem to be questioned in the era of digital, the importance of a vision remains. In 1996 Collins and Parras described vision as an ability to manage continuity and change.
Even today, vision is an important driver for strategic change in mature organizations. The connection between vision and performance is convincing according to Baum, Locke and Kirkpatrick (1998). CEOs with no vision performed significantly worse than CEOs with a vision.
CEOs are not the only ones needing an envisioned future. According to Gallup, only 5% of employees are in the “sweet spot” – engaged at work. When the pace is faster and more and more needs to be done in a shorter cycle, being busy in executing tasks and projects employees lose a sense of purpose.
A vision shows what the company wishes to be its desired future state – it is both concrete, vivid, a dream and an aspiration. Instead of the term vision, you might have heard BHAGs (Big, Hairy, Audacious Goals), vivid descriptions (pictures, stories) or mission commands.
Mission Command is the military term for an ability to decentralize control. An idea that fits well into an agile organization. The command is based on the idea that the commander respects and trusts their subordinates’ judgment. The commander’s focus is on intent rather than tasks. This requires that everyone has a shared understanding of the environment, expectations and risks.
Vision works when it has a clear finish line. It gives employees a focal point of effort. And if you’ve achieved the vision, you need a new one.
Collins and Parras suggest that vision should require 10 to 30 years to complete and 50-70% probability of success.
Unfortunately, in the dynamic business environment, it has become harder and harder to predict where things are heading and which players will win with what and when. Forecasting a clear picture of how the world looks in 30 years isn’t the easiest task but still a critical building block for a vision.
Another must do is to understand your company’s philosophical core. The core is something you can only discover not invent by defining statements. This is also a reason why companies struggle in their journey towards becoming a lean enterprise.
If vision has value, people will keep coming and discussing it. It will evoke emotions, thoughts and guide our daily decisions. If not, start again from the core.
Mars group exercise - How to find core value?
“Imagine that you’ve been asked to re-create the very best attributes of your organization on another planet but you have seat on the rocket ship for only five people. Whom should you send?”
Most likely you choose people, who have a gut-level understanding of the core values, the highest level of credibility with their peers, and the highest level of competence.
Start with descriptive statement “We deliver X services”, and then ask “Why is this important?” five times to find the fundamental purpose of the organization.
You could also ask from Mars group “How could we frame the purpose of the organization so that if you woke up tomorrow morning with enough money in the bank to retire, you would nevertheless keep working here?”
The table below shows two things. 1) Company vision requires two components a reason for existence (=philosophical core) and envisioned future. 2) Different statements below have no power and meaning. You would need to work in a company for a while to understand what they are talking about.
Banks were selected from the world’s best bank by region list (Global Finance magazine 2016). Statements are from public websites and publications. Empty slots don’t mean the term is missing but rather it isn’t available in public sources or there are multiple ones.
Read the previous article in the series co-authored by Risto Sarvas and Barry O'Reilly "Leading culture change means changing yourself before others."_
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