Sharing the Vision


In this article, Michele Sliger discusses why sharing the vision with the project team is so important and how this knowledge helps the team in its delivery. With examples from Walt Disney and software development, Michele explains how bringing everyone together and getting team members on the same page allows for belief in and commitment to the project, which is a must for a successful outcome.

Every project begins with a kick-off meeting that introduces who's on the team, what roles they play, the name of the project, the charge codes for billing time, the delivery date, and who's in charge.

If you're lucky, you get to attend and hear all this information firsthand, rather than hearing it from your boss. If you're really lucky, while in attendance you learn more than just high-level project objectives—you learn why this project is important, why this team was selected to solve the problem, what that problem is, and what the business envisions as a possible solution. And if you're really, really lucky, you then are asked for your input, in order to clarify and solidify the vision, goals, and objectives that you and others will being working toward. Sharing the vision means sharing the whole dream with the whole team!

By bringing everyone together, everyone can get on the same page at the beginning of the project and understand the boundaries within which the work will be performed. It is not only about what we are striving to achieve, but also what we agree that we will NOT be doing.

One Man's "Folly"
The best example of sharing a vision is provided by the legendary Walt Disney, creator of Mickey Mouse, Disney theme parks, and dozens of animated shorts and movie classics. In 1934, Disney decided to move forward with his then unusual idea of creating a full-length animated feature film. Others in the industry, as well as Disney's brother and wife, tried to talk him out of it. What adult would want to pay money to see what amounts to nothing more than a long cartoon? What child would sit still through it?

Dubbed "Disney's folly," the classic Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs eventually went on to make history as one of the most successful films of all time and set a new standard for artistic creativity and quality. But first Disney had to convince his staff that the project had merit, despite the doubts from the Hollywood industry.

Disney knew that for this film to be successful, he would have to do a good job of conveying his vision to the animation staff. So he gathered them together to discuss it. Once he described the goal of producing the first full-length feature animation film, he then proceeded to act out the entire film for the animators, showing them how he envisioned the characters moving, behaving, and interacting. This exercise took hours, with the animators stopping him to ask questions about each character and the story as the tale unfolded.

Disney not only convinced the animators that the story was compelling but also insisted that the film be one of high artistic quality. They would be challenged by the demands he placed upon them.

While outsiders dismissed this project as Disney's folly, the people doing the work believed in the film, and they were excited by this opportunity to showcase their abilities. Disney solidified his belief in his team by mortgaging his own home to provide additional funding for the project.

And the vision sharing did not stop with this one long kick-off meeting. They had to continue to develop the characters and the story line throughout the project. They struggled with naming all the dwarfs, they had contests for ideas for funny scenes, and they cringed when Disney would cut hours of their labor because it was the equivalent of "bells and whistles" that didn't add to the story. But this was all part of constantly revisiting and reminding themselves of the original intent and mission of the project, and their continued planning sessions helped to clarify and hone in on the detail that supported the final goal. And when finally released in 1938, Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs made more money than any other film that year—a huge box—office success!When the Vision Narrows
Disney was a visionary who had the ability to share his vision with others in such a way that they, too, would become as excited as he to see it made into a reality. In the software development industry, far removed from Hollywood, we often find leaders who aren't as willing or able to share their vision. Sometimes it's because they aren't sure what the final outcome should be, but more often it's simply because they haven't given any thought to why it might be important for the team to know.

One team that I worked with told me this story about what can happen when a vision is not shared with the team. They were using an agile approach to software development, and had a product owner who, every two weeks, would attend the planning meeting to tell the team what he wanted them to work on for the next two-week iteration.

During one of these meetings, he told the team that he wanted them to delete the customer whenever the customer selected an opt-out option. The team completed this work and demonstrated it for the product owner, who was pleased with the outcome and accepted the feature. Another successful iteration followed, and another. Then the product owner told the team that for this next iteration, he wanted them to take the deleted customer records and prep them for data mining by the R&D staff.

The team said "Whoa! You told us you wanted the customer deleted when they opted out, so that's what we did—we didn't archive that information, we permanently deleted it."

The product owner was dumbfounded. "How could you do that? Don't you know that one of the goals of this project is to figure out why we're losing customers?"

Umm, no.

The team didn't know this was the goal because no one had ever shared the vision with them. So instead of being able to ask clarifying questions about what the product owner really meant when he said "delete," they took him at his word and performed the operation as stated, instead of as what the product owner actually intended.

Sharing the vision helps the team do better work, provide better solutions, and be fully participative in the final design of the finished product. Take the time to do a proper kick-off for your projects, so you can begin on the right foot with a shared vision that the entire team believes in and is therefore committed to achieving. Revisit the vision regularly to make sure it's still valid and that the work being completed is still in keeping with that vision. Take care of the big picture so the team can focus on making it happen!

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