What's Your Digital Vision?

 

Nothing is more inspiring than a strong vision; a clear, concise statement of what has to be achieved. As I discussed in my last post, Leadership in the Digital Age, vision is what binds teams together. But how do you come up with a strong vision?

What is a digital vision?

Conventional project wisdom shows a flow from vision on to mission, objectives, strategies and actions. Software people will instantly recognise a waterfall process with all the attendant issues and inflexibility. For most digital projects that has to change; an agile vision is required, and the traditional approach of making the vision so broad as to be meaningless isn’t going to cut it. Like objectives, a digital vision must be specific and achievable. Unlike most mission statements, a digital vision must not turn into a progression of meaningless platitudes.

A digital vision, therefore, is a tool used to engage a team in delivering efficiently; a context in which to understand what they are implementing. Whether you call them requirements, stories or something else, knowing why you are building something leads to better quality, higher productivity and much improved project moral.

To this end, the vision is a means to ensure that your team know what they are supposed to be doing. Most times you hear vision it’s about the whole organisation, but each team needs its own vision, a component of the overall big picture.

Coming up with your digital vision

Now we know what the vision is for, how can you come up with one? The easiest place to start is outside. Outside the project looking in: what does this vision do for the customer? What is it that we are doing that will delight our customers?

Most of our working lives we look out from within a team, project or company, and look at the results of our labours with that lense. Flip that over and look at it from the point of view of the end customer, put yourself in their shoes, and see why they need what you do. Capture the urgency of their need, and this will guide you in defining the vision.

Let’s say that you are leading a team delivering a set of APIs unifying several grungy old backend systems. The immediate customers of these APIs are mobile app developers, who in turn serve your company’s salesforce, who in their turn have to keep the clients happy and engaged. We can work this back into a vision for that set of APIs that sits within the overall vision for a successful company.

The salesforce wants simple, fast, effective access to just the information they need when visiting clients. They have time to switch apps seeking information with disparate identities and experiences, they want everything in one screen so they can visit the client well briefed.

In turn, the mobile app developers have no wish to have to manage multiple connections and authentication processes from within their code as it would be slow, inefficient and insecure. They would really like your APIs to do that heavy lifting for them, allowing them to focus on providing fast, timely, contextualised information to the salesforce.

So vision for our APIs might be something like “To allow efficient, easy access from our company’s mobile apps to our internal systems through single sign-on.” This, however, misses out the all-important why and bothers us with technical detail that may not be accurate, so we might go with “Support our salesforce by providing efficient, easy access to our corporate systems from mobile apps.” Even then we’re not quite there as supporting the salesforce isn’t really the end goal here. And in the future, they might want access from something other than mobile apps, or we want to open up to business partners. And in that case, we definitely need to be concerned about who has access.

Finally we can arrive at a vision that links business outcomes with our technical actions: “Enable sales growth by providing efficient, unified, secure access to our backend systems”. This vision is something that you can use to inspire and motivate. It gives meaning to the tasks of building the APIs rather than leaving it as a dry abstract exercise.

Need some help?

Refining your vision is not an easy task, requiring you to adopt a different point of view, simplify and explore. Often this process is helped by using a third part and this is something that CAF does more and more: enabling internal teams to find a vision for their work, discovering its meaning in a customer context. Come in for a cup of tea and talk over how we can help you lead in this digital age.

 
Richard Marshall