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Five crucial steps for software leaders to establish vision

Projects led by unorganized project managers are easily stranded and rarely meet a timely completion. This tip will teach you five crucial steps to establishing project direction. Competent project managers always keep end-results in mind and drive projects forward by never losing sight of their vision, strategy and development team.

I have been responsible for many cross-functional projects throughout my years of managing. They need someone to take roadblocks away, provide a consultant ear and be their advocate. The number one thing that I have had to develop with the professionals on my team is an overall vision. Vision drives the program and or project. Talking and consulting with individuals to develop the vision brings people together to form a high performing team. Once vision is established, leading people through the traditional change management process works like a charm.

I have developed a five step IDEAS Process used for establishing vision.

Step One: Identify the vision

Step Two: Define the strategy

Step Three: Engage everyone

Step Four: Adapt to the vision

Step Five: Set the game plan

Step One: Identify the vision
There are many ways to craft a vision. One way that I have used is to really listen to the over-arching goals or problem that a product or service is supposed to solve.

Is your team ready? Do you have the "right" skills on your team? You may have to add team members during the process. Why would you add new members? Well, the brainstorming process may open up opportunities and possibilities that may require additional skill sets. I am sure that you have heard of the power of a mastermind group. In effect, you are building a mastermind group.

Gather your team and begin the process for formulating the vision. As a leader, you need to get your team to think without boundaries. If they perceive boundaries, you should honor the boundaries or roadblock by building a "Challenge List." Have this idea in the back of your mind because there will be discussion after the first meeting that will call for such a need to build this list.

Begin your first team meeting with the usual introductions and getting to know each other. A highlight of the meeting would be to bring in someone who will challenge the team right in the very first 30 minutes of the meeting. You want their creative juices to flow. For example, if your team is responsible for getting a new system in place for a customer, you might say that the product must install and everyone must be using the product within one hour. When you get folks thinking that the challenge or that the idea is just "crazy," your problem statement has been identified. Goal: Product must install and be usable within one hour." Congratulations. You are now on your way!

Step Two: Define the strategy
You have your vision defined so the next area is to get to a strategic direction. You now have the opportunity as a leader to move the team forward by examining the possibilities. You must open the discussion with "possibilities." Possibilities can then lead to potential opportunities.

What are the possibilities of having the product in use in one hour?
What do you think it will take to make it happen?
Do we have any challenges?
How big are the challenges?
Can we come up with ways to eliminate the challenges?

Once you get things out there on the table move toward the future by building a possibility list.

Weigh the possibilities
The simple list of possibilities need to weighted against criteria in order to select a strategic direction. What is the competition? What are the costs benefits? Can this possibility be achieved to meet time to market requirements? Can this possibility lead to future possibilities?



Cost to manu-facture

TOC for Customer

Wgt of Customer Desire

Future Potential

Speed to market

Total Score

Figure: Possibility Weighting
Scale of 1 to 5 5 being highest rating of goodness

Based on your rating each possibility, select the top two possibilities. After selecting the most appropriate possibility, recast these possibilities into concrete opportunities. The opportunity or opportunities can be the strategic direction.

Build a communication plan around the strategic direction. The communication is the call to action. When building your communication plan consider the following:

  • What are key points you want to say to the team?
  • What are the goals and strategic direction of the project?
  • What's in it for the customer?
  • What's in for them?
  • What are the success criteria?
  • What are the rewards?

Step Three: Engage everyone
Distributing a communication plan is one of the best ways to engage everyone in the organization. It is your rally point to get everyone working toward achieving the goal.

To rally everyone be sure that you have set achievable milestones. Make the small but continuous steps in the process so that everyone can not only feel that they are part of the mission, but that they are critical to the success of the vision. Each person must be actively participating.

Your core team must demonstrate passion for the vision. They must have a winning attitude and you as a leader must inspire the team.

How do you as a leader inspire people - both direct reports and indirect reports? The magic lies within you. People have a keen sense of things. They can see right through you. So here are some tips.

  1. Think: Leave time to think about the problem and what we defined as the opportunities to solve the problem.
  2. Visualize: Visualize the solution and how want the end result to look.
  3. Practice: Practice or sometimes it's just "self talk" about how the benefits will delight the customer.
  4. Internalize: Once you have internalized the strategy and the vision that you and your team are going to embark upon, it will flow naturally and people will feel your energy.

Step Four: Adapt to the vision
Your creative work continues as we adapt our processes to the vision. It is important that your processes can be adjusted to meet the needs of the vision. All too often, our processes and systems are inhibitors to the development process. These inhibitors should have showed up on your "Challenge List" and now would be the time to begin to make the adjustments and remove the barriers. Analyze those challenges and hold a creative session to figure out ways to work within a system or develop new processes around a system. More than likely, you will find that the rules were there for a purpose and were made to assist in a project that once was in its inventive stage like yours. If you don't control the system and the process, then it is up to you as the leader to work with those who control those areas that are considered a challenge. Your enthusiasm for your project will go a long way with those other groups. If they buy into your vision and strategy, enroll them in making the necessary changes. You might be pleasantly surprised.

Step Five: Set the game plan
As a leader you must be engaged in both the process and in developing measurements that will insure the success of the project. Despite what people say, setting down milestones and measurements give people a way to gauge how they are doing and how well the whole team is doing and they especially will be watching how the whole project is moving along.

Here is a traditional managerial task: hold status meetings. Provide an open forum to discuss problems and issues. Engage people continually in the whole program so they feel comfortable in bringing forth solutions to problems. Most importantly, by creating an open environment people feel free to bring forth new ideas that may enhance the overall project.

Lastly, recognize and reward your team at all levels of the organization. Recognize the efforts of the team and also the individual. It is an important part of managing and leading. If you recognize and reward individuals, they will continue to follow your leadership. Your role will be viewed as a coach and a consultant to set direction. Always remember that they too have experience and bring the details of project into reality. Lead with Ideas!


Judith Hall has led cross functional teams for over 30 years. Her leadership experience reaches across Technical Publications, Course Development, Media Design and Product Installation Programs. She is known for developing teams that deliver high quality results. Judith is currently a Sr.Manager of Technical Publications at Oracle Corporation.

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