Few months ago, I participated in an Engineering offsite day at my former job. The objective was to shape the engineering identity of the department. I vividly remember the event. My former manager had one main focus: to present his Engineering vision in such a way that it would be easily understood by all participants.
Considering the variety of backgrounds and mindsets present, I believe that passing that message down is an extremely challenging task. Robert has done particularly well on that matter by allowing interactions between individuals and groups which cultivated a way of thinking that immediately maps to his engineering vision.
But what is a vision?
I personally think of vision as a short sentence that answers the question: “Why am I doing this?”
It is applicable in every aspect of our lives and can be so philosophical at some stage that people start wandering “why am I here”, “why do I exist” etc. However, my objective in writing these words is to trigger the following question in everyone’s mind:
Why am I doing what I am doing?
Some of you reading this post, may believe this question to be a joke. Everyone is coming to work every day, everyone is performing a task during the day. How many people though are actually able to respond to “Why am I doing what I am doing?” How many people instead of asking themselves and their managers, they just prefer to just take up each task allocated to them and sometimes even don’t bother to speak up about their work problems? How many people on the other hand are not given an opportunity to ask the “why” question?
During my career in the IT industry so far, I have been fortunate to participate in two projects which had a clear answer to the question: “Why?”. These where by far the most successful projects I have ever participated. I use the word ‘fortunate’, because some colleagues with similar experience have participated in none. Zero. I was a Java Developer on the first one and a Java Tech lead on the other. I kept wandering, what drives us to work in those projects? What drives us to deliver? If you would speak to me when I was a developer, it was my PM who could answer the question, and when I was a tech lead, it would be the project sponsor and the architects. It all depends on how the teams are structured.
Ultimately however, it is one small group of individuals – if not just one – who are in charge and pass down a simple message answering the why.
Why are we doing this project?
I bet that if I repeat this a few more times people will start elaborating more on their responses, and they will start wandering more and more about the implications of their response. This is where I would like to get to. Answering the “why” question will trigger a set of conclusions and/or assumptions about your work. They will not always be right. And almost certainly they will not be always pleasant. You may find yourself having absolutely no reason to do what you are doing. You may find that you are doing something for the wrong reasons.
All this is normal and the majority of our colleagues and our managers, at least in the IT world, don’t have an answer to the question. What is important to get out of this process though, is a few clear and profound targets and objectives. And set the path to accomplish them. For example, if your vision is to create the best ticket allocation software, ask yourself, what does “best” mean? Does it mean, bugless? Easy to maintain? Applicable to all types of venues? These become your objectives and you should start thinking about how to accomplish them.
Very often, software projects become huge, work is accumulating heavily and this simple statement gets forgotten easily. Most times it is getting overlooked in favor of some deadline.
Get in the habit of doing onsite or offsite sessions with the project team and repeat that vision. Pass the message on and request that all participants play this back to you. This needs to happen more often than you think. However, there is no scheduling recipe here. Its a matter of observation and motivation. When you see under-performing teams or individuals that is a good sign that you have to repeat that small paragraph and let everyone get the message. At the same time provide the platform for everyone to have a say and comment on that vision.
Not everyone understands the way someone else is thinking. And what is more realistic, more often than not, someone who doesn’t buy in, will resist to implement that vision.
Try to identify the resistance. Try to explain the vision in a different way and see if that helps. At the same time, keep in mind that most of the time you cannot afford to have resistance throughout your journey. And sometimes individuals have to be left behind.
If you believe in your vision don’t hesitate. Proceed.
A well defined and solid vision with one supporter, is by far better than no vision at all.