There is one unavoidable question you have to ask as a coach when going in to see a new team: “What’s your project all about?”.
If you are lucky, you will then be able to ask a few more of the classics: “Who’s it for”, “What are the goals?” and “What does success look like?”.
Quite often, it can take a long time before you get to ask those other questions, because you get stuck at the first one. I know it sounds crazy, but a truth that I am frequently faced with is that a lot of the teams I start to work with fall at that first hurdle – they don’t have a vision – they are not sure what it is they are doing, where they are going or why.
My most recent example is of two teams working on a new spin-off of a product that, if you live in the UK, you’ll know and love. That’s 17 people, say on 50k a year, drifting, directionless… spending. They have tried all kinds of tools and techniques to get them delivering. They tried Scrum and it “didn’t work” so wanted to “move to Kanban because there is less planning”. Oh dear.
As soon as I realised that they couldn’t answer my opening question, I decided that this was where we needed to start. They needed a vision. Not a fluffy mission statement, but something focussed that deliberately narrows down the scope and scale of the project so they can get started.
So, how do you do that? Well there are lots of options out there, but here is a popular format that we use frequently:
Not only is it a great exercise to go through to make people think about the main options, but it’s small and easy to communicate. What’s more, it’s easy to get clear goals out of it – so long as you really narrow it down to start with. For example, don’t say “for our users” say “for new users with android tablets”. Once you have a product working for that subset, you can start to iterate and develop for other users you have.
Sometimes, however, you don’t need to go as far as using the example above. Another team we are working with just have a super-clear goal on their taskboard: “Making booking better, simpler & easier”
The beauty lies in the simplicity this time.
Either way you choose to do it, just remember to have a clear vision. It’s fundamental, but overlooked much too frequently.