Why Vision Statements Really Do Help Scrum Teams Hit Their Targets 

 December 21, 2020

By  Anthony Amos

High-Performing Scrum Teams Take Advantage of Vision Statements

Teams hit their targets
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In my work with Scrum, Scrumban, and SAFe teams, I’ve come across some teams that were high-performing and delivered great value from the start. Other teams struggled to get their footing but grew stronger and learned to perform well. So in my coaching practice, I’m frequently asked what makes one team perform better than others. I typically explain that the answer to that question is somewhat challenging.

There is no magic formula to lead a Scrum team to become high-performing. Instead, many small but important factors, each easily overlooked, conspire to make the team significantly greater than the sum of its parts. One such important factor is the vision statement.

A vision statement is an aspirational description of the future. It creates context and purpose for team members. A good vision statement serves to motivate and even excite team members. In spite of that, one can easily underestimate its importance. That’s where we see that some teams don’t bother to create one at all.

Skipping the vision statement leads to a missed opportunity to drive and gauge team motivation. More importantly, skipping the vision statement is to forego a tool that keeps your team focused on the right priorities. Furthermore, the value statement contributes to the team’s collective identity. And that is an important and common characteristic of high-performing teams.

Please stay on the path
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Creating the Vision Statement

In Scrum product development, the Product Owner is responsible for creating a product vision statement and the Scrum Master is responsible for guiding the process. The creation process is most effective when team members and stakeholders participate because collaborative approach inspires more creativity and offers as sense of contribution.

You may have participated in exercises designed to create a vision statement. That means you understand its value, so you embark on its creation as part of a group with the best of intentions. Then the worst happens: somehow a statement like one of these emerges:

“To create a shopping experience that pleases our customers; a workplace that creates opportunities and a great working environment for our associates; and a business that achieves financial success” — Albertsons Supermarkets

“To operate the best omni-channel specialty retail business in America, helping both our customers and booksellers reach their aspirations, while being a credit to the communities we serve.” — Barnes & Noble

These statements are noble, but not very effective as vision statements. They are long and not particularly memorable. Also, you ideally want to incorporate emotion to trigger an image or feeling. These are not likely to stay with you, promote an image, or inspire a feeling. So they risk being easily forgotten, and a forgotten vision statement doesn’t help inspire or motivate people.

Nailing It!

When done well, the product vision statement serves to motivate, inspire, and preserve awareness of why this product is important. If the Product Owner wants the advantage of those benefits, then they have to apply their own motivation to create a good one. Without that motivation they may treat it like a task on a checklist. When that happens, they risk producing a phrase that may meet a vision statement’s literal definition, say “Yup, nailed it!” and move on.

But sadly, they did not nail it. A bad vision statement is worse than no vision statement because you’ve spent time producing something that does not add value.

Man did not nail the bike jump
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The Vision Statement Adds Value to a Scrum Team

A good vision statement has certain attributes.

  • Sticks with people
  • Reminds them of their purpose and direction
  • Enables people to form a vivid image of the future
  • Represents a source of self-respect and commitment
  • Allows teams to say “No” to certain requests

Your well-done vision statement reflects that team members deem this effort worthy of pursuit and believe in its meaning and value. That’s how you know you’ve nailed it!

When coaching a Scrum team toward becoming high-performing, use the vision statement to form the teams’ common core. Then teams, or teams of teams, have a basis to connect through a set of principles, values, and common objectives. That vision statement becomes the embodiment of team character and direction. The challenge is to create one that people are willing to believe in.

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A Proper Vision Statement

Here is my favorite definition of a vision statement:

“A vision is the actual destination. It’s a vivid description of what success looks and feels like for us — what we are able to achieve, and the effect it has on our staff” — Ari Weinzeig, CEO of Zingerman’s

A vision statement, when done well, provides a point of reference for most decisions. It answers the question: Why are we doing this? So, if a team’s steps are not taken with the vision in mind, then they will drift off course and the value delivered will suffer considerably.

A good vision statement will meet these criteria:

  • It is inspiring and makes sense to those who contribute to the product
  • There is a strategically solid approach to achievement
  • It is in writing
  • It is communicated consistently and enthusiastically

You may notice that vision statements can be abstract. This is fine because it should trigger people to conjure an image. It just shouldn’t be so abstract that it becomes hard to understand or picture. An emotional influence helps to keep it from becoming too rigid or formulaic. Here are examples of a few good organization level vision statements:

Create economic opportunity for every member of the global workforce” — LinkedIn
Connect with friends and the world around you” — Facebook
Accelerate the world’s transition to sustainable energy” — Tesla
Capture and share the world’s moments” — Instagram

Scrum Team Members Find Imagery Motivating

Did these statements trigger an image for you? Each person will create their own image, and that is intentional. What matters is associating the statement with an image. That makes it easier to remember and reference over time. Additionally, when weighing various product options or features, the option that is most in-line with the vision statement should carry the most weight.

Together we create
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Creating the Product Vision Statement

An ideal vision statement is one sentence or shorter in length. There is a practical approach that will guide your team to that point which is called the Envisioning Workshop. In this workshop, we use a template like the one recommended in Geoffrey A. Moore’s “Crossing the Chasm” (shown below) to create a product elevator pitch. 

For (target customer)
Who (statement of need or opportunity)
The (product or service name) is a (solution category)
That (key benefit or reason to buy)
Unlike (biggest competitor)
Our product (primary differentiator)

This template is particularly useful in that it focuses the participants’ on the product’s value proposition. Then the participants use the completed template to collaboratively condense that template down to a vision statement.

This template can also be used for an internal product or if there is no competitor. If you are replacing an existing product, you can treat that product as the competitor. 

In the Envisioning Workshop, having completed the template, workshop participants use games to employ abstract thinking to come up with a meaningful and imaginative vision statement. The use of games helps to keep participants actively engaged, and there are many games, so I my favorite source of games that stimulate creativity is the website Gamestorming. At the end of this workshop you will have an elevator pitch, and you will have condensed the pitch into a statement representative of the team’s vision.

Efforts and courage are not enough without purpose and direction.

Why a Vision Statement Matters to a Scrum Team

A vision statement contributes to team performance in the following ways:

  • Helps you to maintain product direction, consistent with the product’s value proposition
  • Improves strategic decision-making throughout the development process
  • Aligns teams and stakeholders

The Product Owner will take ownership of vision statement creation and communication. So the statement has to be in a form that is easily conveyed to anyone who ever looks in the direction of the product. It should also be embedded in all product communications so that it has a constant presence.

If you have access to artistic talent, you can take it a step further by creating a logo for team use. In a multi-team organization, a team or product logo forms a sense of pride and camaraderie. You can also include the logo on awards and diagrams. Also, members who serve different teams can collect logos that reflect their contributions. The possibilities are endless.

High Performing Teams and the Vision Statement

A high-performing Scrum team embodies unity. It has a common sense of purpose, reinforces mutual respect, and members look out for each other. You can’t teach people to behave this way. They have to feel it. When a team has embraced this concept, the Scrum principle of self-management becomes a natural part of the team culture. And that makes life easier for the entire team and the stakeholders.

You don’t want to overlook this small factor that can make a big difference in team performance. A vision statement alone won’t necessarily revive performance, but a good vision statement will conspire with everything else that you do well to ensure you delight your customers.

Anthony Amos

Anthony started creating software in 1981 when he curiously picked up the programming manual for a Wang OIS Word Processor while deployed with the US Navy. He had never seen a computer before, but he taught himself how to write programs that made his Navy work easier and more accurate.
After his honorable discharge in 1986, he began creating financial and analytical software for diverse organizations including Verizon Wireless, JP Morgan Asset Management, GoldenTree Asset Management, NASDAQ, Prudential Insurance, AT&T Capital Corporation, Lehman Brothers, Ernst & Young, and Blue Cross & Blue Shield of New Jersey.

Demonstrating his commitment to the principles and values of Agile Software Engineering, Anthony is a recognized SAFe® version 5 Program Consultant and holds many of the most challenging and difficult to attain Agile certifications. His practice is grounded in Agile Frameworks as he leads clients to implement Scrum, Kanban, Scrum with Kanban, Scaled Scrum with Nexus, and Scaled Agile Framework. He believes in using the framework that best fits the organization's cultural and business direction while maintaining disciplined processes.

Tony Amos

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