Defining your team’s long-term vision and mission is one of your first responsibilities as an engineering leader.
A vision or mission statement helps provide direction to team members so that they always know the right way forward. A comprehensive mission statement will also include strategies that help achieve the stated mission.
My first experience at putting together a vision statement wasn’t easy. I knew where we wanted to take our organization, but I couldn’t find a way to crystallize it in one sentence. ‘Can’t I just use an emoji to capture the right nuance?’, I wondered. But the truth is, a vision statement doesn’t need to.
Here’s an analogy that can help. Consider you’re taking your team on a trip. Your vision is the final destination (the what). It’s where you’re excited to take everyone. Your mission is the itinerary for how you're going to get there (the how). Your core values are how you’d like everyone to act on the trip (e.g., considerate, punctual.). Finally, your strategies are the steps and actions you’ll take to accomplish each part of the itinerary and reach your destination.
‘Your vision lays out a destination; your destination guides your strategy; and strategy chooses action. It’s action that leads to success.’ – Stever Robbins
In this article, I’m going to walk you through a few different stages of setting a vision, mission, and strategy for your team, from creating clear vision and mission statements, to understanding the difference between strategies, goals, and objectives, to defining your North Star vision for your product.
Creating clear vision and mission statements
Clear vision and mission statements can inspire your team and help them understand how their work contributes to the company’s growth. A strategy enables you to define roles and responsibilities for the mission and identify the right people for each. Such decisions affect the team’s culture, growth, and success while ensuring alignment to the organization’s business objectives, profitability, and sustainability goals. The statements help you share your long-term plans and communicate your intent with internal and external stakeholders.
The vision defines the picture you see at the end of a mission. The mission is the ongoing process that will help to realize the vision. The two statements are closely linked and can guide any person associated with your team. The mission statement communicates the vision using precise and goal-based language and enables individuals to determine if their activities contribute to the vision.
The mission and vision statements should be short (one or two sentences) and reflect one idea that’s easy to remember. They are circulated amongst the staff and stakeholders. The statements can be deemed effective if team members can describe the vision and purpose when asked. A clear vision and mission statement help the team stay on track and aid the decision-making process by implicitly providing guidance when prioritizing resources and resolving trade-offs. A team’s future vision should be its cornerstone that reflects its core principles or values. It should remain constant, regardless of market climate, profit level, or sales period.
After defining the what (vision) and the how (mission), you will create a set of guidelines outlining what you can collectively do to achieve the vision. The guidelines form the strategy, goals, and objectives.
Setting strategies, goals, and objectives
‘Success is 20% skills and 80% strategy. You might know how to succeed, but more importantly, what’s your plan to succeed?’ – Jim Rohn
Having defined vision, mission, and core values, you will develop the required strategies, objectives, goals, and action plans to support your mission and achieve your vision.
While strategies, goals, and objectives are interwoven, they all have different meanings:
A strategy describes how you plan to achieve your mission and vision. More precisely, a strategy is a creative approach for using your mission to execute your vision. Strategies are essential for your team’s success because they represent the beginning of the action phase.
Goals are milestones you set to execute a strategy. A goal also turns the overarching mission statement into a precise, quantifiable, time-sensitive declaration of what should be accomplished and when. An example of a business goal is a 10% reduction in operating costs in the coming year.
Ensure that the goals focus on the essential aspects of the strategy’s implementation. Do not set too many goals and check that they do not contradict and impede each other.
Objectives go hand in hand with goals. They are primarily short-term, and they help achieve goals. When trying to come up with a set of objectives, You should ask the following questions:
- Comprehensible: Is it plain and easy to comprehend?
- Appropriate: Will it help in implementing strategies for achieving the mission?
- Acceptable: Are the business and staff aligned to the objective?
- Flexible: Can it be changed and updated as required?
A business strategy will include short-term and long-term goals and clarify how they are achieved. It focuses on current activities and performance required to get closer to the goal. The strategy can change and be updated over time to respond to present factors such as local market and customer needs.
Overall, answers to the following questions will help you evaluate your vision, mission, and strategy:
- Is the vision well-designed and easy to communicate?
- Is it directing the actions of the employees?
- Do your core values reflect your mission?
- Is it easy to build a bridge between a vision and mission using the business strategies?
Setting a product vision
The product vision describes the overarching long-term mission of your product. The product vision should be a North Star for all product development. Sitting at the tip, it should be the most succinct and most stable element of the product strategy pyramid. However, what it should look like isn’t exactly well-defined.
In Product Leadership, authors Richard Banfield, Martin Eriksson, and Nate Walkingshaw describe that a product vision should be equal to the company vision (/mission), or at least at the same level.
Others believe that the company and product vision are two different statements. While both opinions are correct to an extent, depending on the scenario, I prefer to go with Richard Banfield’s and his colleagues’ views. The product itself is the business for many organizations worldwide – meaning their business vision is also their product vision. Either way, both opinions demonstrate one singular fact – vision is essential.
If you are in a managerial role or a leadership position, you should put in the effort to have your team’s vision, mission, and strategy locked in. Not only will this set a standard for your team, but it will also influence a lot of your decisions. To make the process more exciting and inclusive, you could call a team meeting and involve them in the vision creation process.
In everything you do, always find a way to tie back to the vision when communicating decisions.
Also, ensure that your statements are always in tune with the organization’s and business’ statements. Regularly evaluate where you are and where you are going, using your statements as a guide.
With thanks to Leena Sohoni-Kasture for her assistance editing.