Senior Manager, Technical Support at Heroku / Salesforce. Former full-time traveler. Current homesteader. Huge fan of @emccartie.

Vision In The Trenches

Starting a project is easy. You have a clean slate, a goal in mind, and the sky’s the limit. Each new addition to the project is laced with satisfaction as you forge your way towards the finished product.

But then something changes.

Somewhere along the line (usually a few months after an initial debut), work on the project turns into a chore. The change requests become tiresome and the nit-picking becomes laborious. Everyone seems to have an opinion and no one seems to agree on what they want. Your project is lacking vision.

As a team member working on a project at this stage, it’s easy to start asking pressing questions: from the simple “What are we working on next?” all the way to the lofty “What’s the point?” It’s the leader’s job is to provide this vision, but they can easily misplace and mis-time the dosage.

Here’s a common situation: it’s 10:30am, Tuesday morning. The weekend is starting to (or has already) worn off. The coffee has been poured, the task list gone over. It’s go-time. The team member is heads down; thoughts held captive by today’s work and problems.

DING! “Long-term product strategy meeting”, the meeting reminder chides.

To be clear, the issue here is not with the meeting itself. The issue I want to focus on is the timing. As an interruption, the discussion of long-term planning can easily come across as simply a litany of more tasks, laid upon an already burdened team. But done right (and at the right time), you have the potential to realign and refocus your weary team on what matters most.

So what’s the solution? How do you properly encourage your team, cast vision, and create buy-in and yet simultaneously leave them alone to get their work done?

  1. Plan ahead. Don’t interrupt teammates at work. Get busy removing obstacle, not becoming one.
  2. Mind the gap. Do all you can to create a gap between highly difficult/cognitively-draining work and whatever time you’ve set aside to address the team. Days and times matter (Monday or Friday, mornings not afternoons). Your team can thrive in this meeting, but you must provide a gap between short-term and long-term problem solving.
  3. Explain where you’ve been. Remind your team how valuable the previous work has been to get you to where you’re at. Nothing is more demoralizing than someone ignoring your current hard work and promptly asking for more.
  4. Lead with “why”. A list of long-term todo’s does not a vision make. Help your team understand why you’re headed somewhere and let their ingenuity and problem-solving skills begin to fill in the blanks.

Providing vision for a team is an absolute necessity. Pay attention to work flow and weekly cycles of your team. Make sure to give them the roadmap at the right time – when they’re out of the weeds and they’re able to see clearly the direction you plan to take them.

© 2017 Jon McCartie