Overview of Project Envisioning

A project's success depends on the ability of project team members and the customer to share a clear vision of the project's goals and objectives. Usually, these goals and objectives stem from the mission or purpose of the organization. The concept of vision has broad-reaching implications beyond the implementation of technology, and effectively aligning a project with an organization's mission requires careful thought.

Before a team begins any other part of a project, it must develop a vision that describes a unified aim and direction for the project. During the process of developing the vision, the team must have the freedom to brainstorm about the elements of a perfect project and how it relates to the business needs of the organization. Otherwise, members of the team who are well aware of business constraints may be discouraged from using their creative talents and abilities to dream of the "ideal" goals and objectives for success.

Although a project's vision definition may go through iterative cycles of refinement, by the end of the envisioning process, those directly and indirectly responsible for the project must have accepted the vision and be able to communicate it. The process of defining and accepting the vision helps team members and the customer clarify the project's goals and objectives, and provides everyone involved with a sense of purpose and direction that they can carry with them to project completion. Without a properly defined vision, it is simple to become lost in project details.

A properly defined vision promotes success by giving the team a clear path for the future. In practice, the power of a shared vision must be harnessed. As shown in Figure 5.1, MSF does this by including an Envisioning Phase in the MSF Development Process Model, and defining the vision created in this phase primarily for this version's product release. A long-term vision for all versions of the product can also be developed to provide guidance for future releases. Each incremental product release represents a vision of a specific aspect of the long-term vision, also called a product scope, which is used to measure success by tying project and organization goals to an achievable outcome.

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Figure 5.1 MSF Development Process Model Envisioning Phase

MSF uses a Vision Document to help define and quantify the Envisioning Phase. The Vision Document details the following elements:

  • Project vision
  • Project scope
  • Background information
  • Business requirements
  • Project requirements
  • Deliverables
  • Risks

In this chapter, we describe the Envisioning Phase and the Vision Document, as well as the relationships between its interconnected components. Keep in mind that throughout the Envisioning Phase, the team uses documents to communicate among its members. However, this documentation is not the end result of envisioning; communication is the goal. Documents are merely some of the tools used to reach that end result.

The Envisioning Phase is complete when the team reaches the Vision Approved Milestone. This milestone is the point where the project's team and stakeholders jointly approve the product's vision and determine to move into the planning process.

Why Establish a Vision?

Developing a product without a vision is like sailing a ship without a compass: The ship is going somewhere, but where? Do the crew members know where they're going? Are the passengers going where they paid to go?

Although developing a vision for a product is absolutely essential, it's a step in product development that is all too often skipped or undervalued. Most people involved in application development projects have had much more practice doing the tasks necessary to release a product than they have in creating a vision for it. Many find the idea of a product vision unstructured or vague and of little value, especially those new to product development. However, it's important to understand that envisioning:

  • Serves as an early form of planning.
  • Establishes clear communication and consensus from the beginning of the project.
  • Helps the team pull different perspectives into a common understanding.
  • Provides the basis for future planning.
  • Identifies what the customer and key stakeholders deem essential for success.

At a time when more and more organizations are focusing on "delighting the customer," building a vision is more important than ever. It is the first and most critical step in development, because it describes where the project team is headed and the landscape everyone is traveling in. In an interview with Laura Litwack, Steve Sinofsky, at the time Vice President for Microsoft Office products, noted:

Visions are important because they help a team make decisions at the right level—closest to where the issue is. In that sense, a good vision statement is a tool that empowers the entire organization to work together to build a great product. If there are 10 people working on a project, you can always ask each other everything and there is a shared understanding of what to do. When there are 1,000 people working on a project, you need a way for people to make decisions that move the whole project in the same direction without each person having to talk to all 999 others.

A solid vision builds trust and cohesion among team members, provides perspective, improves focus, and eases decision-making. A common vision fuels the highest team performance and provides the following:

  • Clarification Team members need to know what they are trying to build before they can build it. In addition, they need to understand why Program Management, Product Management, and the customer decided to include some features and not others. A vision details not only what will be done, but also what won't.
  • Prioritization There is never enough time to include all the features and elements a team can dream up. During the product's life cycle, the team needs criteria to guide them through a host of decisions. Development decides how to code the specification and how to lay a foundation for future versions of the product. Testing prioritizes bugs. User Education decides which features to emphasize and how to explain them. Program Management works with product designers to decide how the features should work and how the user will interact with each feature. To make appropriate decisions, the team needs to understand not only what and why, but also in which order. A good vision provides the necessary priority framework for making future decisions.
  • Integration The vision of this product must complement and support the vision and functionality of other products in the organization. Many other products may serve the same customer and users as this one, and some may have overlapping feature sets. Any long-term duplication of features across different products should be examined to ensure that it makes good business sense.
  • Future investment Not only should the vision guide today's product, but it should lay a foundation for the future. For example, if Development knows that business-to-business commerce will be included in the next version of the product, Internet delays and low bandwidth issues can be taken into account in the architecture for this version. This foresight can save time in the future.


We have been using MSF and the MSF Development Process Model for some time now, and have found that it has increased both our team's productivity and customer satisfaction. But there are hazards. In this section we describe some of the pitfalls our team has occasionally fallen into during the Envisioning Phase.

  • Pitfall #1: Not taking advantage of the dynamic nature of the MSF Development Process Model Initially, we went through the envisioning process as if it were set in stone, not daring to deviate from the MSF documentation. However, as our team began to mature, we learned to tailor the process and its deliverables to our organization's needs and strengths. The Envisioning Phase is a tool, not a law, for encouraging communication and establishing expectations.
  • Pitfall #2: Not being thorough in the Envisioning Phase We needed to be disciplined about working through the entire envisioning process before beginning a project. With time and budget constraints, it is tempting to begin a project using traditional methods and only use envisioning when it's convenient. We needed to resist that urge and stay with the framework, because the details of the Envisioning Phase are critical to the success of any project.
  • Pitfall #3: Not understanding how the Envisioning Phase establishes a foundation for complex concepts Envisioning encourages the project team to sort through information and ideas that may be difficult to fathom. This process helps to ensure that the Envisioning Phase is as easy as possible to implement in order to accelerate and streamline the ongoing process of development.

Microsoft Corporation - Analyzing Requirements and Defining Solutions Architecture. MCSD Training Kit
Microsoft Corporation - Analyzing Requirements and Defining Solutions Architecture. MCSD Training Kit
Year: 1999
Pages: 182

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