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.
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:
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.
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:
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:
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.