In a vision meeting, your team imagines what future success looks like and how to get there. In a way, you’re reenacting Dr. Seuss’ book Oh, The Places You’ll Go!, which has inspired generations to overcome obstacles, persevere, and succeed. The story affirms the fact that we have choices and that what we choose makes us who we are.
That’s what you’re doing in a vision meeting.
You’re building a collective mental map that everyone can reference as you embark on the journey together. Here are six steps to an effective vision meeting. Follow them, and your team will be shouting “Oh, the places we’ll go!” by the end of the meeting. “Kid, you’ll move mountains!”
1. Understand the Purpose of Your Vision Meeting
Before you can create a clear vision, you need to know the meeting’s purpose. Why are you meeting at all? But a vision meeting has both a general purpose (Why do we have vision meetings?) and a specific purpose (Why are we having this vision meeting?).
Scrum Master Rick Patci, who leads software development projects, sees a vision meeting’s larger purpose as “verifying the path you are on and the direction you are heading.” But, of course, a vision needs to be realistic, which means considering real world factors. “Finding your direction,” he explains, “is often a dance between business or legal requirements, current industry trends, and the end-user’s needs.”
Tech companies like Patci’s often hold vision meetings as part of the agile process, a software development methodology. But the practice of the vision meeting is valuable in any industry.
How do you determine the specific purpose of your vision meeting? It depends, explains Patci:
“There can be several specific purposes depending on where you are in the lifecycle of your project or product. One is to provide just enough detail to kick off a project or begin the development of a new product.” This could be a good approach if you’re just looking to develop a Minimum Viable Product.
“The second,” says Patci, “is to reach a shared understanding between product owner/project manager and stakeholders on the next stages of development, for continued funding and/or support. This includes agreeing on the budget as well as timeframes for milestones.” A structure like this would make the most sense for iterating on an existing product.
2. Invite the Right People
If you don’t have the right people at your vision meetings, it won’t matter how incredibly engaging the experience is. Missing and extraneous folks only result in confusion and wasted time. Invite the right people and keep you vision meetings productive. There are two approaches you can take with your email invitations:
- Target fewer stakeholders and participants for specific input and maximum efficiency.
- Invite more people, and benefit from more perspectives and insights.
As president of Canvas Creek Team Building, Karen Grosz is a vision meeting veteran who believes a broader approach to invitations can benefit your vision meeting. More participants means more possible solutions to problems.
“I suggest that everyone involved should be part of the vision building.” she says. “This includes the receptionist, and the leader. It is my feeling that a variety of voices are needed to come to the right conclusion, and often the quietest person on staff will provide the greatest insight.”
Your invitation approach will be determined by the meeting’s specific purpose. Meetings about new products tend to benefit from a chorus of voices and perspectives, while meetings about iterative changes might require a tighter focus that addresses more specific questions.
“Ultimately, who attends a vision meeting depends on the organization,” says Patci. “Generally speaking, you should invite folks from product, stakeholders, and user research.”
3. Choose the Best Time
When choosing the best time to have your vision meeting, think about your project sprint, the day of the week, and even the time of day. All of these factor into having a productive conclave.
The best time to have a vision meeting is before you start all the work on the project. But Patci will sometimes hold vision meetings until after the work has started, as long as it makes efficient use of everyone’s time.
For day of the week, Grosz suggests Tuesdays as the best time to hold vision meetings. “Everyone is fully back from the weekend, has not checked out for the new weekend, and should be at their best. Tuesdays are also great as the new vision can be implemented right away, instead of set aside for the weekend.”
Science backs up Grosz’s Tuesday penchant. An industry study of schedule availability showed that 2:30 p.m. on Tuesdays was the optimal time for most people to attend a meeting.
So, schedule your next vision meeting on a Tuesday at 2:30 p.m. and you’re likely to get better results.
4. Use Team Building Exercises and Games
When you establish a vision for a new product or scope of work, reputations and jobs are on the line. It’s scary. Taking the time to build a feeling of trust and camaraderie among meeting participants will help take the edge off. “The vision will actually come together faster when you take time to work on team spirit,” says Grosz.
You can form an entire vision meeting around a single activity, or you can use short team building games as icebreakers, or to increase engagement.
5. Timebox Your Vision Meeting
There’s really no standard for how long your vision meeting should last. Anything from three days to three hours is possible. Ultimately, your vision meeting should last as long as it needs to, but we all know how easily meetings can go off topic, run long, and waste time. To keep things on track, Patci suggests using an agenda and time-boxing the meeting.
Time-boxing is simply blocking off time for each item of the agenda. Have a timekeeper keep track of your agenda items and wrap up the discussion when it runs over time. You can always revisit an item later. Instead of allotting more time, change the scope of the discussion and keep the agenda moving forward.
The more people you invite, the more important time-boxing becomes. More participants means more opportunities for scope creep in the project.
6. Test Your Meeting Tech
You’re asking your team to be innovative, strategic, and a little bit daring. Old-school problems like buzzy microphones and garbled audio can quickly interrupt your vision meeting rhythm.
Do a run through of your meeting beforehand, testing to make sure presenters can actually present, and that people who join the meeting remotely can hear and be heard. You don’t want to miss that one creative idea that could change your company’s fortunes. If you need technical help, call us.
Give yourself plenty of time to plan the elements of your meeting, and keep these six steps in mind. No two vision meetings are the same—nor should they be. After all, you want the product you’re envisioning to be a unique one, so use a unique approach that inspires your team.