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Keep Product Development on Track With These Vision Alignment Workshop Tips

Tony Scherba
February 22, 2019

Want to know why new products fail? More often than not, it's because executives and development teams stray from their original paths without acknowledging it.

Here at Yeti, vision alignment workshops help keep us on track. These function as recurring "forums" that ensure no issue goes unaddressed for long.

During our workshops, we outline the basics through an onboarding checklist that includes factors such as budget, time frame, success metrics, stakeholders, and more. With those critical pieces in place, we then get the team up to speed on strategy and dive into a roadmapping sprint. This sprint mostly focuses on research and discovery, but it also makes sure everyone is aligned and sets the schedule for future gatherings.

We use these meetings to bridge gaps in communication and keep production aligned with strategy. By benchmarking against our roadmap, our focus remains fixed on the original goal. Sessions typically occur every two or three sprints (that's usually four to six weeks), and this gives our teams enough time to make progress — but notsomuch that they're in danger of drifting off track.

Years of development and prototyping have taught us that not even the most brilliant plans are safe from distraction. If you want to develop your own vision alignment workshops to keep your projects on target and your teams in sync, give this agenda a whirl:

1. Demo your product to the executive team.

Formalized demonstrations give executives peace of mind about the state of your projects. They also allow developers to show off their work, explain any issues, and raise concerns about potential obstacles.

We’ve written plenty about rapid prototyping, which is a critical component of any good development plan.

2. Review the product roadmap.

The product roadmap is essentially a development schedule, only more closely aligned with strategy. Situations change as projects progress, so keep the discussion on the roadmap to ensure the production staff continues progressing toward the goal.

For executives, a roadmap keeps expectations realistic. The benefits don't end there, though: Making goals public holds teams accountable and boosts performance, so feel free to go ahead and put the roadmap on the wall.

3. Measure success against roadmap-based criteria.

Keep tabs on the success criteria outlined at the beginning of the project, and benchmark your progress against those factors.

Most times, simply addressing the roadmap is enough to keep the team on track toward important goals. Maintaining a full picture of the project’s progress (with the numbers to back it up) helps everyone feel more comfortable about the plan ahead.

4. Bring issues into the open.

Development priorities can quickly devolve into siloed conversations, and the executive stakeholders immediately start checking email on their phones. Avoid that by structuring meetings to bring up issues that affect high-level, strategic concerns.

Ask team members to frame their input in the context of how something affects the roadmap. This discussion should not focus on solving specific issues; it should focus on planning to address problems outside the room and report back later. Time is valuable, so every point in the meeting should be relevant to every participant.

5. Readjust the roadmap based on new inputs and goals.

Just because the roadmap is the guide doesn't mean it's set in stone. Issues can arise from either the production or the business side. A competitor might launch a similar product, cash flow might tighten, or an employee could discover a major issue in the initial plan during development. Use this time to evaluate priorities against timelines and feasibility.

We love the priority star exercise for the purpose of reordering priorities.

6. Allow the production team to run an independent retrospective.

Once the meeting is over, let the production team run a retrospective away from the influence of the executive team. This will help their feedback flow more smoothly.

This might sound odd in a blog post about strategy, but developers need time to analyze how they work together and make tweaks to their tactics. This retrospective should help the production team fine-tune its communications with the executive team.

7. Bring it back to the executive team.

After each vision alignment and review, the executive team should establish success criteria for future cycles and approve or request improvements to recent work. Product owners and leads should return to their teams, and product managers (who can act as impartial facilitators) can run further retrospectives to place items into a few categories. We suggest "Needs Improvement," "Keep Doing," and "Don’t Do."

Feedback from the executive team is still critical during this process, too. According to recent research, 70 percent of managers would like monthly updates on how their work stacks up against goals. However, less than half actually receive that feedback. In order to maintain steady progress, it's crucial to keep the conversation moving.

Moving Forward With Intent

At Yeti, we find that our structured meeting system helps decision makers and developers hold regular, productive conversations. And by using a comprehensive roadmap, they'll be par for the course.

It’s a simple process, but when teams fail to follow it, their products inevitably fall prey to delays, blown budgets, and frantic fixes. Rather than wait until the end of the timeline to fix mistakes, use vision alignment and review sessions to keep the team focused and on track.

If you're looking to get your team more aligned or more accountable or are just looking to guarantee success, we help coach teams through these issues and would be happy to talk.

Tony Scherba is a CEO + Founding Partner at Yeti. Tony has been developing software since high school and has worked on digital products for global brands such as Google, MIT, Qualcomm, Hershey’s, Britney Spears and Harmon/Kardon. Tony’s writing about innovation and technology has been featured in Forbes, Huffington Post and Inc. At Yeti, Tony works on strategy, product design and day to day operations, hopping in and working with the development teams when needed. Follow Tony on Twitter.

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