Thursday, 9 July 2015

A template to communicate intent

In a corporate environment, teams face many different stakeholders.

Despite of best efforts, team members often have trouble judging requests for what they are actually worth, and tend to react to apparent urgency instead of actual value.

A team lead I recently met found himself in the very same situation, and prompted me for advice. In our conversation, we found out that in his particular case, the issue was partly about communication: the team members didn't know the teams goals, and so they had little to go against.

However, knowing that goal would only get them so far, because things are rarely cut clearly - a request may be out of scope for the team, but fully aligned with the division goal.

The template

Shortly after, I came up with a template to cover three levels of goals and intent:

We will [achieve the team goal],
in order to [achieve the division's goal]
so that the company can [achieve the company's goal].

For example:
"We will ensure the performance of the mainframe
in order to enable the free flow of data
so that Skynet always remains one step ahead of the resistance."

How to apply it

Facing fresh input, this enables team members to think on their feet and look beyond the team's immediate goals, judging issues not only by what their team lead told them, but also by the larger objectives.
This mirrors the military concept of commander's intent, where doctrine says that the aim, purpose and implications of an operation have to be understood two echelons down - something that can hardly be achieved in a single sentence.
By that measure, just filling in the blanks makes for a nice poster, but leaves half the work undone: The actual act of face-to-face communication, where the team lead informs his colleagues about the three levels and their implications - once to make them clear, and once again whenever they change.

Obviously, a dialogue like this requires knowledge of the higher level's intent - but that is hardly a bad thing, since communication goals in a clear and concise fashion is part of proper leadership.

By my assessment, this template works best when the team has an overarching goal or mission that keeps constant for at least some weeks. With small adjustments, though, you could easily use the template for short term objectives like Sprint goals in a Scrum process.

What do you think of the template? What do you do to communicate management intent to your teams? Please tell me in the comments.

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