The Stepping Stones Vision Canvas
Create a Pivot-Proof Vision Statement
Innovation starts with a personal perspective or point of view. You have developed a point of view where you see solutions for problems that others don’t see (yet). Where others see risk, you see opportunity. You can leverage this point of view to create change and build a new company or product. To do that, you need to be able to make others understand your point of view, and believe in it enough to do the extra effort that is needed to make changes.
If you want to make positive, future-oriented change in your organization, and get others to buy in to your point of view, you need a rallying cry. You need to come to a shared agreement about what you are going to fight for together, and what steps you are going to take to get ‘there.’ This ‘rallying cry’ is what is usually called a ‘vision’. It’s the north-star, the ‘dot on the horizon’ that you’re working towards with your team.
How to create a Vision Statement?
The word ’vision’ has a bad rep with many professionals. It makes them think about long-winded, boring meetings, woolly ‘mission statements’, and unproductive off-sites. A lot of this has to do with the confusion that stems from having a ‘vision statement’ and a ‘mission statement’.
And while there is a lot to be said for those things when you dive into the matter, at the core you don’t really need that level of detail for your team. You need something practical: a statement that defines what you’re trying to achieve a year, two years down the road, that you can all get behind. You need to know ‘why’ you are working on this problem.
Be Practical: Use a Canvas
To create such a ‘practical’ vision, you can best use a vision canvas. The Stepping Stones Vision Canvas was developed for this purpose. This canvas specifically allows you to plot different possible routes toward your goal. That makes it easier to use when you are expecting a few pivots that might throw your plans off, but still know where you’d ultimately want to go.
Creating your vision statement
To create your vision statement, you will need to develop two key things.
- An idea where you want to be with the company or product 1, 2, or even 5 years in the future
- A ‘rallying cry’ that excites the team
The Golden Circle: What, How, Why
Coming up with a vision statement and ‘rallying cry’ is often the hardest part of defining your vision. To do it, start with the following exercise, using the Golden Circle Canvas based on Simon Sinek’s Golden Circle.
Put the Golden Circle canvas on the wall, and hand your team a stack of post it notes. Set an alarm for 5–10 minutes. Ask the team to come up with things that define the company in the future state (1, 2 or 5 years in the future). Ask them to write down as many things as they can come up with that they find important about the company or the product on post-it notes.
Once the timer rings, have each team member stick post-its on the Golden Circle canvas. Try to categorize what they came up with in ‘What’, ‘How’, and ‘Why’. If there are similar post-its, cluster them together (skip identical ideas).
Now that you’ve filled the Golden Circle canvas like this, take a step back. Look at your canvas, and try to see if there is a balance between ‘What’, ‘How’, and ‘Why’ post-its. Chances are, there will be a lot more ‘What’ and ‘How’ post-its than ‘Why’ post-its. Go over the different post-its and use the ‘5x Why’ approach to get to the deeper reasons that you find them important. Start with ‘Why is this post-it important?’, and keep drilling down, asking for the deeper reasons. Add the new answers to the Golden Circle.
Next, have the team cluster the post-its into 3–5 major themes. Try to include post-its from the ‘what’, ‘how’, and ‘why’ in each theme. Name these themes. An example of a theme could be ‘The customer is number one’, or ’Super scalable’, or ‘Best place to work’.
Take a step back again, and check with the team if anything is missing. Does the team agree that the themes together give a complete view of the what, how, and why of the company in the future state? Does it describe the value the company delivers?
Are they excited for this vision? Or is the team not very interested in it? If they are not, try to find out why that is. It may be that it is unclear, that the vision seems out of reach (it’s too big), or that it does not align with personal values. You’ll have to address this later if it is going to be an effective vision statement.
If the team is not super excited because the vision is unclear, try to make it clearer. Probably there are a lot of abstract words on the post-its. Try to ‘peel off’ these words, and replace them by things that describe what they mean for every day life in the company. What does it look like? What happens because of it? How can you tell it has been achieved?
Out of reach
When the team feels the vision is ‘out of reach’ and that it would be difficult or even impossible to achieve, they have a confidence problem. Confidence problems can be paralyzing. Rather than stating that it in fact is possible to achieve the vision, try to once again ‘peel off’ the different parts and defining them in clear terms. How do you know you have achieved these goals? How much of achieving them is in your control? How will you know you are getting closer to the goal? Confidence can be increased by proof of progress.
It is very important that the team feel that their own personal values align with the vision. If they don’t, working towards the vision will create internal conflict. To understand if there is alignment, you need to understand what the shared and individual values of the team are. You can use the Team Charter to map them out. Ask the team to also come up with important values for the company and the project. These values constrain the vision. If there seems to be a conflict, try to find out if there is a way to define your goal so that it is in alignment.
Vision Statement, Themes, and Evidence
Copy the names of the themes to the Stepping Stone Vision canvas in the top right. Around these themes, have the team come up with ‘evidence’ for the theme. How will it show up in the every day operation of the company? If a theme is ‘Environmentally Friendly’, then evidence could be ‘Only use recycled materials’, or ‘Everything we produce can be repaired’, etc.
Making the themes explicit by defining ‘evidence’ like this is vital. It is too easy to create a vision statement by cobbling together abstract ‘container words’, making it impossible to imagine what the vision actually means. In the end, everyone in the organization needs to know what the vision means for every task they are performing. That is why you need the themes and the evidence. The evidence should be such, that if all of this ‘evidence’ was present in the company, you would be confident in saying you have achieved that theme. In that way, they become a checklist.
The themes together support the vision statement itself. Coming up with this is a bit of arcane magic, but it should be possible to come up with at least a concrete, actionable statement of the main reason the company exists from the material in the Golden Circle canvas and the themes. The themes define the ‘how’, the vision statement the ‘why’. You’ll have to come back to this a couple of times to sharpen it.
Exploring the road towards your vision
The stepping stones canvas helps you to see different possible ways to get from where you are today to what you want to achieve. Rather than defining one, linear process from ’today’ to ’tomorrow’, the canvas has space for multiple ’stepping stones’, shown in a ‘river’ you need to cross to achieve your vision.
This means, that you can sketch out multiple (2–3) strategies to get to your goal. Rather than deeply diving into one strategy and detailing it out, it pays to stay a bit more high level, and map out the major decision points you will most likely face.
Mind the Pivot
When you are just starting out, running your first experiments, making a super detailed plan is a waste of time: based on the results of your experiments you will most likely pivot and change course multiple times. What are the aspects of the vision that will stay relevant regardless? What will you use to decide if a pivot is still within the spirit of what you are trying to achieve?
The first stepping stone is the most important thing you are trying to achieve first. It is very much related to what you think your riskiest assumption is. You’ll need to prove that right, and based on that, you can define a couple of other stepping stones. You don’t even need to plan out all of them, just see if you can come up with a sequence of steps that you think (with today’s information) will bring you closer to your goal.
You can do this together with the team. Come up with some important milestones, that will help you achieve the evidence you have setup for the team. How much of the ‘evidence’ you came up with is already in place today? What are the big steps you need to get there? Write those on post-its, and place them in the river.
Once you have 15–25 post-its, group them together in milestones, and prioritize them. The ones you want to achieve first go to the left, ones that come later to the right. Plot a route through the stepping stones. Are there decisions to make? Points where your route splits? What would your plan B be?
Don’t overcomplicate it. If you have 5–7 stepping stones, you’ll most likely done for the foreseeable future.
Validate your Vision Statement
Because it is also a rallying cry, it is super important to validate your vision statement with all the stakeholders: people in the organization, customers, and partners. Do they understand the vision? Are they excited by it? Do they believe in it? If not, you’ll need to sharpen it further.
Keep coming back to your stepping stone vision canvas and try to see if the stepping stones still make sense. Do they still lead you towards your goal? Can you see new decisions? When you have reached a new stepping stone, remove it from the board. This frees up new space for new stepping stones that have now entered your ‘planning horizon’.
PS. Get the rest of the WRKSHP canvases here.