Years ago, at Uptake, a fast growing startup in Chicago, I was the Manager of Agile Practices (AP) where I led twelve Agile Coaches and Scrum Masters. The Agile Practices group had been through a lot in the past year: the Director of Agile Practices had left, there were different reporting structures and new people had joined. In addition, we were scaling faster than any company in US history, so new teams were popping up left and right.

Upon taking the role of manager, I wanted to start fresh and bring the AP group together. I believed that a vision could serve that purpose. From my experience working with teams, I understood the importance of a vision and how it is often overlooked. I believed that a vision would be an important step towards creating alignment and thought it could also help us move from being a group of people to being a team.

One of the first actions I took in my new role was to create a Product Backlog for the Agile Practices group. I included items to create vision and mission statements. As the Product Owner, I prioritized them at the top of the backlog.

In addition to creating a vision to guide the way, I wanted to promote participatory engagement and co-creation, so I invited AP members to work on whatever items they were passionate about. When we pulled the vision and mission backlog items into a Sprint, three people joined me to work on them.

Although the vision and mission were independent, we started by doing research on the difference between the two and what made for good vision and mission statements. At a high level, we found that the vision “describes what the department would look like in a successful future state” and the mission “explains why the department exists.” The vision should be aspirational and inspirational, while the mission is more about the day to day.

Next, we each took a couple of days to write our own version of the AP vision. When we got together next, we read through them and discussed. We looked for similarities, talked about what was different, why certain aspects were important or others might not fit. We pulled out common words, made “word salads” and iterated and refined. The collaboration was wonderful and everyone was passionate about working on this.

The vision started off with ideas such as “To be a group of trusted advisors who offer valued assistance to any group while having a seat at the leadership table” and “To be seen as experts in process, collaboration and team building to help make Uptake an organization that everyone would want to work at.”

A good start, but they didn’t seem “big” enough. We discussed and decided that we wanted the vision to be more lofty and have an impact at a larger, global community level. Again, we collaborated, iterated and refined the statements.

“To build a world class agile organization to help Uptake achieve its mission to change the world’s industries.”

It seemed too long; I wanted it to be easy to remember. And it seemed like a canned template.

“Redefine agility.”

More audacious. Shorter. But missing something.

“Build a world class organization that continuously redefines agility.”

We went through several iterations and eventually headed in a direction that was bold, memorable and captured our thoughts. It was a spin on a quote from Napoleon and what we came away with was:

Vision: If organizational agility were a country, Uptake would be its capital

We went through similar exercises for the mission and came away with:

Mission: To make agility part of Uptake’s DNA

Now that we had these statements, it was easier to understand if what we were working on was serving our vision and mission. It helped create the alignment that was missing and brought us closer together as a team, with a shared purpose. “If it’s not helping to spread agility throughout the organization, should we be working on it?” was something we started asking ourselves. It also highlighted the benefits of co-creation and participatory engagement that continued as we worked on more items from the Agile Practices backlog.

Creating the vision and mission statements was fun, engaging and valuable.

What are your vision and mission statements? How were they created?