The vision and the blueprint

The most important first step is for senior managers to decide where they want the organisation to be in, say, five or perhaps ten years’ time. There must be a clear vision of the future to which staff, suppliers and other stakeholders can buy in. Without this, the primary means of determining direction is lost. The vision is sometimes described as the artist’s impression for a new development. It is simply a general idea of what the organisation will look like, perhaps imagining some of the key details. In the case of a building development, it might even show people and trees on the estate through the artist’s impression of what the houses and other buildings might look like, but there is no guarantee that the artist gets all the details correct. The mix of house types may well differ from those suggested by the artist, for example.

This vision, which is likely to be at a very high level, described in terms of how the organisation will look in the future, is in itself not sufficient for driving a programme forward. There needs to be a more detailed document which spells out just what the future will bring. This is often described in a blueprint for the future. Continuing the developer’s example, this would be the architect’s drawings for the estate when completed. It would show the layout of the houses, shops and schools, but without the details of, for example, the colours of the decoration, the make of the central heating systems or the positioning of lighting fixtures.

A leader has the vision and conviction that a dream can be achieved. He inspires the power and energy to get it done.

Ralph Nader

What is the vision of the future?

The vision may use terms describing changes in the geographic areas where the organisation operates – we will have a 15 per cent market share in the Far East region. Or it could be described in terms of new areas of business – we will be the preferred supplier to the catering industry for 25 per cent of all catering companies in the EU’s top 10.

In general, a vision must inspire and encourage the stakeholders to want to change. It must be drafted in terms all those affected can understand (so not in complex or technical terms) and must be simple. It is common not to include timescales (unless really critical), since a vision achieved in six years instead of five is still justified, provided there aren’t other factors that make it inappropriate (a legal requirement to comply with new regulations by a specific date, for example).

It is best if the vision is contained in a short document that can be distributed widely and read by all affected. A couple of paragraphs at most would be ideal, provided these set a clear direction and contain some measure of how it will be obvious it has been achieved. It must always be remembered that it is primarily a communication tool – to gain active involvement from those affected – and not a technical document, only understandable by those in the know. For more, see Vision and Mission.

What is a blueprint?

A blueprint can be constructed in a number of ways, but the overall purpose is to describe the future in enough detail to enable the work to achieve the vision to be determined and divided into suitable blocks (projects). It is likely that some analysis will be required and you will need to involve the technical experts for each of the major areas.

Commonly, an analysis of the business under a number of standard headings is a good way to produce a blueprint. One way is to use the headings People, Data required, Processes and Technology. In each area, the future is described and explained in terms of what the new organisation will involve. For people, this might include the numbers of staff, the skills they will have and jobs they will be doing. It might also include their career structure, if this is to be changed.

Under the heading of data, the blueprint might include the information the new organisation would need to collect in order to operate effectively in the future. This could also include the tools needed to collect or process the information or this detail might come under the heading of processes or technology. Processes might include new ways of working, ways of delivering a new product or perhaps the revision of the existing way of operating. Perhaps a process is currently manual, but because of the drive to improve efficiency or a growth in transactions, a revised automated process might be envisaged. If a new tool is envisaged, it could be that the technology heading might allow a description of the equipment required to operate that tool. Technology should be taken in the widest possible sense – buildings, vehicles, computers, production lines, communications equipment and the like should all be considered and included.

This is likely to be a much larger document than the vision and will be read by those with expertise and knowledge in the relevant areas. It is also quite possible that the entire document will be read and understood by relatively few people – most will simply read the bits that are relevant to them. This is why the vision is so important: in order that everyone can see the whole picture at least at a high level and therefore see how their bit fits into the jigsaw.

It must be remembered that the blueprint document may not have all the technical details of exactly how a specific outcome will be achieved. If an example of computing is used, it is clear that trying to define in detail exactly how a specific computer system might be operated some five or ten years in the future is virtually impossible, due to the rapid rate of change in such technologies. It will therefore be necessary to ensure this apparent uncertainty is appropriately described and relevant assurances are included that, for example, the ‘latest’ or ‘market leading’ technology will be used.

If the programme is sufficiently different from today’s operations, it is likely some intermediate steps will be required. A series of blueprints, starting with a quick summary of today’s operations, may be appropriate. There is, though, a danger if too much time and effort is spent looking at today and the way the organisation currently operates. Death by inspection is a well-known experience for many programmes: so much effort is put into working out what is going on today that there is little effort or enthusiasm left for changing for the future. However, it is often useful to take the final blueprint of the future and then break it down into a series of two or three steps in which the major changes to the organisation are described, always ensuring, of course, that the final step takes the organisation to the vision.