Vision Hierarchy in Scrum: Making Your Vision Connected with Your Team

Sharing your Vision

Leaders, why is it all so often that when you “share” your vision to your people, you don’t really feel it’s shared? They listen to you and agree, but you can almost tell they are taking it as yet another directive or instruction from you, and not taking it to heart.

What is missing is relevance. Stepping in the shoes of staff, it’s easy to understand how they feel: “the vision sounds great, but it’s an idealistic notion distant and disassociated from my day to day work”. A broadcasted messaged does not travel far, nor stay on people’s minds too long.

Try building a Vision Hierarchy instead

A Vision Hierarchy is a cascaded version of your vision communication. Instead of trying to cram your vision statement into one sentence, a paragraph, or a few bullet points, in a Vision Hierarchy you have the freedom and flexibility to express your vision in a flow like structure. If done well, your vision message can connect all the way down to the task level of everyone’s work in your organization.

Vision Hierarchies go hand in hand with Scrum – actually building it is an integral part of the Scrum team exercise. In Scrum terminology, the hierarchy from top to bottom is generally labelled as Vision – Theme – Epic – Story – Task. Somewhere in the middle of the hierarchy is the inflection point between strategic directional stuff and tactical action stuff, which is where Scrum Sprint iterations comes in.

Building the Vision Hierarchy can be quite a complex task – the Vision Hierarchy needs to be all encompassing and trying to fit everything that matters to your organization in one diagram is an overwhelming endeavor even for the most strategy minded people. I personally often struggle to fit in both product and client project vectors into one hierarchy.

Vision Hierarchy example: Lifecycle

The key is to be flexible – just invent whatever structure that works for you in visualizing your whole message up and down.

Let’s use my company, Lifecycle’s Vision Hierarchy as an example:

Lifecycle Vision Hierarchy

Vision: As a management consulting, leadership coaching and team training company, our job is to “Help People and Enterprises Succeed”. Although this sounds quite general, it is indeed what we want to realize for our clients, so that’s our vision.

Element: Next, I find that when people seek success, actually they seek it on two fronts: “Commercial Success” and “People Success”. For example making hit products and leading a team of highly motivated people. So I’ve broken down our vision into those two pieces, conveniently labeling this layer as “Element”.

Theme: The “Theme” layer is where we place our approach. There are many ways to help people succeed, and in our case our choice is “Lean & Agile”. Meanwhile, data, metrics and visualization are very much part of our innovation drive, so we also place “Digital” here. And as our work circles around transformation, helping people feel safe to accept change and encouraging them to adapt to new mindsets and depart from old work routines and habits is a key focus of our practice. Hence our third focus in our approach is “Organizational Behavior & Cognitive Psychology”.

Product: At this point I blend in the Product layer. We categorize our service offering into four areas of specialization: Lean & Agile Organizational Transformation, Digital Business Transformation, Sales & Marketing Acceleration with Scrum and Corporate-Startup Partnership.

Project: The layer right above Epic-Story-Task should follow your general work flow; i.e. the broadest category of how your work is organized. This is important because that would be the basis of your Scrum team formation – you should group people by who they work most closely with. Often cases that might not be the product vector but more by projects. That could mean a collection of people of different functions into one Scrum team; i.e. a cross-functional Scrum team.

In our case we group our activities into four buckets: “Client Projects” and “Training” are our two profit making activities, “Advocacy” is our main means of attracting business so I consider that as marketing, and there’s the unfortunate “Other (admin)” work for running the business as a company.

Epic, Story and Task: Finally, the vision hierarchy ties into our day to day work. From here, you hand things over to the Scrum Backlog building and updating exercises that are carried out in each Sprint iteration.

Vision put to work

Continuing using Lifecycle’s Vision Hierarchy as an example, now let’s test if our vision is really put to work all the way down to the day-to-day task level.

Case #1

Let’s say we have a client in the SaaS business doing Scrum with their development team. They observe that the handover culture between the product development and product marketing teams is an impediment and agree with us that Agile should be an organization wide exercise.

Task: Currently we are working on helping them go through their Vision Hierarchy building exercise. This follows our prior task of helping them formulate cross-functional teams between their product development and client facing resources, grouped by the different business lines and client projects.

Story: Scrum with cross-functional teams. During the initial discovery phase of the client project, we observed that the 30 strong development team was isolated as one big island. Interaction with client facing resources in different business lines and special client projects were a complex matrix between individual developers, delivery and sales resources and a multitude of reporting lines. Cross-functionally regrouping the people into smaller cells (3 to 9 people as per Scrum guidelines) in alignment with their work focus, and implementing Scrum at that unit level is the objective here.

Epic: For a matter of convenience I place the client name here in the Epic box: we work with multiple clients and we need a place holder for each client project. If the actual work won’t fit in with just two layers of Task – Story, we will use the Epic layer for that and just bump up this layer with a relabeled name.

Project: This is a “Client Project”.

Product: This client project falls into the “Lean & Agile Organizational Transformation” line of our services, but at a different Story level we will later be working with them on better product market fit of their service – which will also fall into the “Sales & Marketing Acceleration with Scrum” line.

Theme: As you can see, this client project requires us to apply all three of our core competencies in “Lean & Agile”, “Digital”, and “Organizational Behavior & Cognitive Psychology”.

Element: If we are successful with this transformation project, our client will be able to deliver better and more to their clients, with a team of happier people. So, “Commercial Success” ✓, and “People Success” ✓.

Vision: And that allows us to fulfill our vision of helping people and enterprises succeed.

By doing this exercise we are able to connect any level of the client project to our vision. For example, if we are asked by the client “Why are we doing this Functional Hierarchy exercise?”, we can answer “Because it’s an important step to realize commercial and people success”. And, to the question “Why are we reorganizing into cross-functional Scrum teams?”, we can answer “It’s because it helps you serve your clients better and lets your people work easier.”, which again ties back into commercial and people success.

Case #2

Let’s take another quick example: this article itself.

Task: Publish an article on the importance of building a “connected” Vision Hierarchy.

Story: Write articles emphasizing the “true spirit” of Lean & Agile. Lean & Agile is still a novel concept to most and is often understood superficially (e.g. “Scrum is a project management methodology for computer programmers). Write in an insightful way that will prompt people’s interest to experiment Lean & Agile in their own work context. (Am I succeeding? Let me know!)

Epic: Writing and sharing my knowledge and insights on Lean & Agile, Digital, and Organizational Behavior & Cognitive Psychology. (Other Epics may be speaking events, networking and pro bono work.)

Project: Advocacy is an important element of marketing in the sharing economy. This article is my one such activity.

The rest you can see how this article connects all the way up with our Theme, Element and Vision.

Build your Vision Hierarchy as a Team

Building a Vision Hierarchy is no easy task. The best is to do it as a team exercise. Let your people join in to think and formulate the Vision Hierarchy each from their own perspectives, and collectively work on making that into a shared notion. After all, we believe in what we think. And if we all thought of our vision together, wouldn’t we believe in it?


Adopting Lean & Agile is no easy feat. The ideology behind Lean & Agile is rational and makes sense to most, but putting that into action requires mindset shifts and a lot of breaking habits. Though if done correctly, Lean & Agile will bring incredible productivity, positivity and break through to organizations. At Lifecycle, we have a good understanding of organizational behavior and a method of hacking to drive a successful Lean & Agile organizational transformation. Contact us to learn our approach.