As companies grow in size and complexity, it can become difficult to manage ownership of problems and work collaboratively across teams. This is especially true in startups where change is massive both in magnitude and direction. Over the past three years, we've found that a mission framework has helped us maintain order in the chaos. Here's how we make sure that everyone is on the same page.
Since starting in 2016, OfferZen has grown to over 60 team members (yay!). As a startup, we are dependent on being able to move quickly and make well-informed decisions. Cross-functional teamwork and transparency have become increasingly important to enabling this rapid pace of execution on tasks.
However, in an unpredictable and dynamic environment like a startup, the number of tasks is not a useful metric for productivity. While delegating tasks to team members means that you complete more tasks, it doesn't mean that you move forward!
What enables a startup to move forward is actually delivering something useful to customers. 'Something useful' could mean:
- Improving a product,
- Helping a customer with a support problem or
- Improving your marketing to find new customers.
That's why we like to use the term 'mission' as our unit of work.
Essentially, a mission is a critical path that delivers value to a customer without further steps.
So writing draft copy for the company website is not a mission, because the draft copy hasn't reached a customer yet. A mission would entail improving the website copy and then actually deploying it. Every time your team completes a mission, you have moved forward in a tangible way.
As OfferZen continues to grow in size, we need to actively focus on improving communication between teams and team members that are working on missions together.
So, to make sure that everyone is on the same page, team members write up their mission frameworks in a Google document that we discuss with the relevant stakeholders and make available to the rest of the team on our Google Drive and a relevant Slack channel.
A well thought-through explication of the goals and assumptions keeps everyone in the loop and makes sure that teams are aligned. We know that it can be difficult to write up a great mission document, so we created a downloadable template that outlines the mission framework shown below:
- Mission roadmap
- Success metrics
If you are starting out on a new mission, you can download the template here. The rest of this blog will take you through the framework step by step. Let's take a look at the first section.
The background section is here to explain the context of the problem space you are tackling. This is important so that everyone, especially people who haven't previously been involved in this challenge, understand its full scope and implications.
To write this section, think about how the problem has been tackled, if at all, in the past. Which key roleplayers have historically been involved? You should also link any past projects or mission documents that might help create additional context.
Here's an example of how the background section could look in an OfferZen mission document:
The role of account managers, and their relationships with users, have become paramount to the success of placements on the OfferZen platform. Account managers are responsible for onboarding new companies to the OfferZen platform and answering the queries or concerns of company users. In the past, this document was created to share model answers to questions commonly asked by users. However, it is now out of date. The sales team have recently created their own document on this, which might overlap, but it is essentially focused on their area work.
The aim of this next section is to explain why the problem is important. Your team might think that the problem is worth tackling but that does not mean that other teams prioritise it in the same way. It is useful to clearly explain the value of solving the problem so that team members can see the value in prioritising the mission.
To write this section, ask yourself, 'why is this problem relevant?'. What has changed that means this problem should be tackled now instead of six months from now? Then try to answer the question, 'what do we actually want to do to tackle this problem?'. You can state your main goal as the answer. Keep the goal short and to the point, because you'll give more information on mission goals in the next section.
If you need a bit of guidance, take a look at the example mission document below.
Consistent, timely and accurate responses to company users are important, and as we scale, we need to ensure that all account managers, especially new account managers, are able to effectively and accurately answer questions. Our mission is to create an up to date list of responses for answering common questions. This will ensure that correct, invaluable, and consistent information is shared with users in a timely manner. A comprehensive document, which will form part of the account manager handbook, will be useful to both the account management and sales teams, as it will streamline the process and reduce response time.
You can think about a goal as the actions that team members have committed to in the mission. By listing these upfront, you ensure that team members agree on the actions that are important as well as keep stakeholders accountable for executing on these important actions.
When writing this section, make sure to set at least one goal for the mission. Your goals are the commitments you have control over, for example, 'improve website copy' or 'optimise a template'. It is useful to start each goal with a verb like 'update', 'create', 'share' or 'improve' to ensure that you're focusing on actions.
As you can see below, the goals of the example mission are set up in this way.
The goals of this mission are the following:
- Create a concise document that functions as the go-to resource for account managers when they need to answer a user's question.
- Distribute this document to other teams in OfferZen to improve their understanding of the account manager role.
- Check the document in three months to update information that has changed.
An output is the physical asset that is the result of a process, such as a presentation, new code or a newsletter. In this section, you should list the outputs of your mission for two reasons. First, it is a useful way to track the progress of the mission, because the output is typically assigned a deadline and a stakeholder. Second, the mission document gives different teams visibility of your outputs which these teams may find useful and be able to leverage later on.
When writing this section, make sure to include all the outputs that will be created during, or as a result of, the mission.
Here's how we would set up the output section in an OfferZen mission document:
The outputs for this mission are:
- A document that houses consistent and valuable answers to common questions asked by company users.
It is the responsibility of the mission owner to set up the mission document, ensure that regular feedback meetings are held, and that deadlines are met. While the mission owner can be the only stakeholder, it is often the case that other team members, as stakeholders, need to contribute directly to the mission or give feedback on the outputs of the mission.
When you write this section, make sure to include the roles and responsibilities of all the stakeholders of your mission. If you don't know if a stakeholder can assist on a mission, you can put 'TBC' in the role column until you have confirmed this with them:
|Account management team|
|Team member 1||Owner||
|Team member 2||Support||
Now that you have established who is tackling which task on this mission, it's time to flesh out the key steps to reach the mission goal. This helps with direction, ensures that important steps aren't skipped, stakeholders know where they need to step in, and deadlines are met.
When writing this section, try to include at least tentative deadlines or stakeholders for each step. Alternatively, you can add this information as you go long. Be sure to tick off the steps that have been completed so that other stakeholders can check in on mission progress.
Here's what a roadmap for a mission at OfferZen might look like:
- Create the mission document [Team member 1]
- Get feedback from team lead regarding the methodology
[Team member 1]
- Start gathering information on common questions from companies
[Team member 2]
- Consider the outdated account manager question document.
- Set up at least one half an hour meeting with each account manager and sales team representative to gather information on their personal experiences with companies.
- Explore other documents on the Google Drive to assist in creating model answers.
- Write up a list of the most common questions from companies and the responses that are typically given.
[Team member 1]
- Divide this list into the answers that are common and those that are outliers.
[Team member 1]
- Get feedback on the completeness of this list from the account management and sales team by 1st February.
[Team member 2]
- Edit the responses document following the discussion by 5th February.
[Team member 2]
- Publish the final document by integrating it into the account manager's handbook.
[Team member 1]
- Keep the document of responses up to date.
[Team member 1]
It goes without saying that success metrics are very important. If you can't track the success of a mission, you run the risk of doing fake work. It is also useful to other teams, because they can assess the value of replicating missions in the future.
To set up success metrics, first think about the outcome(s) that you would like to achieve, for example, 'our meetup was a success'. Then think about how you can measure this outcome, for example, '75 people bought tickets' and 'all feedback ratings were above 8/10'.
Take a look at this example:
- Outcome: Account managers and sales team representatives find the response document useful and valuable.
- Each account manager or sales team member should refer to this document at least once within the next month to answer a company user's question.
- No negative feedback is received from companies regarding inconsistent responses to their questions.
Other tips for setting up mission documents
- A mission document should be created by the mission owner within 24 hours of the initial meeting to discuss the problem or opportunity.
- Be sure to give the mission a name that is clear but memorable and is included at the top of the mission document.
- The document should be as short, but comprehensive, as possible. Generally two pages is a good length.
- Review meetings should be held regularly by all mission stakeholders to check in on mission progress and assess where things might be late, break, or need to be revised.
- Ensure that mission documents are consistent in terms of structure in order to maintain clear and easy communication across teams.
- Mission documents should be kept up to date by the mission owner.
- Insert a table of contents at the start of the mission document if necessary.
- Where relevant, ensure that all team members have access to mission documents.