Need to get aligned on a strategy?

Start by writing it down


Delivery teams inevitably face the challenge of getting aligned on a product vision. If you’ve ever found yourself struggling to align your team, you’ve probably encountered frameworks involving various canvasses, frameworks, or articles advocating specific metrics (KPIs/OKRs). Maybe, you’ve dreamed of pulling together a team offsite to really get on the same page.

But in a world where teams are increasingly distributed, and meetings are virtual, how can you get on the same page? And which framework should you choose? The answer, perhaps unsurprisingly, is that there is no single right answer.

There is, however, a universal component of the answer, and that’s to improve your team’s writing.

Why write?

Cultivating a writing culture in an organization may seem like a strange approach until you realize that good writing is already core to almost every part of a successful organization. Good documentation? Writing. Sales and marketing copy? Writing. Compelling user stories? Writing. In fact, I’m aware of no successful organization of any reasonable size that does not depend on effective use of the written word.

Writing has many benefits: it can help you be more critical, be more creative, and be more attentive. What organization wouldn’t benefit from more critical thinking, more creativity, and more attention? Although excellent writing isn’t an easy skill to cultivate, it is one of the most important.

Failing to write has significant consequences: teams that do not prioritize writing or emphasize the importance of written communication, I have found, struggle to make good strategic decisions over the long term.

How writing helps with strategy

Gaining alignment is fundamentally about developing a shared understanding of the situation, of the opportunity, and of the approach. Developing an organizational writing practice can quickly improve the speed with which you can develop that shared understanding.

You may object that writing will take time away from “shipping.” And like so much in product and delivery, there are tradeoffs. If you don’t spend time writing early, eventually you’ll suffer from a “communication debt.” Spend too much time writing and you’ll never get to launch. Balance is important.

If your team is struggling to get aligned, that may be a good signal that you need to slow down and, as a team, start writing down your thoughts and ideas. You might be surprised at how much faster you can move forward collectively, once you’ve starting reducing your collective ideas to writing.

How you can start to use writing to align your team

If you lead a team, or are part of team, that is thinking about investing in gaining strategic alignment, before you reach for Measure What Matters or a silver-bullet Medium post about strategic planning, here’s a better approach. Consider sharing this blog post and encourage your peers to stop, think for 15 minutes, and write no more than 1000 words on “what’s working, what’s not working, what needs to change, and what is our big opportunity,” and then share your learnings within the team. It may be uncomfortable at first to commit those ideas to writing, but the act of writing down your thoughts ideas – and reading others' thoughts and ideas – is a great way to get everyone “on the same page.”

Have you worked in an organization with a strong writing culture? I’d love to know how you contributed to it! And if you are interested in suggestions like these about management, products, and product management, please subscribe to my email list to get updates and information.