While normally covering this topic I would bediscussing the artistry of Rolandinho,the tenacity of Rooneyor the fluidity of Messi, (for those in theUS insert Manning, Brady and Brees) that will be for another day. The ITSMguy came across this outstanding article around goal setting and project managementand since there is multiple articles on why projects fail, this is a good chance to look a proactive and prescriptive approach to achieving success. This article was seen on Information weekby author Stuart Murdoch.
Many projects fail because their goals areunclear or their course is diverted during execution. A concise visionstatement can prevent this
Many projectsfail because their goals are unclear or their course is diverted duringexecution. A concise vision statement can prevent this. A few hours spentcreating a well-defined vision statement will help the project to becommunicated and understood better, will help the project stay on course and willensure that your goals are met. In order to achieve these benefits, you need totake a structured approach to building your vision.
We all havethings that we want to achieve in our personal and business lives. You can’teven work the satellite-navigation in your car without having a goal. Like inthe car, our goals help make choices about the path we follow – hopefully theroad we’re on is heading toward our destination and not away from it. Setting a destination also helps when you needto communicate to others where you’re heading – next time someone asks whereyou’re going just give them a list of roads and ask if they want to come along.
In business,the way we can express our goals is with a vision statement. Vision statementsare not just those huge unwieldy things that are lovingly unveiled at theannual corporate jamboree and then quietly ignored by the workforce for therest of the year. Even the smallest project can benefit from one. A good visionstatement will:
- Ensure that we have a commonagreement on where we want to go before we start.
- Be used to elicit buy-in from peoplewho will help us along the way.
- Help to guide choices and decisionsalong the way.
- Measure our progress from where westarted.
- Identify when we have reached ourdestination.
So, how do wecreate a vision that delivers these benefits?
Start with a Need
The vision expresses a requirement for something to bedifferent, and we need to identify why such a change is necessary. By doingthis, we can ensure that we have the right vision to fulfill the need.
“Let’sgo into town.”
“I need to buy some batteries for the TV remote.”
“The local store sells batteries, too.”
“Okay, let’s go to the store.”
So, to have aneffective vision, we should express why a change is needed and which needs itwill fulfill. There are three major needs that drive most businesses:
1. We can make more money (e.g., byincreased sales).
2. We can spend less (e.g., by reducingcompany headcount).
3. We can reduce our exposure to risk(e.g., ensuring we fulfill compliancy requirements).
Be clear aboutwhich combination of these your vision is addressing, and state them in alanguage that the business will understand. Do this and you will find thatbusiness leaders are more likely to support your efforts. You should alsoensure that these needs are aligned with the business direction that yourorganization has chosen. Look at other business visions or mission statementsthat are part of your company policy as guidance. Again, the business is morelikely to support initiatives that support the company policy.
When writingour vision statement, we need to consider our audience and what we will use ourvision statement for. Ensure that you write in language and terminology thatwill be understood by your audience – it’s no use to present a technical visionand expect business users to support it. The vision statement is also primarilyfor communication of our vision – keep it short and understandable, not toogeneral and not with huge amounts of detail.
Describe your Future State
So far, we haveonly identified a need. What we need to do next is explain to our audience whatthey will get if they follow our vision.
“Whydo we need batteries? The TV remote is okay.”
“If we have spare batteries in the cupboard, then in six months time, we won’thave to steal them from other remotes when the TV remote stops working.”
You may havespent many hours thinking through the issues and possible solutions, but youraudience probably hasn’t. The easiest way for them to understand your vision isif you tell them what difference it will make to their business life. Yourfuture state should cover three things:
Scope: If your vision is within a fixed scope, then ensure youpoint that out so your audience is clear about how much of the business willchange.
Timescale: You need to tell your audience how long it will be beforethey notice a change. This does not need to be very detailed at this stage, butit should be reasonably accurate. You don’t want to create an expectation thatyou cannot fulfill.
The things thatwill be different today: This is not adetailed project plan, but you should capture the major outcomes of yourvision. Ideally, you previously identified the things that will change in yourneeds as requiring improvement. The benefits of the vision should be clearlycommunicated. If these are hard financial figures, then this is the place thatwe should state them. For example, “Within six months, the purchasingdepartment will see a reduction of invoice mismatches of around 10 percent.Within one year, this reduction will be sufficient to start reducing headcountwithin the purchasing team by one full-time employee.”
If you haven’tthought through the problem to the point where you can express a future statein terms of scope, timescale and outcomes, then you are also not at a pointwhere you can effectively communicate the change. Developing a vision statementcan be a useful tool for clarifying your own ideas.
Now for the Changes
Hopefully the audiencehas seen that there is an issue and has bought into the future state described.In order to move from the current problematic state into the future beneficialstate, changes need to be made. Describe what changes are required to achievethe transition.
“Ifwe are going to keep spare batteries for the TV remote, we need to spend somecash upfront, we need to stop other people from stealing them for useelsewhere, and we must ensure that we buy new ones as soon as we use thespares.”
This statementof changes should not be a detailed project plan. You need to describe thechanges in the same level of detail that you used for the needs and the futurestate. The changes should be general enough for your audience to understand anddetailed enough that they can see the major tasks that need to be undertaken.
Make it Memorable
So far, the onething that has been missing from all of our work is that one memorablestatement that our audience can take away with them when they leave. Somethingthat we can use if asked:
“Sowhat is your vision all about?”
“To always have a working TV remote.”
Look back overthe issues that will be solved, the things that will be different in the futureand the changes that will need to be made. Try to encapsulate the main idea ina single statement that is short, easily understandable and good forcommunication. It’s okay if the statement doesn’t tell the whole story – ourtotal vision statement will be more than just this one phrase.
Putting it All Together
A completevision statement is a combination of all of these pieces that we havedocumented. Create a document that tells a story to your audience:
“Weneed to make a change because there is a current problem …”
“My vision is …”
“If we make this change then at the end of … time you will see thesedifferences …”
“In order to achieve these end results, we need to make the following changes…”
Now, we shouldhave a vision statement that:
- Ensures that we have a commonagreement on where we want to go before we start,
- Can be used to elicit buy-in frompeople who will help us along the way, and
- Helps to inform choices anddecisions along the way.
But how can itbe use to measure our progress?
Keeping it Alive
If the visionstatement is good enough, then the audience will have been persuaded to makechanges and projects will have been developed from the vision. Because thevision identified current issues and how things would be different in thefuture, it is an easy task to translate these into critical success factors orkey performance indicators for the project phases. By creating such measuresand actively monitoring them, it is possible to measure progress from where westarted and identify when we have reached our destination
However,businesses don’t stand still while we make our changes! Ensure that you haveregular review sessions with the business users that supported the vision tocheck that the vision for the future is still valid and that it still supportsthe overall aims of the business.
Remember torefer back to the vision statement when decisions are required along the way orwhen new projects are initiated. The vision will have challenges anddiversions, but without a clear statement to guide you, it’s easy for theultimate goal to be lost. You may not achieve your vision in a single step, butyou can ensure that each small step is in the right direction.
Finally, thework is done, the projects completed, changes have been made. You can now referback to your vision statement, compare it with the new reality and say, we havearrived.
StuartMurdoch is a principal consultant at Platon, an information managementconsulting firm. He has been an IT professional for more than 35 years and nowfocuses on master data management and organizational change management. Murdochalso manages content relating to project management and change managementmethodologies in Platon’s best practice information management methodology,Platon Insight.