The project vision statement is key in project management because these are the words that define your why. You can not achieve a successful project outcome without a clear vision. This post describes the questions to ask and the process to follow when writing a project vision statement.
Project vision is not given
In project management, the vision statement defines what your initiative is all about. From the project vision comes the benefits, scope, outcomes, milestones and tasks of a project. This is the big picture that ensures everyone is on the same page. It talks of the your purpose and the benefits of change that you seek to make.
Many projects begin without a clear and defined vision. Instead they have vague policy statements that describe some catch-all future. This is counterproductive to project delivery because it does not define with clarity what the project is about.
For a lot of reasons, writing a clear project vision can be difficult. Defining a vision, means placing your stake on a hill and that means you must make choices. A good vision will rule-in and rule-out who will benefit and who does not. From a project management perspective, the vision statement defines the work that you will do and how you will spend your budget. Typically, people tend to prefer to use catch-all statements that get around the politics of the changes to be made. However, this ultimately leads to the team delivering more in political management, than project management.
While it is true that you do not need a clearly-defined vision to begin a project, you will need one to end with success. This brings us to the multi-million dollar question: how do you define what you should be doing, when you don’t know what you are going to do?
Three Big Questions
A project vision statement should answer three big questions:
- Who is this for? Name the people who will benefit from the changes that your project will deliver.
- Why should we change? Describe what is the benefit of what you are going to do. It is as Simon Sinek says, Start With Why.
- What will change? Every project needs to deliver a change in something, otherwise why bother?
Ask your team
One way to begin a project vision statement is to simply write down what you think the project is about. Then share this with your team with the aim of gaining consensus. If agreement cannot be achieved, then your project is in trouble. Without an agreed vision you will struggle to make progress because internal conflicts and politics will consume all your time and money. You will not gain the authority you need to make decisions. If the project does deliver, it will be likely miss the true needs of your target audience.
To create agreement, talk with people individually and privately and ask them what the project is about. Listen carefully to each response because everyone will have their own personal intent for your project. These individual ideals will be based on personal beliefs and perspectives. Inevitably this means you will need to read across and between the lines of individual opinions.
Review your documents
It will also help to review any documents about your project. What is the history that got you to where you are now? Most projects are initiated through some form of documentation and it will contain many insights as to the project purpose. Useful documents for defining your project vision statement include the: business strategy, business model, project submission or perhaps a series of emails through which the initial idea was developed. Look for statements that describe the benefits of the project and who receives them.
Create your project vision statement
Use the lessons from your people and documents to write your statement. Hopefully the ideas you have collected will have a common thread. This is likely to be about the aims and goals that are the foundation of your project. Write your statement, share it around and ask for feedback. If responses are positive and generally in agreement then refine your statement and share again. Once everyone agrees, seek endorsement from your project sponsor or project board.
If the feedback is mixed, confused or contradictory then your project management is in trouble. It will be worth the effort to have the difficult conversations soon rather than later. If you can’t get agreement, then it is worth thinking seriously about the viability of the project. You are better to kill a project without vision, rather than have the lack of vision kill the project.
With a targeted effort in stakeholder and document analysis, plus a little good faith negotiation, you can write a great project vision statement.
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