Embracing your project vision
When embarking on a project, setting a project Vision sounds like the obvious way to start, but often organisations think that they already know what they want to achieve and how they want to do it.
Key reasons for project failure include:
- Not involving the right people at the crucial, early planning stages and so failing to get project buy-in.
- Allowing staff to think its an IT Project – which means they disengage and rely on technology not outcome.
- Misaligned project delivery and aims – allowing activities which don’t achieve the Vision.
- Lack of understanding or ambiguity about project purpose – inability to explain “so what?”
- Lack of understanding on resource demands – “unofficial” projects that have been initiated through other channels may be perceived as being strategically unimportant, but leadership teams often have a limited understanding of what they are approving and may prioritise them as a major project. As a result, “unofficial” projects can be approved with no insight into how team’s capacity is already stretched thin by existing demands.
- Setting a project Vision tackles each of these risks, serving as a focal point throughout the project for course-correction and success measurement.
Setting a Vision
Project Vision should focus on the reason why you are making the change, describing the direction of the business and its aims in the medium-to-long term.
A Vision is designed to be aspirational, describing where the business wants to be, not necessarily where the business currently is. It should explain what the business will deliver and the benefits to customers.
A Vision without Principles is just a statement of intent!
Underpinning the Vision are Principles which will guide the project. They are the qualifying characteristics that show how the business will progress towards and achieve that Vision. Principles are a set of guiding decisions which influence tactical planning by outlining what the business wants to achieve; they are there to hold the project to account and remind the team of the purpose
As they signify the need for change, it is essential that the Vision and Principles are created and/or influenced by the project team, as well as senior decision-makers. This maximises stakeholder buy-in and ensures that everyone is signed-up to and working towards the same goals. Principles should be clear and easy to understand, free from jargon or ambiguity.
It is also important to recognise that there may be Constraints which will impact the Vision. A Constraint is different to a challenge. Whilst a challenge signifies difficulty, it may not be impossible to overcome that difficulty. A Constraint, however, signifies an immovable limitation or restriction. Therefore, whilst budgets or resources may feel like a Constraint, they are in fact business challenges, because it may be possible to overcome them (e.g., via a Business Case). However, a statutory factor, such as compliance or regulatory boundaries, are usually fixed.
Understanding and documenting the Constraints in which the organisation or change must work is an important tool. It provides the business with the opportunity to plan around the Constraint and may also reduce the likelihood of encountering a risk later on in the project.
Shout from the rooftops
Burying documents in SharePoint or only sharing with senior staff will not ensure stakeholder buy-in. Instead, promote the outcomes of the time invested in this essential up-front activity. Think about engaging ways to do this; visuals, cartoons and diagrams resonate more easily with stakeholders and reinforce the Vision.
Once created, organisations should take time to guide staff through the Vision and explain what it means and how it will be used. Consider how you will check understanding and ensure staff are onboard and motivated.
Reap the benefits
Organisations sometimes struggle to explain or measure progress or success, but the Vision and Principles are the parameters for those measurements. During the project, use the Vision and Principles to carry out a project health-check:
- Are you achieving what you set out to do?
- How are you realising the Vision?
- What are the gaps?
At the end of your project use the Vision and Principles as part of the project’s Benefits Realisation stage.
Top tips for building a Vision
1. Involve everyone to maximise buy-in (don’t forget IT, but don’t let them take the lead).
2. Be aspirational in your Vision; set out what you want to achieve and how it will benefit your customers.
3. Choose guiding Principles that underpin the Vision to explain how it will be achieved.
4. Set ground rules that everyone signs up to and agrees to be accountable towards.
5. Recognise Constraints and plan for and adapt to challenges.
6. Promote, share, and use the Vision throughout the project.
7. Create quantifiable targets for Benefits Realisation.