The Vision Thing

27 November, 2013

It is sad to report that the Dilbert Mission Statement Generator is no more. However, others have picked up the baton and you can find similar generators out there. Even if you cannot find one, it is easy enough to create your own. Take a series of words and phrases like “synergy”, “leverage”, “core competencies” and “going forward”, blend them with as many superlatives as you like and produce random sentences. It is often difficult to distinguish between real and fake ones.

This is a pity, because giving a bit of thought to vision and mission statements will serve as useful guidance for corporations, programs and even projects.

You will not meet vision and mission statements on any Project Management Professional (PMP)® course. The Project Management Institute reserves these concepts for Program Management Professionals (PgMPs)®. For program managers, it is important to position their programs to align with the corporate vision. But project managers can gain better understanding of their place in the bigger picture by spending some time devising vision and mission statements for their own projects.

The first step on the way is to understand what vision and mission statements are. First off, they are not the same thing (a mistake many corporations make). The vision statement is where you want to be. It is the goal as you see it now. You might distinguish public and private visions. For instance, the public vision could be: “To develop an economical power source from tidal sources”, while the private vision is: “To make the founders millionaires by the time they are 30”.

The mission statement, in contrast, is the high-level strategy: How are we going to achieve the vision? Corresponding to our example vision, our mission might be: “We will produce a full-sized, fully working, electricity generator, based on our patented TideTurbine technology, connect it to the grid and demonstrate its efficiency. We will license the technology to interested partners.” This clearly states how the vision will be met, without going into detail on how the generator will be build, how we will get access to the grid, how we will promote the product or how we will get the initial finance for the work.

The mission statement will be a synopsis of the company’s strategy. The strategic plan must be anchored by an awareness of what the company is good at. Many multi-national companies get into trouble by diversifying their portfolios into areas that they have no expertise (or indeed interest) in. A good vision and mission statement should inform any decision of this nature.

But what has this to do with the PMP® on the ground? As a project manager, you are likely to have experienced a project cancellation – and hopefully, closed out the project properly according to your PMP® training. But did you see it coming? A change in strategy at portfolio (corporate) or program level can mean your project no longer contributes to realizing the vision. In that case, your project is likely to be cancelled.

Another time when PMPs® need to be aware of the overall vision is when trying to get approval for a project. If you can align your project’s goals with the company’s vision, your idea will merit a hearing at least. For instance, an engineer in the TideTurbine company might come up with a really useful improvement to the wetsuits they use. However, the board of directors should not pursue this because it has nothing to do with economic power generation from tidal sources. However, if the engineer discovered a better way of transferring generated power from the turbine to the grid, allowing the turbine to be anchored further from shore, then that should definitely be pursued.

So the next time you are asked by a project sponsor to take on a project, spend a little time determining how this fits into the overall corporate strategy. Then devise your own vision and mission statements to reinforce this alignment. For instance: “This project will make the TideTurbine more attractive to potential licensees by allowing the turbine to be anchored further off shore”.

Fans of agile methods and the Scrum project management methodology in particular, will recall that Scrum projects should define a vision statement. Again, the goal is to anchor the project with a definite purpose. Agile projects (or projects with an adaptive life cycle as you PMPs® might call them) do not have clearly defined scope at the start of the project. In situations where the requirements (or product backlog) can change between iterations, it is really useful to have some overall definition of the product under construction so that we do not go off developing totally unrelated features.

As an example, suppose our vision is: “To develop an automated payroll system for Acme Inc.”. Then we should certainly start asking questions if the customer starts requesting features relating to invoice processing. It might be legitimate – some contractors might be paid for their work by invoicing the company and this might be accounted for as a payroll cost – but the vision statement allows a degree of scope control by outlining the boundary of the product or service we are developing.

In terms of PMP® certification, Velopi’s vision is to provide a one-stop-shop for PMP® students. The mission: By using our Blended Learning Solution, our PMP® courses provide total support for our PMP® students, from initial application to preparing for the PMP® exam itself. Our strategy includes hosting PMP® courses in Dublin, Cork, Limerick and Galway and providing online, simulated PMP® exams to provide the best PMP® exam preparation. For more details, please see our training page or contact us directly.

By Velopi Seamus Collins
 

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