Vision

Normally, the phrase 'project vision" or "project goal" elicits a collective groan from any team in which it is used. This is because project vision statements are generally... well... crap. Whoever puts them together inevitably feels it necessary to slip into management speak and string a bunch of fairly meaningless weasel words together – "we will proactively leverage our synergies to achieve outcomes consistent with our values going forward...". Lots of words but no actual meaning. No wonder people greet them with a groan.

But at the same time, the team needs to have a cohesive picture of what it is they are working towards. They need to know what the goal is. More than that, the team will do much better at reaching the goal if they really believe that the goal is worthwhile. They need to see the goal as a thing to be desired, a thing to be strived for. What do we call such a goal? Well.. that would be the project vision, wouldn't it. This leads us to a dilemma. The team needs a vision to strive towards, but vision statements are so universally awful.

So how can we come up with better visions?

My view on visions is that they should explain clearly, and concisely three things – the goal, the time frame and the desired quality. And all that in plain, simple language (no management speak, no jargon) and in two sentences or less. It must be short, punchy and memorable. That's not easy. In fact, I have only ever seen one that I would consider to be a perfect example –

"I believe that this nation should set itself the goal, before this decade is out, of landing a man on the moon and returning him safely to the earth."

There you have it. The USA's space program summed up in one clear sentence. Let's look at this example in detail –

"I believe". Not "I think" or "we should" . Belief is important here. A vision is not something you just read, a truly inspiring vision is something that grabs you and draws you in. It's something you really believe in. By saying "I believe" here, JFK is asking everyone who listens to come and share his belief in the goal. Not that I am advocating for every vision statement to start with "I believe". What is important is the use of language that inspires. There are plenty of ways to say "I believe" without using the words "I believe". "I have a dream" worked pretty well for Martin Luther King. You'll need to find your own words.

"Before this decade is out". That's the time frame. Before this decade is out. This statement was made in 1961. That left them 9 years to go from a nation that had barely managed to lift a single satellite into orbit, to a nation that could land people on the moon, all within 9 years. Many people thought this was impossible but they made it.

"Landing a man on the moon" - this is the goal. The Big Hairy Audacious goal. The goal should be big. It should be exciting. It should be just on the edge of possibility. One year later, JFK gave another speech where he said "... We choose to go to the moon and do the other things, not because they are easy, but because they are hard". Kennedy was right. To really inspire us to action we need a challenge. Walking down the road to the shops isn't a goal to strive for (for most of us), running a marathon or walking the Kakoda track are Big Hairy Audacious Goals. Things to work hard and strive for.

"And returning him safely to the earth" – there's the quality. No point landing on the moon if we can't bring them back. No point running that marathon if you die of a heart attack after crossing the finish line. No point building that system if it doesn't do what the user wants.

Getting to the moon in 9 years was a huge achievement. With a great vision maybe your team can do great things as well.

I'd love to see examples of your best (and worst) vision statements. I'll start the ball rolling with one from a Healthcare project I was involved with – "We will strive to revolutionise patient care by giving medical staff access to data from multiple systems in a single place, whenever they need it, wherever they need it and in a way that maximises their ability to deliver quality care". Who wouldn't want to be involved with a project like that?

Cheers

Dave