The project mission statement is perhaps one of the most crucial ingredients responsible for the success of a project. In the thick of execution, the mission statement will be the driving force behind everything the team does. It anchors the team, preventing them from developing tunnel vision and losing focus of the larger picture while they dive into their day-to-day tasks. In addition, the mission statement also forms the basis of what customers, vendors, and partners expect from the project.
In fact, the mission statement for a project is as crucial as the mission statement of a brand or organization, if not moreso. While many enterprises pay great attention to detail in defining their mission statement, the project mission statement often gets sidelined as executives and the program management office get mired in details. Sometimes, when they are too close to the project they may even tend to skip the mission statement completely, not realizing the importance of the mission statement in communicating the project expectations and goals to the team as well as to the project’s end customers.
Defining an Effective Mission Statement
An effective mission statement for a project clearly spells out what, when, where and by who—i.e. every aspect of the project. It communicates the objective, how it will be accomplished, and the ROI or value of the project.
Doug Cooper, founder of Trubelo Development, a business development and project management company, has over a decade of experience developing and executing project management strategies and initiatives worldwide. He emphasized the need to have a mission statement that helps drive support and enthusiasm for the project and brings the team together. “Projects are a temporary assemblage of people brought together to achieve a set of objectives. With that, each person brings his or her unique skills, experience, and perspective to the project in what and how things should be done to realize the desired results. To ensure the project team works most effectively and efficiently, the mission statement must, one, be a beacon that is easy to understand, provides direction, and elevates the team’s aspiration, and two, establish the authority of the project manager to help navigate the uncertainty as the team comes together and builds the required trust and working relationships to achieve the objectives,” said Cooper.
Elaine Law, Director of PMO for Avenue Code Inc. and adjunct professor at University of California, Berkeley Extension shared, “The mission statement must contain the value of the discrete effort from the project. This value can be in revenue, opportunity costs, or internal value as long as it is interpretable by the project mission statement.”
Avoiding Common Pitfalls
Whether the organization uses agile project management methodologies, a waterfall method, or any other project management method, there are some common pitfalls the organization would do well to avoid. “A common mistake in the project mission statement is extreme vagueness. The executives or the committee approving the project sets a big picture view and if the goal is unclear, the project manager will also be unclear and chase the wrong bull’s eye,” said Law.
Cooper highlighted the importance of the project mission statement in creating an environment of cohesive team work. He shared, “Most organizations do not have project resources on the bench available to be allocated to projects as a full time responsibility. Project work is typically incremental work. As a result the tasks that need to be done are often in direct competition with other work assigned to project team members. If a mission statement does not create the vision and inspire the team: why the project is critical for the success of the organization, clearly identify the objectives and desired results for the project, and define the roles the team members have in achieving the success, the necessary work will not get the focus and energy required to meet and surpass the goals. Success must be a clear choice and one the team members burn to make”.
The Cost of an Unclear Mission Statement
According to Cooper, an unclear mission statement directly impacts the project team’s ability to deliver the expected results. While it may not always be possible to put a direct monetary value to the contribution of a good mission statement towards the success of a project, its impact cannot be denied. “If a project team is unclear on why they have been brought together, what needs to be done, and who is responsible, project success will be more of an exception, and happen as a result of talented and committed team members overcoming poor planning and management and only after overruns in time and cost, rather than the industrialized business process it should be,” he elaborated.
Law summarized it with “The impact of an unclear mission statement can be wasted resource time, funds and time to market. So make it count.”