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Project Management Primer #6 - Scope, Visions and Goals

Project Planning TemplatesScope is a general term to describe everything that your project encompasses, everything that must be achieved for the project to be complete.

This would encompass your vision, your goals and your requirements and would be embodied in documents such as a “project proposal” and at a lower level “commercial specifications” and “technical specifications”.

The word ‘vision’ produces shudders in technical and non-technical people the world over. And rightly so, for a vision is normally a collection of meaningless catch phrases and marketing dribble intended to dupe people into thinking that businesses are there for polite and altruistic reasons. This is not the kind of vision I mean.

When I talk about vision I’m simply saying that you need a single encapsulated idea which defines the aim of your project. Why are you doing the project in the first place? A project is a standalone task (or set of tasks) that has an intended outcome. You work on your project, complete it and then move on to the next.

If you can’t state the aim of your project in a single sentence, then it’s not a project.

Maybe it’s an occupation, an idea for a business or possibly a way of life but it's not a project. It might even be a program, a set of projects that need to be divided into single ‘efforts’. A project is a defined task with a finite life with a fixed end point and that end is defined by your ‘vision’.

Without a single, linking goal all the dependent steps of project planning become difficult. That single vision may be broken up in sub-goals but it provides the link that holds all of the disparate parts of the project together into a single enterprise. It gives your team and stakeholders a sense of purpose and defines the success of your project.

Goals are slightly lower-level and more specific than the vision. Goals should directly support the overall vision of the project but refine its definition. Typically goals are set out by customers or by a business and define how the success of the project will be achieved. While the vision encompasses the whole project, goals may refer only to the objectives of a particular segment of the project.

Note that the terms scope, vision and goal are largely interchangeable. Different organizations use them in different contexts to refer to much the same concepts.

Project Vision as Inspiration

Project Initiation KitWhile further steps in the project planning aim to be more and more specific the initial goal should be broad enough to encompass the whole project. The vision must state, succinctly, the ultimate goal for the whole project.

The goal or vision should also be inspiring or, appropriately enough, “visionary”.

Project goal:

“To deliver the cheapest system, in the shortest time that just about gets the job done”

is unlikely to inspire anyone or motivate a team.

Project goal:

“Deliver the best sales and marketing system on the market”

is more likely to inspire personal commitment from the team and stakeholders.

If you are working on your own, an inspirational vision can restore your flagging enthusiasm.

When the client or manager calls up and says “Where’s that bit of documentation I asked for?” and you say to yourself “Why am I doing this again?” your answer could be “because I’m writing the best content management system the world is ever going to see!”.

Visions don’t have to be written down or cast in stone.

They don’t even have to be formalized in any particular sense. In large organizations they often are, since that’s the kind of the thing large organizations like to do. The only important thing is that you, your team and your stakeholders know exactly what the vision is and agree on it.

Don’t go overboard.

Now is not the time to exercise your commercial-buzzword vocabulary. Select language that is natural and easy for you to use and that sounds sincere. The more you believe the vision and the more you use it, the more that other people, including your team and your customers, will come to believe it too.

One of the most important things you can do is to inspire trust in the people you work with.

It is human nature to be skeptical and it is easier for most people to assume that a project will fail rather than assume it will succeed. You don’t have that luxury however!

Everybody from the team to the stakeholders to the man signing the check will want reassurance that you know what you are doing. You have to build confidence in yourself and in the project. Pick a vision that inspires! If it inspires you, it will probably inspire them as well.

Often the vision will be delivered into your hands by your executive sponsor or a client that commissions your project. In discussions with them you will notice that they have a singular way of referring to the project such as “we want a sales and marketing system that’s going to save us time and money”. You could do worse than adopt a phrase like that as a vision but consider reworking it to suit your own purposes.

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