The Power Of Purpose In Projects
Consider the following statistic: 9.9% of every dollar is wasted due to poor project performance, according to the Project Management Institute’s (PMI) 2018 Pulse of the Profession Report. That represents $99 million for every $1 billion invested. With the rise of the project economy, this figure is likely to increase. This happens in part because projects are not rooted in a purpose.
According to PMI, there are three keys to a project’s success:
Investing in actively engaged executive sponsors.
Avoiding scope creep or uncontrolled changes to a project’s scope.
Maturing value delivery capabilities (competencies that enable organizations to deliver their projects. Maturing allows for quick adaptation to changing market conditions).
Purpose links to all three of these areas.
Let’s take the first one. In order to be actively engaged, executive sponsors need to see how a project links to organizational goals. Purpose addresses this because it asks: “Why have this project team in the first place?”
Scope creep often happens because the original purpose is never clearly articulated. Purpose provides “guard rails” to the project, defining what’s in and what’s out. Moreover, if it is communicated but not discussed or reinforced, project teams are liable to drift from the original focus of the project.
Finally, as change accelerates, projects find they need different talent deployed throughout the project’s life cycle. One of the best ways to onboard new project team members is by inspiring and aligning them around a common purpose.
A Story of Project Purpose
A recent senior team of a UK-based advertising and media agency was suffering from lack of alignment. Their project involved uniting multiple lines of business under one, client-driven effort to create a more seamless experience. We worked with the team to align on a shared plan to create a more unified offering. It was clear within 20 minutes that the reason for misalignment was because team members had different expectations about their collective role. Some thought it was merely to update each other on activities in the marketplace. Others believed that the team should serve as a problem-resolution forum for client delivery issues. They were able to see their purpose was not shared and then decided to hash it out.
Once they achieved a coherent, shared sense of purpose, we noticed a significant shift in their words and actions by the end of the session. Team members started to use “we” more and more in their discussions, instead of “I.” They launched into conversations around shared plans and goals, instead of individual agendas. Over time, client outcomes and performance improved markedly. “Purpose is a discipline, not a statement,” said the Managing Director.
Project Purpose Principles
Antonio Nieto-Rodriguez, author of the new book The Project Revolution – How to Succeed in a Project Driven World, shared with me four principles and tips that are essential in leveraging purpose for better project outcomes.
1. Purpose prioritizes
Organizations are often considering hundreds of different ideas and projects. Purpose should be part of the selection formula, according to Antonio, as it creates a clear line of sight about how the project aligns to organizational priorities. “Organizations often judge projects based on business cases that are always presented in a positive light. They should still be part of the equation, but the purpose of the project engages stakeholders in a much more impactful way,” he said.
2. Formulate the purpose by asking why
Most project methodologies come from engineers and are focused on scope, time and costs. These are important, but can lead to decisions that ultimately aren’t the key priorities from consumers’ point of view.
Antonio noted: “The purpose is connected to the end user and the value add that it brings to the organization. You are able to see this connection when you ask the question ‘why’ multiple times. This is the best alignment mechanism to organizational purpose.”
3. Align the individuals
It can be challenging for everyone to interpret and align around a purpose. Antonio shared this point and I agree. That is why it is important to generate agreement on the big picture purpose of the project, but then allow for individuals to connect to it in their own way.
Individuals approach their jobs with different motivations based on their own sense of meaning. This relates back to my Forbes column about connecting organizational to individual purpose.
There is usually motivation around purpose conversations at the project’s outset. Communication is key to sustain the momentum.
“Not everyone on the project team is together all the time or in the same place,” said Antonio. “Thus, communication is crucial. Project leaders probably need to spend 80% of their time communicating. There are also various speeds that take place during the duration of a project and effective communications keeps the team on track.”
4. Project leadership needs to be embedded in purpose
“It is incumbent upon project leaders to create a purpose that generates the optimal number of volunteers and the 10% extra discretionary effort that is key to success,” said Antonio.
The problem is that organizational structures in place are not created to continually address projects. Employees often have a difficult time deciphering how a new project fits within their current operating structure. Purpose, in my experience, is the optimal way to create this buy-in. A person that is initially motivated by a project to accumulate power or prestige usually disengages at some point. A person motivated by purpose usually will not (assuming the purpose doesn’t change).
My conversation with Antonio underscored an important point: purpose elevates everything to the human level, beyond task. It is a key to differentiating project leadership from mere management. You need project management skills, but without purpose, you can’t move into project leadership, which is about inspiration, engagement and energy.
There is also a clear link between purpose and creativity. It serves as a means to explore the “wild ideas part” of the project. By introducing a clear narrative on what you’re there to do or whom you are meant to serve, people feel more anchored and therefore freer to explore and use alternative thinking methods.
Budget and outcomes are not enough; project teams need to increase performance and creativity. The time for project purpose as a core discipline has arrived. Welcome, project managers, to project leadership.
Source : www.forbes.com