HBR published an article this week reinforcing the importance of purpose for building engagement and creating high performance with project work. Twelve years ago, Daniel Pink doubled down on purpose with his book Start with Why and made it part of his intrinsic motivation triad.
Making sure that a project’s purpose is clear, well understood, and shared by key stakeholders is critical but all too often that valuable information is hidden like the Ark of the Covenant in that secret government warehouse at the end of Raiders of the Lost Ark and it is left to each individual to locate it.
Kick-off meetings provide a good opportunity to remind attendees of the project’s purpose but those are normally just held at the beginning of a project or phase and our memories of what we had heard tend to fade with time.
While forgetting what was the purpose underlying our project is likely to sap our enthusiasm for continuing to work on it, there are at least two other risks that this amnesia generates.
- Without a clear understanding of why we are investing in the project it will be more difficult to convince stakeholders that a requested change is not needed to achieve the expected outcomes. As such, the potential for scope creep (or leap) increases.
- Worse yet, if there are environmental or other contextual changes which decrease or even eliminate the project’s benefits we might not be aware of this and hence are less likely to warn key decision makers that they may want to reassess the project’s viability.
This is why it is important that we keep the project’s purpose top of mind for our team and other key stakeholders. The more people who remain aware of it, the greater the likelihood that at least one of them will detect that one of these two risks is about to be realized.
But how should we go about doing that?
Using multiple complementary methods of reinforcing purpose will help as there are likely to be differences in how each stakeholder re-learns things.
Capturing it in a short but impactful information radiator such as a project canvas which could be posted in prominent locations online and in the physical world is one option, but so is having the sponsor, or better yet a real, live customer create a video or come and visit the team to talk about it regularly. Reminding everyone of the project’s purpose during key team events such as retrospectives or post-milestone reviews will help. Distilling it down to a slogan and printing that on t-shirts, coffee mugs or mouse pads will also help to keep it front and center.
Lewis Carroll might have said “If you don’t know where you are going, any road will get you there“, but forgetting why we are doing a project is a good way to ensure that road leads to nowhere.
(If you liked this article, why not read my book Easy in Theory, Difficult in Practice which contains 100 other lessons on project leadership? It’s available on Amazon.com and on Amazon.ca as well as a number of other online book stores)