Project Mission Statements – Justifiable, Objective Focus

It is not uncommon for project mission statements and organizational mission statements contain lofty, heartfelt missions that sound terrific – but fail to translate into meaningful guidance for a project or company.  If you ever had a chance to use the Dilbert mission statement generator before it was decommissioned, you may have created mission statements like the following, which highlight how NOT to create a mission statement -

  • “We have committed to synergistically fashion high-quality products so that we may collaboratively provide access to inexpensive leadership skills in order to solve business problems”
  • “Our challenge is to assertively administrate timely resources and authoritatively integrate enterprise-wide products while promoting personal employee growth.”
  • “It is our job to continually foster world-class infrastructures as well as to quickly create principle-centered sources to meet our customer’s needs”

The above mission statements are ultimately empty and provide no guidance or control over the execution of tasks that will take place to fulfil them.

In his book Winning, Jack Welch emphasizes the need to take a pragmatic, no-nonsense approach to mission statement development if any real value is to be gained by it.  Mr Welch states that “Too often, these exercises end with a set of generic platitudes that do nothing but leave employees directionless or cynical. Who doesn’t know of a mission statement that reads something like, “XYZ Company values quality and service,” or, “Such-and-Such Company is customer-driven.” … Give me a break—every decent company espouses these things!”

To make the most out of a project charter’s mission statement it must be meaningful enough to provide business justification, focus the project execution and provide a high level metric to objectify project results.  If developed correctly, a mission statement will act as an excellent compass by which to deliver a successful project.  This is done by clearly defining

  • WHAT the project is about – focus execution via this statement
  • WHY it is being undertaken – business justification
  • HOW it will be achieved – objective metrics for success
This might sound trivial, but it is amazing how often this fundamental criteria is not met.  If this criteria cannot be clearly articulated by a project team, the project should not be undertaken.

Although the Project Management Institutes’s (PMI) Body of Knowledge can be idealistic, it does a good job of making sure that a project mission statement is clear in these respects and define it as follows – “Brief summary, approximately one or two sentences, that sums up the background, purposes and benefits of the project.” (from http://www.pmi.org/PDF/pp_besnerhobbs.pdf).  In my abbreviated approach above, addressing the WHAT (goal), WHY (business justification) and HOW (metrics for success) will ensure that a foundation for project success is created based on a strong vision.

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