The Importance of Mission Statements

Because I’ve been an IT consultant for a long time, I’ve had the pleasure of watching things change and yet somehow remain the same. Take project management.

Project Management Methodologies

Project management methodologies and tools have been around for decades, going back to PERT charts developed for Navy projects in the 1950s, and even further back. After all, there must have been some type of project plan to build the pyramids. PERT methodologies eventually led to “waterfall” methodologies.

In a waterfall methodology, projects go from one phase to the next in a sequential manner. A project manager begins by getting requirements and ends the project by defining maintenance. This was a common methodology throughout most of the 1990s and early 2000s.

Recently, a new type of project methodology is coming to the fore. It’s called “agile methodologies.” These methodologies are represented by eXtreme Programming (XP), SCRUM and Feature-Driven Development, among others. An agile process is interactive and iterative – a good match for a well-defined project where the participants, including project sponsors and users are in close, physical proximity.

Basic Project Truths

Over the last few years, I’ve been involved in projects with a variety of project methodologies, including SCRUM and waterfall. When I think about these projects, I realize that a few basic facts hold true, regardless of the project methodology that’s used. These are:

* The project needs a good Mission Statement
* There must be an executive sponsor or champion who is capable of getting funding
* It must show ROI for the business quickly

Without all three of these vital components expressed in some way through PowerPoint slides, reports or other documentation, the project will fail.

A Good Mission Statement

What makes a good Mission Statement? A good Mission Statement for a project shows who, what, when and where.  It communicates a problem and how it is going to be fixed. It also communicates the value or ROI of the project.  For example, “The new data warehouse will provide detailed customer characteristics and habits so the marketing department will have more specialized information for advertising and improve purchase response rates by at least 4% from their ads next month.”

Even though this Mission Statement is a mouthful, it provides all the essentials of who, what, when and where. The Mission Statement is not vague; it is focused and communicates the potential value. Obviously someone in the marketing area has done some preliminary work and understands they currently don’t have what they need to devise and place the proper advertisements.   The Mission Statement also exposes the marketing department as the main beneficiary of the project.

Next since the marketing department is the main beneficiary of the project, they are probably the main sponsor or connected to the main sponsor and can help justify funding for the project.  They are probably getting pressure to increase sales and understand that 4% represents a significant improvement over current levels.  The Mission Statement also communicates expectations to everyone so that target success criteria can be used to level set everyone’s expectations.

The Mission Statement highlighting 4% as the target represents the value and ROI of the project.  The sales increase of 4% represents millions of dollars and is the threshold for the success of the company project.  The ROI portion of the mission statement also helps everyone evaluate efforts, components and methods within the project.  Each component can be compared against the 4% improvement requirement.  If a component doesn’t meet or exceed the 4% ROI, then it would be a waste of time to work on it. This is an important part of the evaluation process.

Businesses in these turbulent economic times don’t do anything unless it will make money for the company. If you are working on a project that doesn’t have a good Mission Statement, it is probably because someone hasn’t done the preliminary research and justification for the ROI.  Consider driving the creation of a good Mission Statement for the project. Think of the who, what where and when that is behind the project. That will be the guide to developing a perfect Mission Statement that developers, technical, business, and management can understand.

No matter what your role in the project, a well-defined Mission Statement means that your job will be clearer and you will spend time on work that really matters.