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  • Ela Stilwell
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What’s Your Vision?

Having a vision is one thing, but communicating vision is another. When we communicate the project vision clearly and frequently, that big picture allows people to support, engage and be truly involved in making the vision a reality.

Our blog posts are a condensed version of our podcast! Listen to the episode linked above to hear Rod and Dale take you through this content.

Create a Project Vision

We need a strong project vision because, when stuff gets tough, it’s very easy to put our vision aside in favor of just, you know, getting stuff done. But if we can remember that our vision is way bigger than getting stuff done, and remind ourselves have the why behind it.

When we have a project vision, it just gets bigger, bolder and better, using more of out talents and skills. As a project leader, we need to bring our whole game to the table. The minute we step back and think of vision as unimportant, we’re sunk. Without a vision, we perish. Without a sense of where we’re headed, we lose motivation, we lose excitement, we’re just not engaged in that process.

If you’re looking for resources on creating and casting a vision, Michael Hyatt and John Maxwell are some of Rod’s most referenced thought leaders in the field.

In the creation of a project vision, Rod recommends consulting and interviewing key stakeholders and sponsors to help that that vision rolling in your head. These people are ultimately the ones who decide what that outcome needs to look like. They’re not going to have all the technical details, or the “how” of accomplish it, but they should be the ones in the best position to articulate the “why” – no matter how hard it may be to get that “why” from. They can share why we’re doing this, what we want to be different, what we want success to look like. These answers are often not technical, but they can clearly give vision building blocks. Consult back with stakeholders and shareholders, confirm the vision, and then communicate it.

What happens if there is no vision communicated?

Without a vision, a project boils down to a list of tasks and a set of assigned responsibilities. There’s a natural instinct that if we just walk through the project plan, we will end up with a successful project that meets the needs of stakeholders. Although on a technical level this may be true in most cases, there is a gray area.

Technical projects, especially can end up with purpose that is specific to the domain or the skills that you’re representing. But most times, our projects are larger than just that. There’s a bigger outcome that you want to declare success. And even if all the technical components work, that doesn’t necessarily mean that the project was successful.

The most notable is the blind spots created by a lack of vision. When one doesn’t know what the vision is, the decisions make are often more narrow in service of the tasks. The result is often missing the bigger picture goals that cannot be distilled into a check list.

Daniel Pink talks about the need of mastery, autonomy and purpose to be motivated. Without that sense of purpose, without knowing where we’re headed, we can we end up being a little less engaged. In fact, because we aren’t as familiar with the bigger picture, we may not be bringing all of our skills to bear. But if we actually understood the overall vision, we might be able to identify skills we have that can be used beyond that check list, in service of the greater vision. This becomes a value added.

In addition, a lack of vision diminishes motivation. For some, the satisfaction of checking off a to-do list is enough. For most, a deeper sense of accomplishment is needed – one that comes from knowing what one’s work is in service of. There’s enough evidence out there to suggest that, at some level, in order to truly be motivated and engaged, we need to understand a bigger purpose. In many cases, we need to be part of something bigger than us, to understand how the project may bring change to the community, the organization, or our own world.

The 1969 moon landing is a great case study in the value of vision. We don’t know how many hundreds of thousands of mini-projects were involved in the historic event, but the vision that
President John F. Kennedy went beyond the technical. It wasn’t just landing on the moon within the decade, it was greater than that. The second part of Kennedy’s vision was to bring man home safely. Dale argues that this distinction was the difference between the American and Russian success. Although the Russian craft may have been a better design, it was not reliable enough for a manned landing. The result is an absolutely huge difference in terms of outcome.

When we talk about a vision, it’s really helping people to see not only how this fits in the bigger picture of life, but how it impacts us.

How we relate a personal vision to a bigger project vision.

You would want to ensure your personal vision is not in conflict with the main vision for the project. You may have some nuances that you, as a project manager are bringing to your vision for that project that are different than then the project as a whole. Personal vision is typically around some component of the project that you want to see, excel or exceed your expectations (not a goal or target).

I’ve heard vision described as a dream with a plan. For example a project leader may have the personal vision in their role to see communication be paramount. This includes to communicate more and make sure that everybody throughout the duration of the project is on board with where we’re headed, knows what our status is, knows what’s expected of them, knows how they relate to other people, their roles and responsibilities, and all those good things. That can tie in to the success of the project and can still motivate you, even if it’s not directly stated in the vision of the project itself.

Communicating Vision

To be alive, we have to articulate and share the vision, to get it out there and allow people to contribute to achieving our vision. When President Kennedy declared his vision of landing a man on the moon and bringing him home safely, there were likely people at NASA who balked, wondering what the President had committed them to. At the time, we didn’t quite know how we were going to get there. By President Kennedy sharing that vision out loud with the world, it allowed people who otherwise may not have been involved in it to get excited about it, to share with neighbors about it, to feel some level of pride about it. And in some cases to offer services that then would be picked up by NASA because they knew the bigger vision.

Rod and Dale recommend condensing your vision so it can easily be reiterated. They consider an elevator or a passenger-on-an-airplane speech to articulate the vision in a couple of minutes, so that you can communicate it on a regular basis. Make it short and succinct enough that people can embrace it.

We need to overcommunicate the vision, to get it out there, not just once or twice. The vision should be part of ever conversation, every meeting sign off. All you do needs to be brought full circle, linking back to your vision. Use the vision to mobilize, engage and motivate people, to allow them to be part of achieving something great.

It doesn’t matter how small the project is or how insignificant some people may feel it is. If we can bring greatness to every project, through having a clear vision which we communicate, we’re going to end up with success.

By clearly stating the vision, the “why,” we create a level of accountability for delivering on that. Timelines and budgets may not be perfectly adhered to, but the quality, the outcome from serving a vision will hold strong.

Author: Ela Stilwell