The Importance of a Shared Vision

In a post from my series “Advice for Junior PMs“, I touched on the concept of saying what you mean when working with your project team.  The same concept should be applied when communicating outside of your project team.

There’s a fairly common graphic that gets passed around IT departments, and it’s somewhat self-deprecating.  It shows that project teams tend to not understand what the customer needs – which is endemic of lacking a shared vision.

This graphic makes me cringe every time I see it.

As we all know, a project is a temporary group activity designed to produce a unique product, service or result.  (I think this definition needs to be re-written to be more poetic…)  However, more often than not, project teams take an “I know best” view of the world when designing solutions for their customer.

A strong project manager will not only sit with their customer to understand what is required, but will bring the whole project team along to understand as well.  We all have our own perceptions and filters, and as a result may play broken telephone.

At this point, you may be asking if a shared vision is different from the project scope statement.  It is, in that the shared vision is what the customer will see as the product, service, or result of the project, whereas the project scope is everything that will be delivered (including training, documentation, organizational change management).

To create a shared vision of what the project will produce (be it a unique product, service, or result):

  1. Bring everyone to the table to ensure open communication
  2. Define what is to be produced in simple language – do not say “we are going to produce a tree swing” and leave it there, say “we are going to produce a tree swing, which is comprised of a tire hanging from a sturdy branch of a large oak tree by a piece of polyester rope.”
  3. Involve the customer in design meetings.  Subject Matter Experts (SMEs) should definitely lead, but should be eliciting feedback so that the customer’s requirements are re-confirmed by the team.
  4. Revisit the shared vision often.  Ask your customer at difference acceptance testing points if what is being developed meets the shared vision.

Most importantly, communicate the shared vision often.  Use it as the first line in your status reports; use it as part of your elevator speech; and when people ask you what you are working on, relay your project’s shared vision.

What are your tips for creating a shared vision?  What have you seen work well?  Do you have any stories of spectacular failures?  Share your tips and stories below!

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About Jason H Zalmanowitz
I am a nerdy Management Consultant / Project Manager with a MBA, have spent the majority of my career working for consulting firms in Calgary, and I race in triathlons because of (and thanks to) my wife. As a Project Manager, I have managed field implementations, strategy development projects, software development projects, and hardware implementation projects. As a consultant, I have helped companies articulate how and why they are going to implement and interact with sustaining technology to support their business.

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