Leadership: The Mission Is Vision

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Categories: Leadership

As a project manager, you're a leader by default. And as a leader, your job is to inspire your team to achieve a shared vision. That means you create an "inspiring vision" of the future and then build the expectation that the vision is achievable.

An "inspiring vision" is not simply finishing your project, either. A great example of this was one put forth by London's Olympic Delivery Authority (ODA) responsible for building the facilities for the Olympic and Paralympic Games. The ODA set a much-publicized "zero harm" goal.

The London Olympics construction program completed the work on budget, ahead of schedule, to a high standard — and with no fatalities. Not only that, but the overall accident frequency came in at 58 percent below the UK construction industry average. This is a remarkable achievement, given that a total of 40,000 people worked on the projects.

After creating the inspiring vision, make sure your team can commit to and communicate it effectively. To do so, each member must:

  1. Understand it — it has to be realistic to them.
  2. Know their teammates and other stakeholders will like and commit to it.
  3. Get excited about it.
  4. Believe they can make it happen.
Framing your vision in the right context is a big part of communicating it effectively to your team and to all that touch the project. The London Olympics construction program knew that "on time and on budget" was not an exciting rallying cry to many people. (Project managers notwithstanding.) So it framed the project around the idea of looking after workmates, which was an easier concept for securing widespread buy-in. 

Looking after co-workers meant achieving a safer worksite. And for that, construction had to be well-planned, well-managed, clean and tidy — coincidentally, all the same facets for achieving a high-quality, on-time, on-budget outcome.

After framing your vision, preferably working with team members so they own it, the hard work starts. The vision needs to be communicated and reinforced at all times. No compromises. As soon as you stop living the vision, it will fade. 

In London, for instance, safety was always the first agenda item at meetings. It was continuously policed, communicated and enforced. But more importantly, safety success was celebrated. Major milestones — such as 1,000,000 hours worked with no accidents — were big occasions. There were also smaller, more personal celebrations of people contributing to the vision. 

Enforcing and celebrating the vision created a culture focused on safety and achieving the vision of an accident-free project daily.

What is the inspiring vision you can create for your team to help achieve your project objectives? How will you communicate and maintain that vision?

Posted by Lynda Bourne on: April 30, 2013 07:25 PM | Permalink

Comments (4)

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Kit Leong
The key element here is "inspiring". Often project objectives are defined by outcomes of the project, as in your example to build the London Olympics facility, obviously with the guidelines of zero workplace incidents. But the project really launched to construct the facility, not to have program of safety (although this value is not to be compromised, presumably there are penalties involved if negligence was found to be the case). So I think the challenge here is to find that "inspiring vision" that can be trumpeted alongside that of the actual project delivery objective. For eg, in my projects of IT deliveries, it may be quite difficult to distil this vision. One of my projects was a recovery project to delivery a late piece of work we were bounded to contractually. The actual delivery was to complete the work in time and budget (the customer wasn't going to pay a dollar more). But the inspiring vision was to turn around the customer's dissatisfaction, to exceed them and make them our advocates, which I am pleased to say was achieved. One good point raised though, was to find celebratory milestones for this inspiring vision so as to keep the team motivated.

Lucian Stroie
I wish that all project be so inspiring, but unfortunately not every project is so full of good energy and in such a good light as this project was. It is one additional challenge for the project manager to build and inspiring image of the project, but I do not believe it to be impossible. If I am right, one possible key factor lies in placing yourself in such a position that would allow at least some optionality in choosing what projects to pursue, because from that moment, at least the project manager should have a more powerful sentimental tie with the project, as compared with the rest of the team.

Luis Berrios
I believe 'team chemistry' is a big part of 'inspiring' a team to perform on any one given project. No question, some projects are more exciting to implement than others, and projects could be sort of similar/repetitive in nature. If the objectives and requirements are clearly defined, that is half the battle. No question that the Project Manager is key in communicating the excitement of leading a particular project, with the collective benefits that performing on time and on budget will bring. In my experience, it is inspiring to simply get feedback about being assigned to a particular project; "are you leading Project x? great news, let's go to work", so there is a 'personal branding' element at play and in my opinion, it can not be underestimated.

Michael Hauke
Good post. The London Olympics is a great example to use. I like the list of team member "musts". In my experience, knowing that the other team members will commit is the one that is most difficult to achieve. I believe there are some additional items that could be added to the list. Team members must feel ownership. Micro-management or ignoring suggestions will quickly kill ownership. Team members must believe that they will be recognized for their contributions when the vision is realized.

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