Laying the foundations for success: How to write an effective project mission statement

A 2020 study of Australian businesses  found that 49% of projects are likely to fail to meet their original goal and business intent. As Christine Petersen, Founder of VIRAK describes:

“This is a worrying statistic. It shows that even though we know how important it is to be clear on what the project should achieve, more often than not – in fact, nearly half the time, we accept to manage projects without a clearly defined scope and objective. And then we wonder why so many projects either do not make it on time, within the agreed budget, or without the expected and required result.”

Another survey aims to unpack these project deficiencies, showing that a lack of clear goals is the most common factor for project failure. Therefore, the question then becomes how can you best set a project up for success and establish clear and actionable objectives? Often the answer is a project mission statement.

A clear and concise mission statement sets the direction, defines the purpose, and provides a sense of focus for the entire project team (both internally and externally). A well-crafted project mission statement is the foundation of any successful project, serving as a roadmap that aligns the team’s efforts and resources towards a common goal, like a compass guiding a ship through uncharted waters. Project mission statements in essence are the what and the how. Defining the problem to be solved or goal that is to be achieved, establishing a clear focus and objectives as well as the approach necessary to find a solution or the coveted ‘answer’. Commonly these are short statements, 1 – 2 sentences.

In the work we do at Square Holes, project missions are pivotal. Every job we undertake, whether a simple brand survey or a complex illumination study, is guided by a tailored, project specific mission, usually developed in consultation with our clients. In our view, a well-defined statement provides five key elements that can give a project the best chance of achieving a desired outcome, these being:

  • Clarity of purpose: Ensuring all stakeholders are on the same page regarding what the research is aiming to achieve, minimising ambiguity, and increasing buy-in / motivation. ‘Why does this project exist?’.
  • Research scope and objectives: What is reasonable to include or exclude as part of the research. A key question being ‘will this help satisfy the mission’. Often a danger in such projects is to expand questionnaires or discussion guides to fit the specific needs of different roles or departments. This can dilute the findings and confuse the initial purpose of conducting the work. Defining a clear scope and objectives sets the parameters for a single minded and focussed undertaking.
  • Alignment with client goals: Providing comfort to clients that their goals are understood and will be addressed through the commencement of work, an important focus to enabling client satisfaction and a smooth delivery.
  • Resource efficiency: Guides the actions and methodologies needed, limiting the waste on unnecessary or irrelevant aspects of the research.
  • Measure of success: The ultimate accountability, a question we always come back to throughout our work and critically in the data analysis and reporting stage; ‘does this actually provide an answer or solution to the initial problem posed in the mission statement?’. The answer offers an insight as to whether the project is going to achieve a positive outcome.

“With a clear purpose in mind – any project management decisions will become much easier to make. A clear focus leads to increased productivity. Performance and quality are common goals in project management. I can’t reiterate this enough… Focus follows purpose.” – Aaron Penwill, Lean Practice

Crafting an effective project mission statement requires careful thought and consideration. Here’s a list of considerations to help you write one:

  • Identify the project’s purpose: Begin by asking fundamental questions. Why is this project necessary? What problem are we hoping to solve? Who will benefit from its successful completion?
  • Keep it concise: Your project mission statement should be concise and easy to remember. Aim for a sentence or two that captures the essence of the project’s purpose. Words for the sake of words can hinder mission clarity.
  • Avoid jargon: Use clear and simple language that everyone can understand. Avoid technical jargon or industry-specific terms that might confuse.
  • Be specific and measurable: Your mission statement should include specific goals and outcomes that can be measured. Vague statements can lead to ambiguity and misinterpretation.

As a way of example, here is a project mission statement for a qualitative project we’ve recently undertaken at Square Holes:

“Engage with customers and stakeholders to explore perceptions in the marketplace, how best to position (brand) and confirm the value proposition.”

The statement confirms the focus for the research (brand perceptions, positioning and value proposition) and who is to be engaged (customers and stakeholders), providing the platform for us to then tailor our approach and consider the appropriate questions to ask to provide a suitable answer.

A well-crafted project mission statement is essential to laying the foundations for project success. It is a testament to your project’s purpose, offering clarity, focus, and a pathway to a desirable outcome.

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