Why Successful Projects Need a “Why Statement”


MITsmrlogoOrganizations are filled with stories of seemingly important, months-long projects that end up on a shelf (or server folder) gathering dust. Or worse, well-intentioned projects cause more problems than they originally set out to solve.

An article in the Fall 2013 MIT Sloan Management Review, co-authored by Vanderbilt Management Professor and Associate Dean at Owen Nancy Lea Hyer, contends that many projects fail because they are launched without a clearly articulated reason why they’re being pursued.

“The why statement is a pivotal element in any project’s brand. Without a solid why, a team can become overwhelmed by conflict and confusion, and all-important supporters can and will direct their attention elsewhere. The pitch stage is the project advocate’s first chance to persuade decision makers and team members that the project has a legitimate, compelling rationale and, if completed successfully, will deliver value to the organization. A project pitched with a clear and compelling why will inspire people to feel the project is worth the time and effort. What’s more, a solid why helps the organization stay focused on the reasons for continuing to support the project. When the leader and team become immersed in the details of planning and delivery, the purpose of the project frequently fades from view. Project leaders — consumed with keeping the project on track — often fail to remind stakeholders and team members of the ultimate goal.”

In a 2011 article for Sloan Management Review, Hyer and her co-authors wrote that projects need to develop a strong internal brand to gain momentum and support within an organization. This latest piece argues that the best way to build that project brand “is with a well-articulated, problem-focused why statement.”

Read the full article: http://sloanreview.mit.edu/article/the-question-every-project-team-should-answer/

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