Only he who knows the destination knows the way.
(Lao Tzu, Chinese philosopher)
Of course you do know the destination. If you hadn’t had a clear idea, you would not have started your project in the first place, would you? You might even have more than just the one goal. And you could name each of these goals even when I woke you up in the middle of the night….
You live and breathe your project – don’t you?
Should you be hesitating now, should you not be able to precisely describe your goals … oh dear. You need to start with this exercise right now. Without a clearly defined goal – and by that I mean one you are aware of – you will never really know when you have finished your project … successfully. You might keep keep going on and on for eternity. Or you might even get totally lost on route to achieving any of your goals. I am not sure which is worse; but I would call both senarios a total disaster.
Some of you will say: “But those goals are in my head! I know where I should be heading.”
Sorry guys, not enough. Really not. Let’s do this together and have a look at how to visualise your goals:
Whiteboards, corkboards, glass doors and even boring empty walls: Use them! Use the space around you to visualise the most important elements and goals of your project. (But please, do not use that permanent pen on the freshly painted office wall.)
Why do you need to visualise it all in prominent places? All just simple psychology. Read on:
Goals will motivate
Seeing your project’s goals right before your eyes, every day, will help you not to forget what your project is really about. It will motivate you – and it will motivate others. Too easily the daily business with all its small problems and challenges will distract and make you forget where your priorities really should lie. With your goals always literally in front of your eyes, it is much easier to navigate towards your project’s destination.
Visualisation will increase identification
Is there any future result of your project which you can visualise easily? Any measure, any number, any prominent graph which will indicate progress? Then paint it, print it out – or what ever suits best. The more tangible, the more it helps to identify with your project goal. Depending on the type of project there will be a huge variety of possible ways. The following list gives but a few:
- Paint or draw the goal of your project. Make it tangible. If your project is to build something, or to develop something physical, then painting or drawing the product can be fairly easy. Your project is about optimising processes or developing data base modules? Then this can be a toughie. Maybe you could draw the happy customers? But if you do so, make clear what they are happy about. Do not worry, this is not about being artsy. This is simply about getting the message across. To give yourself and other people a goal to identify with. Visually.
- Draw a hierarchy, a tree structure. The more structured among you will clearly prefer this over painting colourful images. Start with the main goal and then then write down the sub-goals.
- Write down a simple list and post it at the wall. This might be the least creative way – but still this can be amazingly effective. Use different colour post-it notes to discern between different areas.
Goals help with structuring
Often in your project you will come to a point where you need to make decisions. Maybe sometimes the exact direction is not really clear? But you are prepared, your goals define your direction. If the situation is not 100% clear, just ask yourself:
- Will this decision get me any closer to my goals?
- Will this decision have a negative influence on my goals?
Use your project’s goals as navigational beacons and you will never get lost.
Common goals will form a common ground
In most cases you will be working with a team – it’s rare that you run a project alone. At least not all the time. To prepare a visualisation of your goals will also give others a chance to participate emotionally and to identify with the project. Many people understand images far easier than text! A prominent image of the objectives right at the wall will create a good starting point for discussions. Visibility of your goals will help in communication with others, be it stakeholders or members of the project team. Your life will be easier: Once the goals are there and always present, there is no need to remind everyone, everyday.
Ever heard of that old saying? People will accept everything if they see it and get confronted with it every day. Why not make them accept your project goals this simple way.
Get a piece of paper or cardboard, a flip chart, pens – what ever you need. Think of your current project and then … Paint, draw, write! Now!
You will not regret this, I promise.
Alexander Blumenau (*1972) is a portfolio and project manager. With over a decade of international project experience he has been in charge as head of R&D in high-tech industries.
Originally Alexander started his career as a scientist and holds a doctoral degree in Physics. Besides his interests in project management, company processes and structures, he works as a free author and arts photographer.