Why is it important to have purpose in your project?

When our children were making choices about subjects to study at school or which university courses to pursue, I was grateful they had a purpose about them. It can be a fraught time if the student doesn’t know what they want to do or wants to do something that mum and dad don’t see the value of. A student with a purpose will figure it out. They may change their minds, change course, or reinvent what they need to do, but all of this is part of the discovery process, people who feel a sense of purpose are self-motivated.

In his recent book, Ranjay Gulati explains why deep purpose is such an advantage for businesses and their leaders. There are multiple benefits to leaders and businesses who embrace what he calls deep purpose. Purpose can “set direction, create and build a reputation, drives relationship development.” It can also create boundaries and align teams and collaboration partners. This research rings true in the lived experience we at 6R have in working with clients and project teams on delivering change programs.

What happens without purpose?

Whether it’s a change in leadership that has reset the business priorities or something else, if the project purpose doesn’t resonate, the project is in danger of drifting and getting lost (and potentially losing support).

Lost or unsupported projects drain the project team, the executive team who have endorsed it and the wider business focus and attention. They drain funds, time and energy.

In every business we have engaged with, there is always more to be done than there is the capacity for, so wasting time, effort and energy on a lost project is wasteful at best and destructive at worst.

So how do you articulate your purpose and keep it top of mind for the team doing the work?

Here’s how we do it

Start by knowing your purpose

Can you give me some background on why you’re embarking on this project? It’s one of the first questions I ask when discussing work with a new client. Here are some versions of what many say:

  • The system(s) we have is cumbersome/complex/ a security risk/ or hard to get support for (i.e. at end of life)
  • What was no longer serves the business direction/ we have a new direction/ idea or concept that we have mapped out
  • We see others in our industry doing it with greater ease/ better service to customers
  • We have an opportunity to develop at better (more efficient, less cumbersome, more cost-effective) way of providing this function or service
  • If we don’t work to improve and develop the services that our customers want, we’ll fall behind

Whether your purpose is a ‘stick’ like the end of life or security risk or a ‘carrot’ like the opportunity to grow or take advantage of new functionality, leaders are usually clear on why they have sought funding and support for their project.

It doesn’t always stand that they have communicated the clarity of purpose with their team members or to the wider business teams who will be potentially impacted by the project.

Ensure the team and the sponsors are clear too.

Creating a project purpose that a team can get behind is a critical element; that is, to me, the heart of what so many change projects are all about. It’s the aspirational state of mind that gets people interested and engaged (but that could be just me 😉).

Even a project that sounds a little dry can still have aspiration and purpose. Rolling out new communication tools or equipment upgrades is run of the mill for most IT teams, but the aspiration of greater reliability in the tools that others use to do their jobs. That’s where the purpose, and dare I say, the service to the team, lies.

If you’re unclear on who you need to share about your project and its purpose, we have a handy communication planning template that can help.

Link the project purpose to internal motivators for your team

Completely appreciate that you might not know the internal motivation of all your team members at the start of a project. Especially if you’re new to the business or team. This is where we leverage the knowledge of the client leaders and team members.

Organisations try to create motivation in other people; we can’t create drive but can coach a person who has drive to align their drive with our project purpose says Dr Julie Gurner. Without aligning project purpose to the internal motivators that drive us, team members can disengage and stop wanting to do the work. In many cases, the work continues, but it is the discretionary effort that people bring when they are motivated from within that gets lost.

This is the challenge that leaders and sponsors need to embrace before the project is even out in the world – it needs a purpose.

Sadly, the importance of a clear purpose is borne out in the stats. According to the 2023 PMI Pulse of the Profession report, recent data shows that projects prioritising power skills (“soft” or “interpersonal” skills like communication and strategic thinking) are more successful in meeting business goals (72% vs. 65%), experience less scope creep (28% vs. 40%), and lose less budget to project failure (17% vs. 25%) compared to projects with low power skill priority.

The key to establishing a purposeful project lies in articulating the purpose in a compelling and relatable way. It’s about more than just stating the technical or operational objectives of the project. Instead, it’s about painting a vision of the desired future state and how achieving this state will benefit the business, its employees, and its customers. This requires carefully crafting the message, considering the perspectives and concerns of all stakeholders involved.

A well-defined project purpose also allows for setting measurable goals and tracking progress. Establishing clear objectives and performance metrics helps the team understand what is expected of them and how their contributions contribute to the project’s overall success. Regular progress reports and project reviews ensure that the team is on track and provide an opportunity for recognising and celebrating accomplishments along the way.

Additionally, it’s worth considering incorporating storytelling into your communication efforts. Sharing stories of successful projects that aligned with purpose and achieved significant outcomes can inspire your team. Encourage team members to share their own experiences of how working towards a common purpose has impacted their work and personal lives.

Lastly, be prepared to adapt and evolve the project purpose as the project progresses. As new information and insights become available, the project purpose may need to be adjusted to better align with the changing business landscape. Staying flexible and open to change will help ensure that the project remains relevant and continues to drive meaningful outcomes for the business.

Remember, a purpose-driven project leads to successful outcomes, fosters a positive work culture, and strengthens team engagement. Embrace the power of purpose in your project management efforts and watch your projects transform from ordinary to extraordinary.

Ready to leverage the Power of Purpose in your projects? At 6R, we specialise in working with clients and project teams to deliver successful change programs. Let us help you articulate and instil a deep sense of purpose in your projects, aligning teams, building a reputation, and driving successful outcomes. We have the knowledge, expertise, and tools to ensure your project purpose resonates and is kept top of mind for the team doing the work. Don’t let your projects drift or get lost. Reach out to us today, and we will chart the course to your project’s success.