Many aspects of project management are well understood, but one key factor is frequently overlooked: A significant number of projects fail to meet their business objectives because they were launched without a clearly articulated purpose.
In more than 20 years of consulting with hundreds of teams, the authors have found that lack of a focused “why statement” is perhaps the most common reason projects fail. Without a solid why, it is more difficult for a team to maintain its internal momentum and keep higher-level managers interested in the project.
Projects are launched without a clear why statement for a number of reasons. Sometimes, the group feels pressured to do something, anything, right away. On other occasions, decision makers are unwilling to engage in discussions that might involve conflict or expose hidden agendas. Finally, a failure of imagination can lead to shortsighted reasoning, as the organization chooses a familiar course of action before realizing it won’t actually address the problem that needs to be solved.
The authors contend that a project team can improve its chances of success by considering four dimensions associated with clear why statements:
1. Identity requires that the core problem be clearly articulated.
2. Location is the second dimension of an effective why statement and answers the question, “Where do
we see the problem?”
3. Timing involves specifying when the problem occurs, when it began and how long it is likely to persist
if no action is taken.
4. Magnitude speaks to the significance and scale of the issue and answers the question, “How big is the
problem or gap in measurable terms?”
The four dimensions of a why statement provide a structured description of the business gap that drives the project. A why statement should be developed early in the gestation of a project before significant resources are misdirected toward a poorly defined venture that misses the mark, or worse, solves the wrong problem.