Welcome back to Demystifying Project Success, a blog series on the 5 key principles of project success. The first of 5 key principles to any project’s success is a concise project definition.
What’s in a Project Definition?
You might ask, why bother with a project definition? It gets all team members on the same page, aids decision-making along the way, and provides something to validate against at the end of the project. A good project definition communicates goals and outcomes in a concise manner that is easy to understand by all parties.
Consider three key aspects to a concise project definition:
Easy to understand
A good project definition is easy to understand by all consumers of the information. Think about well written websites – they are short and to the point. They are also understandable by a wide range of readers. The same goes for your project definition.
Think about your extended audience. Will executives skim the content? Will poeple who don’t work in your department read it? If so, choose language that is not overly specific to your function. For example, if you are working on an engineering project, be sure to describe it in a way that is understandable by finance and other business functions. The reverse is true as well.
Appropriate level of detail
Try to keep your core project definition to 2-3 sentences. Consider the format, “We are doing this project BECAUSE xxx SO THAT yyyy.” The “because” statement is the problem you are solving; the “so that” statement is the outcome you hope to achieve.
In my shed project (that I referenced in my first post), I might write, “I am building a new shed because I want to move my boxes and tools out of my garage so that I can store my car and exercise equipment in my garage.” I could add the target end date, “…by November when the rainy season starts” to make the timing clear.
Avoid a detailed business case or specifics of how you will conduct the project. If you need those details, put them someplace else. Do not include them in the core definition. If you have a project that is large in scope, it’s ok to go a little longer – maybe a short paragraph for why and a short paragraph for the outcome.
Does your project definition provide the project team and stakeholders with enough information to verify the outcomes? If my goal is to build a shed to store my boxes and tools, how do I know whether I am successful when I am done? Try to include verifiable metrics in your definition. If you cannot measure, then come up with something that will help you verify success.
In my definition for my shed, I said “large enough” to store my tools. If I were to be more rigorous, I would measure the volume of the tools and boxes, add a little buffer and include the size of the shed in my definition. If I could not measure the volume, I would know I was successful when I try to move my boxes and tools. Obviously, measuring would better ensure success.
Get Concise Now
In the end, I might end up with a definition for my shed project that is short, sweet, and to the point. Not only that, it’s easy to say in hallway conversation.
“I am building a 10×10 shed because I want to move my boxes and tools out of my garage so that I can store my car and exercise equipment in my garage. My goal is to complete the project before the rains begin in November.”
Regardless of whether it is required, write down your project definition. Say it out loud to someone who is not connected to the project. This is a great test of whether it is concise and easy to understand.
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