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02 November 2013

Communicating the Organization's Direction: The Missing Ingredient

The average worker could not tell you the vision of the employer.

To some degree, the average worker can perform just fine without knowing the mission and goals of the business. However, knowing the purpose of the work can guide decisions made in the course of the work. Perhaps more importantly, having a known, defined purpose can motivate the worker by providing a roadmap to the work's contribution. It provides a personal connection to the work and to the company. This, in turn, improves performance and retention.

Leadership can improve overall performance by communicating the vision, mission, and goals of the business, as well as the specific objectives of each project. (To cut down on wordiness, I'm going to combine all of those messages and call them the "direction" of the business.)

This topic could take up a whole book, but I will address a portion that I think leaders tend to forget. The specific methods and tools used will vary during the lifecycle of a project. For that reason, I would recommend organizing a more complete description of the topic around process groups or project phases:
  • Project selection
  • Project initiation
  • Project planning
  • Project execution
  • Project monitoring and control
  • Project closure
Defining the direction is part of creating the business plan. Any responsible business owner will create most of those materials and update them regularly. From there, communicating the direction requires breaking each section into a PowerPoint presentation, asking lower-level leadership to give it visibility, putting it to work in the organization, and setting up systems of accountability.

Businesses commonly forget to ensure that the elements of the business direction flow down to projects. Leaders present and promote the direction, but they also need to communicate it through actions that create the processes and provide the tools for carrying out the direction and controlling its implementation.

Just as the business needs to continuously review and refine the direction, the projects need to ensure alignment with the business direction. For example, many project managers set the contract as the highest level of requirements. However, many decisions made within a project depend on the business direction.

Leadership can take one step to communicate business direction by empowering Project Scope Management. They can do this by making available a good Requirements Management System (a tool such as DOORS or CORE). The project managers should then include the business direction's documentation as the top level of each project's requirements. During the project lifecycle, the project can ensure that decisions support the business direction and all requirements trace to the business direction.

Many leaders focus on communicating business direction through presentation. However, they must also communicate it through action. Obviously, actions include specific soft-skill behaviors such as demonstrating the importance of meetings by prompt attendance. But they must invest in resources that empower their teams to use direction as a tool and to use it as the measuring stick of performance.


  1. Over the last few years there has been a noticeable change in the approach on how companies manage innovation and organizational change. There is no doubt that everything around us is changing at the rapid pace and the pace is only increasing. Literally ‘Tomorrow’ has become the new log-term.As more and more companies are adopting Scrum, there has been a paradigm shift in project management practice from traditional waterfall model to Agile. As the Agile philosophies suggest be adaptable and embrace this change. Reference: A Guide to the Scrum Body of Knowledge (SBOKTM Guide) by

  2. Some projects lend themselves to Agile methods. Not all do. For example, if users can't use a product without complete documentation, or if development requires a high degree of architectural and infrastructure development, end-to-end integration testing, and fulfillment of all contractual requirements, then you need waterfall. You can't always dash away to do a two-week sprint and think you've "delivered value."

    Yes, where Agile makes sense, there has been a big shift. And where Agile methods can address a component of a larger project, the methods make sense. But there will always be room for both.