How to Write a Project Vision Statement
A project vision answers why, the essential starting point for inspiring action.
A vision gives project participants a reason for contributing. It clarifies the project’s purpose, eliminates confusion, unifies the team, and inspires them to do their best. It’s of the three main points of my book Learn to Launch.
A vision and a vision statement are separate but related concepts. The vision is a grand, encompassing idea with emotional weight; a vision statement is its linguistic representation—a concise declaration of the big picture, a sort of project scripture. It sets the direction and helps people see and understand.
Consider the following examples:
- “Take to market a copier that is small, inexpensive, and reliable enough for personal use on a secretary’s desk.”
- “Design an onboarding program that quickly transforms new employees into valuable long-term contributors.”
- “Prepare a prioritized list of low-cost engineering recommendations that guides the organization to more energy-efficient operations.”
Notice how these examples follow a pattern: “[Action] a [deliverable] that [criteria].” This pattern works well, but there are certainly other variations. Feel free to experiment and find your own.
One of the best project vision statements I’ve seen is “Denver to Honolulu on a hot day.” That may mean nothing to you, as it did to me the first time I encountered it. Aerospace company Boeing undertook its 777 program with specific objectives about a new airplane’s capabilities.
Following the format above, their vision statement may have read, “Manufacture a technologically advanced midsize commercial aircraft that strongly positions the company for the 21st century.” But the real specifications were too many to list, though a vision statement was crucial. Alan
Mulally, the 777 program’s general manager, simplified it with this beguiling phrase: “Denver to Honolulu on a hot day.” To the project team, it was obvious: deliver an airplane with high-altitude capacity (“Denver”) and extended operations (“Honolulu”) to be ready by summer (“hot day”).
What’s more, the phrase was visual and engaging.
Keep these points in mind when forming your own project vision statement:
- Simple—Keep your project vision statement brief. If it is longer than a sentence or two, it’s not clear enough.
- Actionable—Express the project vision with strong verbs like “deliver” or “produce” to encourage action.
- Engaging—Include concepts that will resonate with project participants and impel them to commit their best effort.
- Collaborative—Solicit input from many stakeholders, including your team and the client. This will not only produce better ideas but will help them own and agree on the vision.
- Forward-thinking—Imagine the project’s conclusion and express the vision in terms of the benefits.
- Specific—If they are brief, you may mention a few key criteria or goals that will define success.
As great as a vision statement is, it doesn’t substitute for a detailed project plan. Your vision statement can’t possibly include all the goals, expectations, criteria, descriptions, and definitions necessary for the project, and though it refers to a few, it doesn’t define them concretely. The vision statement is only useful when participants grasp the underlying details and the vision statement itself is just a reminder.
While you aim to articulate a clear vision from the very beginning, remember that your vision may evolve as the project unfolds and you learn more about the problem you are solving. If needed, rewrite your vision statement. And rewrite it again.