How to Define Your Project

No, MVP is not some weird planning technique. Nor is it Minimum Viable Product, at least, not in this context. It is another TLA (Three Letter Acronym) – don’t you just love them? There is a lot of jargon in project management and MVP is the newest term to learn. It stands for Motivation, Vision, Project Objectives, and you shouldn’t start a project without it.

MVP is one way to make sure that your project starts off with the best possible chance of success. Having some clarity about the motivation, vision and the project objectives means that you know why you are working on a project, what it is supposed to achieve and how you will demonstrate that you have achieved it.

Let’s look at each of those elements in a bit more detail.

Project Motivation

First up, motivation. What is the motivation for doingget the ball rolling your project? I’ll give you a clue – it is not because your project sponsor says so.

Understanding the reason why the company is investing in this project is essential to knowing why you are working on it. Otherwise, why bother? Projects are expensive, both in terms of the manpower required to run them and the cost to the organization of any resources and equipment required.

It is far easier to motivate your project team (and yourself) if you understand how this project contributes to the company’s strategic objectives. Ideally, all projects should tie back to the strategic objectives of an organization, and yours should be no different.

Ask why this project was started. Who will be affected by it? Talk to your project sponsor and see what he or she says, and then pass the information on to your team. And if your project sponsor doesn’t know the motivation behind the project, you might want to suggest that you both stop working on it immediately.

Another way to look at motivation is to ask yourself (or someone else) what would happen if the project didn’t go ahead. What is the ‘burning platform’ that has spurred the organization into setting up a project team, allocating a budget, and finding a project manager to make this change? The answer may surprise you.

Project Vision

The project motivation is about something that hasproject vision already happened – some action, activity or strategy that encouraged the company to set up a new project. The project vision is about what is going to happen in the future.

Understanding the project vision helps you understand where you are going with the project, and where you need to get the team to be. After all, if you are asking them to follow you to the end of your project plan, they should at least know where they are going.

The vision is about who benefits from the project and what those benefits will be. This could be information that you will find in the project business case, but you might have to look hard to find it!

Many business cases struggle to justify project benefits in any tangible terms, but there should be some business reason for working on the project. If it isn’t clear from the business case, talk to your sponsor. They probably have a clear idea of what they want to get out of the project, so they will be able to tell you what the end state should look like. If they can’t, that is a sign that they are the wrong project sponsor for the job, or that the project is doomed before it starts. Double check what it is you are supposed to be doing!

The project vision also incorporates what the best solution is (and your project sponsor might not know that bit). Part of your project may be scoping out the best solution for the job using the technical resources available to you, perhaps through prototyping or by running a proof of concept exercise. Or you might find that your solution evolves over time, especially if you are working on an Agile software project.

Either way, the end vision should include getting to the best solution, and if that changes half way through the project, be flexible and shift your project plan to accommodate those changes.

Project Objectives

Finally, the P in MVP stands for project objectives. project objectivesYou do know your project objectives, right? And everyone in your team knows them?

Ideally you should all be able to talk about your project objectives easily – say you were stuck in an elevator with the CEO and she asks you what you are working on. Could you call up your project objectives and explain them in straightforward terms in the couple of minutes that you have with her before the elevator starts moving again?

Project objectives shape success. They are the manifestation of how you will deliver the vision, and a concrete example of the motivation for the project made real. They are not something that you can make up by yourself – you will need to involve the team in coming up with the objectives.

Take everything you know about the motivation for the project, plus the vision, any other information that you have from the project sponsor, and sit with your team to work out how to translate all that into some clear objectives for the project.

Setting objectives shouldn’t be difficult. You probably do it for yourself on a personal level every year as part of your performance review, or maybe you set objectives for your team members if you have line management responsibility. Use the same approach to set project objectives. Make them clear, achievable, in line with the project vision, and measurable. When you complete the project you should know if you have achieved them or not, so don’t come up with anything too vague or you’ll never know if you have reached them!

MVP is essential for setting up your project to be on track for success, but it isn’t enough that you alone have this information. Make sure that you discuss the motivation, vision and project objectives with your project sponsor and team so that everyone has a clear understanding of why you are doing the project, how you will get there and what you will deliver by the time you complete the project. Working out your MVP will give you a great grounding for successful teamwork and strong project delivery. Don’t start without one!

Record everything that you need for a successful project and measure yourself and your team against a clear plan so that you can check you are on target to deliver what is required.


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