Sustaining Focus and Maintaining Motivation with Common Vision

Once an idea for IT-based performance improvement has been sold to senior user management, effective IT professionals work with those who must live with and use a solution to build a common vision of the performance improvement and how people will work together to achieve it. This is vital because many IT projects are difficult and complex undertakings. Costly technology is required. The multiple factors that influence business problems must be analyzed. Difficult design choices must be made. Complex implementation and maintenance problems must be solved throughout the life cycle of the project. A healthy dose of common vision during the early phases of a project helps guide and motivate both the IT professional and the user through these challenges in later project phases. Rarely does a critical mass of support for an IT solution exist at the outset; it must be constructed from conflicting interests and motives that exist within the user community.

Common vision has two main parts. Common vision describes the outcomes the project is pursuing. It also contains the infrastructure of agreements people develop to guide how they will work together to accomplish the project outcomes. Each is now dealt in turn.

Common Vision as a Description of Project Outcomes. Common vision is different from a statement of work, although it should inform it as an expression of mission and purpose. In common vision, greater emphasis is placed on the contribution the deliverable will make to the efficiency, effectiveness, or quality of the user's group (otherwise known as requirements) and less on the features of the deliverable itself (otherwise known as specifications). In a large consulting firm, for example, one might install text-based groupware to help members of the firm in locations across the country identify and retrieve the best parts of proposals used by members throughout the firm. This is a general description of the deliverable. The requirement in this situation may be to dramatically increase the efficiency of the sales process by reducing by half the time its takes to prepare high quality proposals. Clear description of how business results will be different and how users who will be working with the installed technology will be performing differently to achieve those results is a key part of common vision.

One difficulty in developing shared commitments about outcomes is that significant points of difference can exist among users about the requirements. Field sales groups and headquarters sales management within a single sales unit can and will have different and conflicting priorities. Quality control and production units within a manufacturing operation may also have conflicting and competing priorities. Finding common ground in these circumstances requires imagination and insight as competing interests are easier to see than common ones. This insight because easier to achieve when one takes time to understand in detail the needs and concerns of various constituencies within the user community.

In the circumstance of high conflict within the user group, it can be helpful to bring user groups together and employ a group conflict management or negotiation process to find a way to address conflicting priorities. IT professionals who pursue this option often find outside experts to facilitate such a session.

If a common vision of requirements is not achieved with users early in a the project, one of important consequences is that downstream project costs are high. Typically, maintenance of an installed IT solution is the last step in the project lifecycle. Unfortunately, 82 percent of costs incurred in the maintenance phase are attributable to problems created in the initial phase of a project — the establishing-requirements phase. Communication problems between the user and IT professionals result in poor specification of requirements. The consequences of proceeding without clarity about requirements is dramatically high system maintenance costs.[3]

Common Vision as a Description of How People Will Work Together.In addition to creating a picture of the targeted performance improvement, common vision also contains agreements about how people will work together on an IT project. Agreements about customer service practices such as responsiveness, decision making, and mutual accountabilities are key issues for which agreements are ideally made. Working through such issues can be experienced as tedious or irrelevant by IT professionals and by users on a project team who are anxious to get to the real work. "Who needs this warm and fuzzy stuff!" is a familiar refrain. The response, of course, is that the project does. Failing to take the time to build the infrastructure of agreements that are the basis of high-performance teams can mean serious derailments later on. When timelines get critical and stress and pressure mounts, tough decisions are required. Teams that are missing a strong infrastructure struggle or fail at such key moments.

An IT group within a major consumer products company now conducts visioning sessions as a preliminary step in all major projects. In these sessions, a vision of the performance improvement is developed, requirements are detailed, and deliverables are clarified. Agreements are also hammered out about how the IT team and the user team will work together. Particular attention is devoted to how parties will notify each other about the need to make adjustments in the project plan and how these adjustments will be approved and implemented.

How to Build Common Vision Activities which are used to create common vision foster dialogue up and down the user chain of command and within the IT project team about needs, priorities, and requirements as well as the infrastructure of agreements about how people will work together to complete the project. Effective visioning procedures feature detailed meeting outlines and specification of the concrete deliverables that will be created by the common-vision effort. This structure allays user concerns that people will be asked to participate in a directionless "group grope" that will produce general goal statements that specify nothing of real value beyond an understanding that the participants are "all in this together." Without a solid foundation of shared commitments, visioning devolves into "blue sky" statements about future project deliverables that have little real chance of influencing project outcomes.

The logic of common vision is easy for most to grasp but difficult to operationalize into concrete action steps. A sample template of the steps one can take to build common vision is provided in Exhibit 2.

Exhibit 2. Generating Common Vision


Steps for Generating Outcomes

a.Participants generate personal visions of project outcomes.

b.Individual responses are summarized and distributed to team members.

c.Team members meet to identify priority themes.

d.Team members identify and resolve conflict that may exist in priority themes.

e.Agreements are summarized and adopted by the team.


Customer Service Agreements: How will people work together to achieve the outcomes.

a.Team members identify potential service commitments. At a minimum this should include defining the standards of responsiveness, determining how communication channels will be maintained, identifying the procedures which will be used to keep the project on track through the project lifecycle, specifying how adjustments in project plans will be made, outlining how conflicts will be resolved.

b.Team selects priority commitments.

c.Team identifies project practices and behaviors that will hold the IT group and the user to intentions established in B.

d.Team identifies procedures and develops a schedule for (i) monitoring priority practices and behaviors and (ii) formulating corrective action.

When difficult long-term IT-based performance improvement is the mandate, building common vision early in a project's life cycle about requirements and how users and IT professionals will work together can decrease the priority pressure IT professionals face later in the project's lifecycle.

Project Management Made Easy

Project Management Made Easy

What you need to know about… Project Management Made Easy! Project management consists of more than just a large building project and can encompass small projects as well. No matter what the size of your project, you need to have some sort of project management. How you manage your project has everything to do with its outcome.

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