Crafting a mission statement

Author: Elisa Warner

The success or failure of a project often lies in the transition from idea to action.


New projects can become bogged down in the process of moving from an idea to an end product.


Organize the project development process by crafting a mission statement, prioritizing tasks, and evaluating team performance.

The Glacier de Tacconay, from ‘Scenes from the Snowfields,’
engraved by Vincent Brooks, 1859


The gap from idea to resolution can seem like an insurmountable chasm. It is easy to become overwhelmed by the sheer number of tasks required in transforming an idea into a successful project. Project managers may wrestle with questions of delegation, priority, and interdependence of tasks. Team members may worry about imposed deadlines falling behind on their routine job responsibilities. As a manager, you can set up a project for success by following six steps.

Step 1: Craft the Project Mission Statement

While many teams do not take the time to formally write a project mission statement, this step allows teams to initially define their purpose, and ultimately keep the big picture in mind.

The mission statement should be brief – between one and four sentences – and easily understood by everyone in the team. It should be specific to the project at hand and not so general that it could apply to any group (e.g. “to work hard to achieve goals in a timely manner”). The statement should be focused but not prescriptive; it is a map rather than a route. An effective mission statement will motivate and inspire team members to action. The team should revisit their project mission statement frequently to maintain focus as project conditions change.

Step 2: Prioritize Tasks

Janice Fraser, CEO of Adaptive Path, presents an effective method for the process of defining and prioritizing project tasks. First, assemble the team to write a comprehensive list of tasks associated with the project – no matter how insignificant. Once the list is complete, the team should organize the tasks into categories, separating those tasks that are dependent upon other completions from those that are absolutely essential to the initiation of the project. Finally, involve the team in scoring the value of each task based on its importance and feasibility.

Present the results in graph format, broken into prioritized categories: important and easy (top priority); important but difficult (priority 2); non-essential but easy (priority 3); and non-essential and difficult (priority 4, or not at all). The team should start with the top priority items and work their way down.

Step 3: Delegate Tasks

When determining which tasks will be delegated to each team member, consider the following:

  • Try to match tasks with the working styles, skills, and interests of team members. Not only will they bring a higher level of skill to the job, but they will be motivated to perform.
  • Consider the daily (non-project) responsibilities of a team member to protect against delays or burnout.
  • Resist temptation to micromanage and take on numerous tasks yourself. A manager’s job is to lead, not perform.

Step 4: Provide Encouragement and Oversight

As a manager, you will take a backseat during the next and longest phase of the project. Keep the project moving forward with your genuine active interest and participation. Schedule weekly project meetings to discuss progress and provide feedback. Publicly praise team members for innovation and performance. Email interesting articles or links to appropriate team members. Maintaining involvement is not just about meeting deadlines—it’s about building a strong team.

Step 5: Evaluate Results

Once the project (or a component) is complete, implement a comprehensive method of team and project evaluation.

Project success involves more than the bottom line – the process is at least as important as the product. In fact, a progressive management technique discussed by Robert Sutton in the Harvard Business Review states that managers “should start rewarding failure, not just success; reserve punishment for inaction.” Personal growth, team performance, and creative contribution are vital to the success of a project, and should be recognized and rewarded. Some managers become like the parent who is impossible to please—scarcely acknowledging progress before jumping to the next deficiency that needs correction. As the field of education has moved away from standardized methods of performance evaluation towards a more holistic project-based method, so should organizations.

Step 6: Document Lessons Learned

Once the project is complete, gather the team to prepare a report on the successes and challenges of the project (including what might be done differently). This process will not only provide closure for the team, but will result in a valuable tool for future activities. Organizations often do not make time for this important exercise; however, investing the time now will save teams from revisiting the same mistakes in the future.

Additional Resources: Use of Technology to Aid the Project Planning Process

Online surveys are an easy and effective way for an organization to keep its finger on the pulse of its membership. Such awareness is especially important during project development and planning. Online surveys can be used to gather both quantitative (e.g. multiple choice) and qualitative (e.g. open-ended) data. An organization may administer such surveys routinely to track the ongoing needs and practices of its members, annually in advance of a strategic planning session, or occasionally as input is needed.

Electronic surveys exist in two forms: web-based or email. Web-based surveys are typically preferable to email surveys. With a web survey, the instrument cannot be altered by the respondent, allowing for increased instrument reliability. Furthermore, data may be automatically downloaded into a database without data entry time or errors. An organization can use email to prompt members to complete the web survey, including a direct link to the online instrument.

Whereas some organizations will have the ability to design and administer their own surveys, others may need to purchase these services. Web-based survey software is available in a wide variety of price ranges, based on features, services, and customization.

Elisa Warner develops research and training programs for non-profit and educational organizations. She is the former editor-in-chief of The Educational Facility Planner.

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