Smart leaders know that a clear, compelling picture of what success looks like is crucial for engaging and motivating their team. And really smart ones have a fully developed story with ‘chapters’ to be used for different audiences.
Nasa’s compelling direction
The Mars Pathfinder, which delivered a huge amount of information about the red planet, was successful for NASA because team leaders had a story to tell and stuck to it. What was it? To show NASA’s commitment to exploring planets through a relatively low-cost project with the slogan of ‘faster, better, cheaper’. It’s all about having a compelling direction which means a project with a story to tell.
Like a story
Consider a book. Books have chapters – a road map for where the book is going. A good book doesn’t stray from its story from one chapter to the next. It’s the same with big projects. A good leader stays on theme and focuses on that compelling direction through the project.
The chapters are the building blocks of the story and each one is important, but all must operate as one entity. Likewise, a smart project leader continues to use the story to engage, focus and refocus, if necessary, the team and all the stakeholders.
All the chapters make up the story as the entity becomes an integrated whole with no individual piece more important than another. The leader may emphasize certain elements or chapters, depending on the audience, and ensure that all stakeholders remain aligned during the journey, but never lose sight of the compelling direction. And neither should the team.
Some of the individual chapters might be:
- The ‘Why’ of the project – the business case.
- The Scope of the project which comes after the business case is established. This is when you ask questions like: Based on all our assumptions about cost and execution, is it feasible?
- Readiness – prepare for execution. This requires constant updating and communication to ensure alignment between all the groups, and may include your purpose as a team, the team’s values, and how it works together, resolves conflict, communicates, and organizes.
- Who is on the Team. This might involve an organization chart with concentric circles.
It’s one thing to have the chapters of the story, but the story must still be compelling, so the leader should simplify the message, fight or manage complexity, and initiate critical metrics.
Finally, how should this ‘book’ be used? The leader uses the story to clarify and to work on deliverables, roles, schedules, highlighting best practices, resetting expectations, communicating value, coaching team members, and bringing on board new team members and new partner organizations. Ideal times to re-tell the story are at 90-day milestone meetings to check in on team performance, communication with the workforce, and in-team meetings.
Now the book is done. The ‘reader’ is happy and your project is successful.