Why Projects Fail – Kotter Step 3/8 – Creating A Vision

Whether you are a project manager, team lead, or simply a change agent – heck you could be a new CIO who recently moved into an organization and are looking to drive broad change. The type of change that might take years to effect.  Listen up, because this is where it gets really interesting.  The 3rd step in the  Kotter Change Model  is all about crafting a  Vision  and Strategy.  The lack of vision, or the inability to articulate the Vision in a way that connects with people, teams or the broad organization is a great way to almost guarantee your change effort or project to fail – everyone needs to buy in to the vision. This is key and it requires  leadership , regardless of how small you think your project/scope might be.

Creating A Vision - Kotter Step 3

What is a vision? Well, quite simply, it’s a forward looking statement of what some “future state” will be. It is like that guiding star that you want everyone to be heading towards – with the understand that in some cases it may take a while to get there — but that it is absolutely the right thing to do!  You can probably think of people or organizations who have done this successfully.  One person for example that is top of mind these days is Steve Jobs – his vision for Apple for example: “…It was Steve Jobs’ vision to do one thing well instead of being all things to all people, and that vision would lay the ground work for Apple’s OS success…”  (See Entire Article  Here )  Now we may not be Steve Jobs, but what we do have now is the  Burning Bridge  that is the impetus for Why we need to change, and also the  Guiding Coalition  as the Who to help us make that change happen. This step is all about coming up with the Where we are headed and How we will get there.  I quote from and  HBR  article (you can find it  here ) written by  John P Kotter  himself: “..A vision says someting that helps clarify the direction in which an organization needs to move.  Somtimes the first draft comes mostly from a single individual….is usually a bit blurry initially…But after the coalition works on it..something much better emerges.  Eventually a strategy for achieving that vision is also developed…” This is great stuff – and I would say that the $6.50 you spend on the HBR article is well worth it.

Another key concept that I think needs to be introduced now is that of the  Elevator Speech .  The concept here, is that if you found yourself walking into that elevator with the CEO of the company, and he asked: “Say, I hear you’re leading that great project xyz, can you tell me what we’re doing there exactly?”  Now of course, in real life this doesn’t happen very often, and elevators aren’t the best places to give speeches…but the idea really is that you have a “captive” audience for a short period of time, and you need to be able to communicate to them succinctly what your project is about and why it is important to support it.  This doesn’t just help with communicating the vision and strategy, but is an essential capability throughout the change process.

This is a good segue (yes, that is how you spell “segwey” folks) to my next article, where I’ll be talking about Step 4 of the Kotter Change Model, which is all about Communication.  I look forward to you joining me then, and in the meantime, look forward to your feedback and comments!

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Jim Love, Chief Content Officer, IT World Canada

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