Project Practitioners > What is Your Purpose?

What is Your Purpose?

By Randy Englund

A key challenge in managing projects is dealing with chaos.  Chaos theory is extremely useful to guide behaviors in an organization that depends upon project-based work for its vitality. An organic approach to the implementation of project management implies that we can learn tremendous lessons from that fabulous practice field where chaos flourishes - nature. My studies have led me to believe that a strong sense of Purpose will sustain us in all endeavors, however chaotic, and help us achieve better, more harmonious outcomes from our projects. The important lesson is to embrace a natural organic living systems approach to working with people on projects.

Here is the essence of chaos theory, representing a positive natural occurring sense of being:

        Unpredictable, disorderly

        Essential process to renew and revitalize

        Small changes in initial conditions create enormous consequences

        Similar patterns take place across layers (fractal geometry)

As this theory gets applied in organizations, it becomes known as complexity science:

        Information is primary organizing force—share widely

        Develop diverse relationships

        Embrace vision as an invisible field

        People have similar needs and corresponding responses

    Look for patterns in behaviors

        Working together is a source of meaning and purpose

        Establish shared sense of purpose

Each of these points provides guidance for organizational behavior.  Create conditions for people to make connections, because those initial conditions provide the idea or practice that could lead to resolving a major issue or inventing a new product or service.  Push back in these challenging times when in-person meetings are threatened, because people need to get together to form connections.  A project startup meeting enables people to learn more about each other’s talents and aspirations; then they can begin the forming, storming, norming, and performing stages of team development.  Value diversity because that provides more opportunities for “the next big idea” to flourish.

Rather than viewing chaos as “undesirable,” harness the natural forces operating in organizations. Tap people’s need for purpose by clarifying, in a purpose statement, an enduring reason for that group of people to work together, such as “lead the continuous improvement of project management across the company.”  Craft a vision statement about a desired future state, such as:

·         The practices for project success are:

o        identified,

o        concisely documented,

o        widely understood,

o        willingly adopted,

o        appropriately adapted,

o        enthusiastically applied,

·         so that people managing projects continuously improve how they do their work and lead others to quickly achieve excellent results.

The purpose and vision statements above both came from the corporate HP Project Management Initiative of which I was a member.  It derived from deliberations among ourselves and served extremely well every day to remind each of us why we were there and what we were doing.  We developed a mission statement for specific objectives we need to achieve and then goals for each member that tapped our interests and talents and clarified how and when each of us contributed to overall objectives.

I just finished reading Nikos Mourkogiannis’s book on Purpose: the Starting Point of Great Companies.  He says “Purpose is your moral DNA.  It’s what you believe without having to think.”  The three reasons why Purpose is crucial to a firm’s success:

1.      Purpose is the primary source of achievement.

2.      Purpose reveals the underlying dynamics of any human activity.

3.      Purpose is all that successful leaders want to talk about.

Here are some of the highlights from the book:

·         Moral ideas determine the effectiveness of people and of intangible assets.

·         Political winners tend to be those groups who can evoke a clear, consistent Purpose that attracts followers.

·         In contrast to Purpose, codes or governance practices are not designed to make things happen but to prevent or restrain action that might lead to liabilities.

·         Leaders like Thomas Watson Sr. of IBM are effective not because of personality but because of the Purpose they subscribe to and communicate to colleagues.

·         Leaders like Henry Ford learned that thinking first of money instead of the purpose of work brings on fear of failure; this fear blocks every avenue of business.

·         Heroes who eventually fail do so by outliving their Purpose.

·         Good morale happens when supported by four building blocks—rewards, tasks, community, and Purpose.

·         The combination of energy and direction provided by a strong sense of Purpose creates a sense of direction.

·         Shared understandings are vital.

·         Purpose creates even longer lasting and enduring advantage than strategic positioning.

·         Leaders have to manage Purpose and strategy so that they are aligned; when they drift apart, the organization starts to follow two masters...and is unlikely to satisfy either fully.

·         Linking rewards to Purpose sends signals that the company is serious.

·         People who create great organizations choose a form of Purpose along the lines of: 

·       Discovery (love of the new)

·       Excellence (purpose of the intrinsically beautiful and elegant)

·       Altruism (urge to increase happiness), or

·       Heroism (drive to achieve)

To illustrate the forms of Purpose, consider four main characters from the movie Pirates of the Caribbean. The pirate Jack Sparrow is an adventurer, driven by discovery.  His partner and foil, the blacksmith Will Turner is an avatar of excellence, holding to both craft and moral standards.  The governor’s daughter, Elizabeth Swann is altruistic, pursing the greater good for everyone.  The mutineer Captain Barbossa represents heroism in seeking a treasure no mortal man was meant to have.  How each of us relates to these characters provides clues as to our own Purpose.

My challenge to each reader is this:  can you clearly state your personal, project, and organizational Purpose?  If not, you have a call to action.  If so, you are on the path to success.  Purpose is a force that sustains you throughout chaos.

Randy Englund, Englund Project Management Consultancy,

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