Vision, Mission, Objectives, Requirements, Measurement

“I have a vision, your mission is to get us there”. Project managers hear that sort of comment at least once in their career.

So what is a Mission? Who has Visions? How to these relate to the things we need to work with: objectives and requirements. Vision and mission are related and they must be coherent in content. However, but they are different in character. In system terms, one is a description of a state, the other is the motivated activities to reach that state.

Vision is a picture of the future state.

Mission is the movement towards that state.

With so many management gurus talking about different ways of defining the two, why am I sure that it is that way round?  Well, you see a vision and there is a quote, “your mission, if you choose to accept it, is to …”? That’s about activity because only a verb can follow that: so mission is about activity.

In cultures where it is the leader’s job to have the vision,  share it and discuss it with the team. The team’s questions and knowledge can refine the vision. Building a vision together from step 1 may work more effectively for other cultures and organisations.

The understanding of the vision as a team is vital to the success of the mission – if you can’t understand what it looks like when complete, you can’t define the mission and know when you have achieved it. Having a compelling vision can motivate the team because they are engaged in it and have helped refine it. The vision can give indicators for completeness because it is the future state you are working towards. If you make those things measurable, you can test for completion.

The mission can be expressed as activities each with an objective. Ideally one objective will bring the mission into sharper focus and remove distractions from the team. Sometimes that isn’t possible but certainly objectives expressed with clarity are easier to deliver.

Time to think about those measures again. How does the objective contribute to meeting that measure? If it doesn’t have you got the right objective and how can you justify doing something that takes you further away from your vision in one or more of the aspects you found important enough to measure? Or did you not define measures that truly reflect what the vision needs you to achieve?

So how do you arrive at requirements? The vision, mission and objectives only make sense if they satisfy stakeholders. Requirements are retailed technical descriptions of those needs and how meeting them can be measured. The vision, mission and objectives will only be valid if that context means the requirements can be met.

With the requirements, you can validate a vision and mission: given our stakeholders’ requirements are we looking at an appropriate vision of the future? Do the requirements mean we are looking in the wrong direction? Similarly, to validate the set of requirements, it would be sensible to ask if there are parts of the vision, mission and objectives for which the requirements are insufficient or plain wrong.