Dallas-based Southwest Airlines is one of the world’s biggest and most successful airlines. Its story begins in the late 1960s when Herb Kelleher and two business associates envisaged a much better airline service between cities in Texas than existed at that time. Its phenomenal growth was due in large part to the fact that Kelleher had a very clear vision of what he wanted to create. The mechanism to achieve that vision was, and is, projects – which turn ideas into practical components of the business. So how do projects do that?
An organisation needs to articulate a vision of where it would like to be and what it would like to become. It’s a question of asking what the gap is between where the organisation is today and where it thinks it needs to be in order to flourish in the future. A good vision is simple, clear and straightforward. It is also not too precise, because although the basic direction should endure, the vision needs to be robust enough to withstand lots of unexpected external challenges. Its time frame is quite log – maybe five years, or in the case of Southwest Airlines – over fifty years!
The organisation’s mission is a set of concrete goals that define an outcome it can reach on the way to realising the vision. The outcome is the new state of things which the organisation desires. Achieving the vision generally means delivering a number of outcomes over time. A mission will be much more concrete than the vision and will generally have a clear time scale.
The strategy determines how the organisation will achieve the mission and reach the outcome. It examines what is wrong with where the organisation is at the moment; clarifies where it wants to be in the near term (what the outcome should be); and possible ways to get there. Part of the the process of clarifying the outcome is defining what benefits the outcome should bring.
Benefits are ways to measure whether the outcome which the customer seeks has been achieved. If benefits can be clearly defined then a large part of success will be about achieving them. This diagram below shows that benefits can vary in how soon they become apparent and how easy they might be to measure.
The strategy work will define a number of actions but is most likely to define one or more projects. Each project produces an output (which may or may not be physical in nature). The output helps to achieve the outcome. How well it does this is measured by to what extent it delivers the benefits which should have been specified before the project begins.
Morgan, M., et al (2007). Executing your strategy. Boston, US: Harvard Business School Press.
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