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The Question Every Project Team Should Answer

Many projects fail because they are launched without a clearly articulated reason why they're being pursued. Without a clear vision, a project team can become overwhelmed by conflict and confusion. Exploring the four dimensions of a compelling "why statement" can improve a project's chances of success.

Authors Karen A. Brown, of the Thunderbird School of Global Management, Nancy Lea Hyer, of Owen Graduate School of Management at Vanderbilt University, and Richard Ettenson, also of Thunderbird, write that "Given the tendency of groups to overlook, sidestep or forget the why of a project, project leaders, team members, stakeholders and the organization can derive real benefits from developing a clear and succinct description of the reasons driving the initiative. That might sound simple, but it's not." Instead, they write, developing a good why statement usually takes a lot of work and debate.

"A tip we offer teams whose members are struggling with problem definition is to focus on customers, who can be internal or external," they write. "We tell these teams: 'If the customer would not care about the problem as you have defined it, you need to dig a little deeper.'"

In their article, the authors provide details on the four dimensions of an effective why statement, ways to check the statement's strength, common impediments to a real understanding of why, and ways that why statements influence the five stages of project branding.

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