Guideline One | Understand

1. Understand clearly the project’s objectives, rationale and context.

Misunderstandings that are not cleared up at the start of a project almost inevitably cause problems later on. Very early in a project it’s always a good idea for Project Leaders/Managers and teams to invest time checking their understanding of project objectives and rationale. Enhancing knowledge of the context of the project is also important. This includes, for example, different drivers of, or motivations for, the project and special conditions that might influence activities or progress. The understanding of the project team needs to be shared with others who will have a direct influence on project implementation (e.g. members of reference or steering groups). Needless to say, if Project Leaders and teams don’t have a clear and agreed understanding of the project and its context, it’s more likely that problems will arise in relation to, for example, communication or the achievement of positive engagement by stakeholders.   If the original project objectives lack clarity or, on reflection, are deemed to be unrealistic or lacking in logic, actions should be taken to rectify this. For example, Project Managers might seek to improve or refine the objectives in consultation with Project Leaders and relevant key stakeholders if necessary.

Gaining the highest possible level of commitment to a project’s objectives across all significant stakeholders is also very important. In particular, strong commitment to a project’s objectives in the project leadership and team is vital. Commitment should be explored in the early days of the project team’s development and steps taken to enhance it when necessary. Sometimes commitment can be a difficult facet to deal with, but team membership selection (based on needed capabilities and dispositions), good induction, and leadership (particularly behaviours such as motivation, modelling and recognition) are often important factors for enhancing commitment.

Supplementary Comments

There is quite a comprehensive body of knowledge about project implementation and management that indicates this Guideline can become very important, particularly in the case of projects that have (for whatever reason) a degree of complexity. The literature suggests that not only is goal clarity and project direction a critical success factor, but that other success factors depend on this (e.g. stakeholder acceptance of or engagement with a project). In addition, the whole logic and feasibility of a project rests on the clarity, practicality and perceived value of its objectives. Without a good understanding of these characteristics of the objectives Project Leaders, Managers and teams will not be in a good position to devise the best implementation strategy, assess assumptions, communicate well with and engage stakeholders, decide on activities, and plan or carry out evaluation. Lack of shared understanding also leads to problems further into the life of a project and the need for unforeseen energy and time to solve them.