Purposeful projects – A new paradigm for projects in a complex world

The Corona pandemic was in a sense a wake-up call for all of us to rethink what and how we do things, both privately and professionally. For example, many employees are currently considering whether they would prefer to work from home after the pandemic, thereby reducing unnecessary travel time and costs and gaining more time for family and themselves. Companies are now also increasingly considering whether their business models are still up-to-date and whether services such as face-to-face training should not be converted to digital or virtual offerings. Global supply chains are increasingly being shifted back to local providers. Consequently the current global crisis is also an opportunity, an opportunity to return to what is purposeful.

But what does that mean for projects and project management?

In my opinion, we must also follow the Zeitgeist and change course. For 70 years now, projects have been seen primarily as the efficient execution of ideas that someone else has and that are implemented by people who earn their living from them. Although this means that projects are implemented professionally, people are hardly emotionally involved and do not see the result as their own. People are a means to achieve a goal that is alien to them.

We should once again place more emphasis on people in projects. If they determine the purpose of a project themselves, then they are also much more emotionally involved, they see the project as their own business and are passionately committed to it. If the purpose of the project also serves a good cause, i.e. the common good of society, the community and nature, to name just a few, instead of the good of a small number of people, then this gives much more energy for implementation. We have just experienced this in the wake of the pandemic, where people in hackathons worked together to find solutions to problems, neighbours provided elderly fellow citizens with the most basic necessities over a longer period of time, or, in the case of the explosion in Beirut, rescue teams searched for people trapped on the ground. This is where undreamed-of forces are released. It is not a matter of efficiency, nor of achieving goals that is tangible and therefore projects are often too abstract for people, but by realizing their innermost wishes, expectations and even dreams. In psychology this is often referred to as “flow”, a state in which people can grow beyond themselves.

In their study „People on a Mission”, Korn Ferry Institute found out that “purpose is a fundamental component of a fulfilling life and a successful organization. People with a positive, energizing purpose tend to be focused, optimistic, and successful. Great purposes inspire both people and organizations to do great things.” The survey highlights that the more purpose, the more collaboration, breakthrough innovation and faster decision making is possible. It is attracting talent, new customers and partners as well as helps to engage all the people involved more and over a longer period of time.

What must happen for us to experience more purposeful projects? Each and every one of us must emancipate ourselves and make projects our own personal business. This will certainly easier in the private sphere than in the context of organizations. However, the organization has an interest that projects serve a purpose better and that the positive effects described above can be achieved. This is where managers in particular are called upon to rethink and to change direction. What is the (true) purpose of the organization? How can this be translated into concrete actions by the employees? Which processes, structures, methods and tools are required for this purpose and which of them may even have to be discontinued? What values, culture and joint decision-making is necessary in the company to create the transformation to a more purposeful organization and to purposeful projects?

It is also time for our society (together with politicians) to understand the power of projects to evolve and solve the many challenges ahead of us. It can create the right conditions for purposeful projects, e.g. by means of legislation and guidance, financial support for social causes or education and training. People are not a means for implementing projects (as a resource), or the people have to live with the consequences of projects (e.g. building roads), instead it should be the other way around: projects are a means for people to achieve ambitious goals, together and in a more balanced way!

Author: Reinhard Wagner, CEO of Tiba Managementberatung

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