Compass - keep focus on your True North
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Never Lose Sight of Your True North

It’s not unusual for an organization to have multiple projects underway at any given time.  Those efforts may be very small or enterprise-wide in scale.  Regardless, I’m convinced that the success of a project is directly connected to the team’s definition and adherence to their True North.

For most initiatives or projects, you’ll see the usual flow of activity begin with defining the situation to be resolved.  Next, there’s usually research to find the best approach.  Then a direction is selected, the team is aligned, and you create your plan and go.

Any Project Manager who has gone through even just one project will tell you that however much due diligence you put in upfront, your plan will need adjustment early on in the initiative – and repeatedly before you’re “done.”

Finding Your True North

With every new wrinkle or challenge, you’d be wise to define your responding changes against your True North – your Why, Who, and Where.  If you are not continually aligning your project actions with those factors – your team is wasting its time.

Why are we doing this?

Your Why is the pinnacle of your True North.  It’s the whole reason your project likely formed in the first place.  While there may be multiple reasons, there is typically one, bottom line, all-important, if-this-doesn’t-happen-we-fail reason you’re taking on this effort.

You never want to lose sight of your primary Why.  You need to define this clearly – with agreement across your entire team – BEFORE you start.

I know this sounds like it shouldn’t even need to be said.  But if you don’t have agreement on your Why – or keep a constant eye on it – it can easily get lost in the task minutia of the project.  And before you know it, you have an outcome that doesn’t serve your needs.

Who is the person served?

In addition to keeping a consistent eye on your Why, don’t lose sight of Who will benefit from the project result.  Is your audience:

  • End-users?
  • Management?
  • IT?
  • Regulators?
  • Someone else?

Each group has its own priorities, processes, skill levels, and experiences that they bring to the table.  The most successful solutions meet their audience from at least a few of these perspectives – if not most of them.

If you don’t think it’s important, think about the last time you had to deal with a system or process that was a challenging/clumsy/cumbersome experience.  You likely complained, formed a negative impression, and started seeking out another solution if you could.

It’s human nature to seek the easy path.  So even if your solution meets your Why and beautifully solves the problem you set out to address, it likely won’t get used if it doesn’t fit with your audience’s requirements & their processes.

Where will your solution land?

The environment your solution is destined for can also get lost along the way – especially when changes come into your project.  This, again, may seem obvious – but it is critical that the solution you build survives its environment.

The environment can equate to the conditions (industrial/outdoors/harsh temperatures/excessive moisture), the existing workflows, procedures, security, regulations, etc., or even the physical constraints of the facilities.

I think we’re all familiar with (or might have even seen) the project built in the garage that couldn’t fit through the door into the house.

With every decision, you need to keep “fit” in mind.  Because if you can’t deploy your solution Where it needs to go (or if it won’t survive there long), you aren’t really serving your Why or Who.

Keep Your Focus

I know that maintaining focus on the Why/Who/Where seems like an exercise in the obvious.  But you’d be surprised how many projects get lost along the way.

Take a look at any failed project & I’m fairly confident that you’ll see a disconnect from its True North.

And if you really want an example – check out the 1998 movie The Pentagon Wars.  Unfortunately, too many projects have followed a similar, albeit much less famous, path.  Don’t let this be yours.


We’ve all had projects that have gone off course – but keeping your True North in constant view should keep you on track for success.