How to Find Purpose in Your Business Projects

Considering a goal for a project relies on what the project will ultimately be used for.

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By Chris Porteous

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Does a business project need a purpose? Throughout history, there are examples of projects that seemingly held no purpose when initially conceived. Yet, they became wildly successful after they were implemented. From famous buildings to technological innovations, many projects had proven their usefulness over the years. Even when it wasn't apparent what that would be at the time of their conception. Does this mean that a business project should have a purpose when initially conceived? Or does it suggest that good business projects eventually find their place in the world? Considering a goal for a project relies on what the project will ultimately be used for.

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A good starting point

The business use case is a great starting point for determining the project's value. However, time and time again, executives will have seen how a project might not have a specific business use case. But it turned out to be priceless in solving a problem the business might not have yet encountered. Unfortunately, the company doesn't have the kind of money to keep investing in projects without any real purpose attached to them. Determining the worth of a project is more than simply picking the ones that benefit the company today. It's about spotting those that can enhance the company in the future and even set it up as a leader in the industry.

Suppose a project is expected to fit under a specific budget and be completed within a particular time frame. If it goes over those constraints; many businesses would simply cut their losses. Yet there are many projects that have shown their worth today that have gone through similar teething issues. The Sydney Opera House and the Empire State Building are both projects that took longer than initially proposed and went way over budget. But both stand as monuments to their respective countries. They didn't have the same purpose when they were conceived that they adopted over time. They remain examples of projects that could have been shut down because they went over budget. If the business use case is just the starting point, where does a business go from there to determine whether it's worth putting the time and effort into completing the project?

Why a business case isn't the only rationale

Businesses put substantial resources into building the case for a project's implementation. They need to understand the project and its potential impact on the company before implementing it. This approach usually requires in-depth research into the project itself and what it can offer. The downside of this approach is that it relies on individuals who may have a vested interest in seeing a project succeed. In these cases, regardless of the analysis and downsides of the project, it may still find ardent supporters that lead to its implementation. Completing projects means having a viable use case in addition to its purpose. A survey done by PriceWaterhouseCooper notes that only 2.5 percent of companies complete 100 percent of their projects, a shockingly small number.

Building purpose into a project

So how does a business ingrain purpose into a project? The goal of a project might be as simple as answering a question that could benefit the company's bottom line or its employee engagement. It could be even more complicated, like examining what the company does differently from its competitors and determining the customer sentiment in either case. Hard, concrete statistical analysis might offer insights into a business's processes. These business processes may have technical and statistical insights that the company wants to meet. However, setting too high a bar on these might constrain the project or make its goals unachievable. It's important when setting these goals that the business looks at what it can achieve within a limited time. Building on that success is much better than achieving a massive goal in one effort.

To build purpose into a project requires looking at the reason it exists. This reason must go deeper than just being a vehicle for making money. The project must have importance to the business and those who work on it. The employees dedicated to the project are likely to give it purpose. Employees' intrinsic motivations impart a drive to the project that nothing else can. This inherent motivation makes a project stand out and has meaning even beyond its profitability. But why should a business even consider being purpose-driven? Are there any intrinsic benefits to ingraining purpose into its projects?

Related: Looking For A Business Idea? Start With Your Purpose

The benefits of purpose to businesses

The EY Beacon Institute contends that purpose-driven businesses are up to 2.5 times more effective at driving transformation and innovation than their peers. But how do they consistently do that? Their success stems from the purpose behind their project implementations. Employees who see the project's goal have a vested interest in seeing it succeed. This vested interest makes them emotionally attached to the project, and emotions are powerful. For businesses to achieve this, they need leaders that can spot the innate talent that an employee may have for a project and help them see the purpose for that implementation. This methodology goes deeper than metrics or return on investment. When a project connects to an employee's feelings, it transcends these mundane business measures and takes on a life of its own.

Finding out the why of a project

One of the most effective ways of determining a project's purpose is constantly asking why. One answer usually leads to another question, and so on. Choosing the more profound meaning for the project allows the business to maximize its benefits. Unfortunately, not all projects have a relevant end to this chain of questioning. Even a mind map online can only take the questions so far. If the business doesn't find a relevant reason for the purpose's existence by the end of that chain of whys, it may not have any innate purpose. Questions designed to outline the project's timeline, deliverables and impact are crucial to determining if the project deserves to reach its conclusion. Cutting the business's losses on a project might not look good on paper, but it'll save the business time and money in the long run. Finding out the why of a project helps connect employees and the business to its innate purpose. Sometimes that's the most crucial element towards ensuring its completion and seeing its benefits to the organization.

Related: Elements of a Business Plan | Business Strategy

Chris Porteous

Entrepreneur Leadership Network Contributor

High Performance Growth Marketer

Chris Porteous is CEO of SearchEye, which offers unbundled digital marketing projects for clients and agencies across the globe.

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