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Project Management

The Golden Circle for Project Success – start with why?

I was running a workshop recently and we got talking about Simon Sinek and his well-known “Start with why” principle. Sinek gave a TED Talk in 2009 which has become the third most popular TED Talk of all time. His simple message was that all the great leaders (and great organisations) are driven by a deep understanding of “why” they do things. The rest focus on “what” they do and “how” they do it.

Start with why - circlesSinek’s Golden Circle model puts “why” at the centre of three circles, with “how” next and then “what” in the outer circle. His point is that people don’t buy what you do, they buy why you do it. People follow leaders who give us a cause and who inspire us.

I’ve drawn the Golden Circle model a few times on my project workshops because it’s a useful way to help people understand the importance of starting with clear objectives (and desired benefits), rather than rushing off to define how you will plan and manage the creation of deliverables.

We were talking about the key project roles of Sponsor, Manager and Team. The Sponsor is the person accountable for the success of a project. The Project Manager is responsible for making it happen and the Team are involved in, and carry out, the detailed work required.

One of the workshop participants commented that this neatly mapped onto the Golden Circle and I agree that it’s a potentially useful insight.

  • The Sponsor is accountable for the “why” of the project
  • The Manager is responsible for the “how” of the project
  • The team carries out the “what” of the project.

That one picture could be a really powerful way to help Sponsors really understand their role. It might also help them appreciate what Project Managers need from them if they are to stand any chance of making it happen. It also shows people the order in which things need to happen on a project: Vision – Strategy – Tactics.

If you can’t get the “why” clarified, don’t be surprised if all you end up with is a “well-planned” project that delivers stuff that makes no difference to the organisation or to customers!

Read more of my Project Management articles.

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