Who Owns Your Project's Vision?

Think about a current large-scale project going on in your organization. Who owns the vision? Is it the project manager? The program manager? The executive sponsor? The stakeholders? All of the above? Or none of the above?

Years ago, a few forward-thinking people in an agency I worked in created the concept of a "vision lead" for projects. The concept was that this person might play any role on the project, from creative to user experience to delivery management to development, but would be charged with carrying the torch for the vision—not the strategy, not the tactics, not the goals—the vision. That person would essentially be a proxy for the end customer of the web site, feature, or application. That vision lead would be constantly asking, on behalf of that customer, "Are you giving me what I need? Or are you giving me what you think I need? Or what you think you can build?"

There are inescapable realities in every project—time, budget, resources—that make it necessary to limit scope or compromise on features. But when ownership of the vision is decentralized and no one person is responsible for seeing the forest rather than the trees, it's easy to lose the way and end up delivering something that may meet the budget and the schedule but loses the spirit.

UPDATE 7/4/11

Returning to the topic of vision leaders, it turns out Mark Zuckerberg supports a similar model within the Facebook organization. In an interview with the Seattle Times, he talks about project leaders coming from various disciplines—engineering, project management, design—and says, "I think that's good, a good diversity."