What is the difference between vision, mission & programme?

Establishing a common language is one of the simplest ways to make progress in tech product. Often confused are the terms vision and mission, programme. What’s the difference?

You’ll find lots of confusion out there, so let’s stick with some people who know what they’re going on about. NASA. Let’s face it, if they can design, build, ship, land and then drive a fully kitted-out go-kart around Mars, they must be getting something right.

In 1961, then US President, JFK set out a vision.

“I believe that this nation should commit itself to achieving the goal, before this decade is out, of landing a man on the moon and returning him safely to the earth.”

It’s a very clever piece of writing. Note the talk of commitment. A goal. A deadline. An objective and success criteria. All in one sentence too. No wonder it is held up as possibly the best example of a vision statement, ever. It’s clear, concise, everyone can remember it, it unites people, brings focus, the lot.

It doesn’t, however, say how it will be achieved. Or even if it is actually possible at all.

So, NASA set up the Apollo programme which consisted of missions – the steppingstones needed to achieve success. There were 17 missions, of which 6 landed people on the moon.

Each of the missions would have had multiple projects within them and those would also have had a project vision too.

The crucial take-away is about alignment. A vision sets an aspirational achievement to be met. Missions, the stepping-stones to get there, contain focussed teams working on experiments to achieve the mission. NASA kept people aligned to reach success this way and so can you.


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