Defining the Mission Statement

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In the previous chapter, you learned that the mission statement declares the specific purpose of the database in general terms and that you define it at the beginning of the database-design process. Furthermore, it provides you with a focus for your design efforts and keeps you from getting diverted and making the database structure unnecessarily large or complex.

The Well-Written Mission Statement

A good mission statement is succinct and to the point. Verbose statements have a tendency to be confusing, ambiguous, or vague; they do more to obscure the purpose of the database than to clarify it. Here is an example of a typical mission statement:

The purpose of the New Starz Talent Agency database is to maintain the data we generate, and to supply information that supports the engagement services we provide to our clients and the management services we provide to our entertainers.

This mission statement is well-defined and uncluttered by unnecessary statements or details. It is a very general statement, just as it should be. Think of a mission statement as the flame of a candle located at the end of a dark tunnel. The light produced by the flame guides you to the end of the tunnel, so long as you focus on it. In the same manner, the mission statement guides you to the end of the database-design process. Guided by your mission statement, you can focus on designing a database structure that will support the declared purpose of the database.

A well-written mission statement is free of phrases or sentences that explicitly describe specific tasks. If your mission statement contains these types of phrases or sentences, remove them and rewrite the statement. Be sure to keep the discarded phrases handy, though, because you may be able to use them to formulate mission objectives. (You'll learn about mission objectives in the next section.) Here's an example of a poorly worded mission statement:

The purpose of the Whatcom County Hearing Examiner's database is to keep track of applications for land use, maintain data on applicants, keep a record of all hearings, keep a record of all decisions, keep a record of all appeals, maintain data on department employees, and maintain data for general office use.

It should be immediately apparent that there are a few things wrong with this mission statement.

  • It's slightly verbose. Remember that the ideal mission statement should be succinct and to the point.

  • The specific purpose of the database is unclear. This mission statement is written in such a way that it is difficult for you to ascertain the specific purpose of the database.

  • It describes several specific tasks. Two issues arise when a mission statement is written in this manner. First, the description of the tasks does nothing to define the specific purpose of the database. Second, the statement somehow appears to be incomplete. It raises the question "Are there any tasks we've forgotten to include in the mission statement?"

You can fix this mission statement by removing the references to specific tasks (be sure to save them for the next step) and rewriting the statement. Here is an example of one of the possible ways you could rewrite this mission statement:

The purpose of the Whatcom County Hearing Examiner's database is to maintain the data the examiner's office uses to make decisions on land-use requests submitted by citizens of Whatcom County.

Notice how the purpose of the database has become much clearer in this version. Also note that the statement is more succinct and doesn't give the impression of being incomplete. You'll always have a clear focus during the database-design process when you formulate your mission statements in this manner.

Composing a Mission Statement

The process of creating a mission statement involves conducting an interview with the owner or manager of the organization, learning about the organization, and determining the purpose of the new database.

You conduct the interview for this step with the owner of the organization or, if he directs, the appropriate staff. Either will be able to help you define the statement because each has an overall understanding of the organization and a general comprehension of why the database is necessary in the first place. Besides helping you to define the mission statement, this interview will also provide a great deal of information about the organization itself. This information is valuable because you can use it later in the design process.

As you conduct the interview, encourage the interview participant to discuss as many facets of the organization as she can, even if the discussion relates to issues that aren't directly relevant to the database. The idea here is for you to understand what the organization does and how it functions; the more you understand an organization, the better prepared you will be to design a database that will fulfill its needs. The organization's general need for a database will become clear to you once you have a better understanding of the organization itself. You can then translate this need into a mission statement.

Be sure to ask open-ended questions during the interview. In some cases, a good question can prompt the participant to state the purpose of the database without much effort. For example, say you posed the following question:

"How would you describe the purpose of your organization to a new client?"

This is a good open-ended question because it focuses on the issue yet gives the participant the freedom to respond with what she feels is a complete answer. Furthermore, this type of question will typically generate a response that you can translate directly into a mission statement.

Now assume you received the following reply:

"We supply entertainment services to our clientele for any and all occasions. We take care of all the details for the engagement so that it is as worry-free for the client as possible."

You can easily rewrite this type of response and turn it into a mission statement. In fact, when a response such as this one consists of two or more sentences or phrases, one of the sentences or phrases typically indicates the purpose of the database. For example, you can use the first sentence from the reply above to construct the mission statement. Here is one of several ways you could rewrite the reply:

The purpose of the All-Star Talent database is to maintain the data we use in support of the entertainment services we provide to our clientele.

The most important point to remember is that the mission statement should make sense to you (the database developer) and to those for whom you are designing the database. Different groups of people have different ways of phrasing statements, and the specific wording of the statement can depend greatly on industry-specific terminology. Your mission statement is complete when you have a sentence that describes the specific purpose of the database and that is understood and agreed upon by everyone concerned.

Here are a few sample questions that you can use to arrive at your mission statement:

How would you describe the purpose of your organization to a new client?

What would you say is the purpose of your organization?

What is the major function of your organization?

How would you describe what your organization does?

How would you define the single most important reason for the existence of your organization?

What is the main focus of your organization?

You may have noticed that some of these questions seem to be the same question rewritten in a different manner. Keep in mind that the observation regarding the phrasing of mission statements also applies to the interview questions you'll use throughout the database-design process. You can pose the same question to several people and receive different responses because each person may interpret the meaning of the question a little differently. In some cases, you may just get a long, "I haven't had my first espresso yet" type of stare. Experiment with different types of phrasing and determine which type works best for you. Your method of constructing and posing questions may be different from someone else's, but it doesn't matter as long as you have a method that suits you.


Now you need to define a mission statement for Mike's Bikes. Before you can define the mission statement, you must conduct an interview with the owner to gather information about his business. Assume you have an assistant named Zachary who is conducting the interview for you. The interview may go something like this:

After the interview, review the information you've gathered and define the mission statement. You can ascertain a few points from the previous dialog with Mike, such as the fact that he'll need to be able to track products, customers, and customer sales. But the most valuable point is provided by his reply to the second question. You can use the first sentence in that reply to formulate the mission statement. Taking into account some of the other points you've identified in the interview, you can rewrite Mike's reply to create the following mission statement:

The purpose of the Mike's Bikes database is to maintain the data we need to support our retail sales business and our customer-service operations.

When you feel you have a good mission statement, review it with Mike and make sure that he understands and agrees with the declared purpose of the database. When you and Mike are satisfied with the mission statement, you can go on to the next step, which is defining the mission objectives.


Part II: The Design Process