Often it’s how you start a project that plants the seed for its success or failure. The old adage that you can’t build a house without first laying down the foundation made be cliched, but it’s true.
Jacqueline Smith, writing in Forbes, notes that every one of us needs to set the right tone at the beginning of every work day, with the right breakfast, proper exercise, checking your mood and 13 other things you probably won’t really get to before 8 am. While it might be okay to skip morning mood-checks and go for that Taco Bell drive-through breakfast, you might take a more careful approach when you start new projects.
So how do you start a project out to set it up for success? The following five steps are sure to help.
Get Support from Sponsors
If you’re going to take responsibility for seeing a project through to completion, then you’ll first want to make sure that your sponsors have your back. More than just expecting them to trust you to drive the deliverables on time and under budget, you need to know some practical but crucial facts, such as is there adequate funding and resources.
Often you can research the nitty gritty facts, but when it comes to earning the trust of your sponsor, you may have to go by your gut. If you’re a seasoned manager, your instincts should be trusted. Certainly when it comes to locking down sponsor support deeds will matter more than words, but be as sure as you can before committing, as the full backing of a sponsor is important.
Clarify the Scope
Once you’re sure that the sponsor is onboard with the project and you as project manager, then the next step is to review the scope. You need to make sure that all the deliverables expected of you can actually be produced during the given timeframe of the project. They need to be adequately defined.
One of the worst things that can sideline your project is to learn halfway through that the customer actually wanted additional deliverables that you hadn’t know about or planned for.
What you must do is have a conversation with your customer before the start of the project to define what the deliverables are that they expect. That complete set of deliverables, once identified, will determine to scope of the project. Therefore, again before starting the project, have these documents be as detailed and in-depth as possible, and get agreement across the board, to avoid any surprises later on in the middle of the project.
Define a Feasible Deadline
It may sound obvious, but sometimes the most basic points need hammering home, and nothing is more fundamental to a project than its deadline. This is, of course, the date by which a project’s deliverables are due. A hard deadline is a specific date, while a soft one means there’s some wiggle room.
A deadline is something you and the customer must agree on as feasible. One thing you can do is instead of agreeing on a fixed or hard deadline date, agree to set a fixed timeframe for delivery. That is, set an “ideal delivery date” and a “last delivery date” to give you a window in which you can adjust for risk that may arise during the course of the project. These dates still have to be achievable within the frame of the project, but also give you the contingency you may need in case something is delayed.
The next thing you’ll need to figure out are the priorities of the project. You have a lot of tasks now, but it’s important to rank them and know which you have to get done first and why. It’s important, here, to also involve customers and stakeholders in this process.
Start by showing your customer a complete list of all deliverables and ask if there is anything on that list if needed that could be done after the deadline. They’ll probably say that everything has to be done by the deadline, but push as hard as you can to get them to agree that some of the deliverables can wait. This will give you extra contingency for when you need it.
Next, ask your customer to prioritize the list of deliverables from highest to lowest. This way you can align their priorities with the task list you’ll be creating for your team, which will help with the proper planning of the project.
Understand the Drivers
To better start and complete your project successfully, it helps to have a good understanding of your customer’s business. This information will help you understand why they have a certain deadline, scope and priority. It’s part of your job to know what’s driving your customer’s needs on the project, why they have this deadline, why they can’t reduce the scope further and why they’re prioritizing the deliverables in the way they are.
If you can figure out the answers to these types of questions before you start a project, then you’ll be able to satisfy their requirements more fully with you’re in the project.
And don’t forget to document all these conversations with the customer, and to have them formally approve the decisions that come out of these talks. You need to have a clearly defined and agreed on course for the scope, deadline, priorities and drivers of the project from the outset to avoid any miscommunication while in the midst of the job.
You can’t be too prepared, so if you’re still eager for advice on starting a project right and ending it strong, good for you! Here’s a short tutorial video by Jennifer Bridges, PMP, entitled “Start Out Right As a Project Manager,” which will help you hone your skills.
There’s one other thing you should remember to have in place before you start your project, and that is find the right tool to help you plan, report and monitor that work. You’ll want something fully-featured, with collaboration features and project dashboards that will enable you to communicate with clients, customers and stakeholders along the way. ProjectManager.com has all this and more. Try it out with your free 30-day trial.