Budgets are set, the strategic plan is all signed off: now it’s ‘go time’ for the next batch of projects! We canvassed the office to find out our team’s top tips for starting a project the right way. Ideas ranged from assembling the team and making a stakeholder engagement plan to drafting a communication and working out what training everyone needs to get started.
There are plenty of things to do as your project starts so we focused in on five important areas that we all agreed were essentials for the early days of the project initiation phase. Here are our best suggestions for starting a project to make sure it gets off to a good start and is set up for success.
1. Meet the client
Hold a kick off meeting with the client. This normally happens after you have held your own internal kick off so the in-house team is already on the same page. A kick off meeting with the client is a good opportunity for you all to meet each other and to set expectations for working practices going forward. You might not want to create a formal team charter with an external client, but there is still scope to have a discussion about ways of working, how best to get in touch with the team, expectations for decision making and so on.
This meeting is also the perfect opportunity to outline the high-level project schedule and responsibilities within the team on both sides.
2. Create a project schedule
One of the things that drops out of the kick off meeting is a detailed conversation about requirements. Once that has happened, you can create your project schedule in Primavera P6 or an equivalent tool.
Work with the whole team to create a work breakdown structure and then a project schedule. If you don’t have the time or inclination to manage the schedule yourself, outsource project scheduling to a trusted third party who will do it for you.
If the client needs access to certain views or reports, set those up too – bonus points if you can automate reporting as that will save you time during the project execution phase.
3. Determine how progress will be tracked
The contract between your organization and the client’s organization may specify how progress should be tracked. For example, many public sector projects that involve government bodies will require teams to use earned value management systems and track performance in that way.
If you don’t have mandated requirements for monitoring and control, you’ll have to determine the best way of tracking yourself, which still might be using an earned value management system as this does provide a robust way of measuring schedule and cost performance.
Document the metrics that will be used and anything else that will go into monitoring and controlling the project so that there is clarity around the process.
4. Write a project initiation document
We had a debate in the office about what to call this document: is it a project initiation document, project charter, statement of work, project brief or something else?
Ultimately, it doesn’t really matter what you name it – and to a certain extent it doesn’t matter what goes into the document as long as it covers the main things you agree are important. The point of having a document at this stage is to ensure everyone has a common understanding of what the project will deliver and how it will achieve that. Typically, the project initiation document includes:
- Project aims and objectives
- Key success criteria or OKR
- Major milestones and high-level timeline
- Resource roles required and an estimate of time required from them
- Overall budget
- Any risks or issues identified at this point
- Constraints identified e.g. the obligation to comply with relevant laws and regulations.
You can create this as an internal document or share it with the client: it’s up to you.
5. Set up a risks and issues register
Any risks or issues identified in the project initiation document should be copied across to your overall project registers (or logs). Your project management software may include the capability to track risks and issues from within the tool. If not, create a simple spreadsheet or use another collaboration tool that you have available to create a risk register.
Make a decision about what access the client has to this register and how information from it will be reported. It is good practice to have a written risk and escalation policy so you know how each item on the register will be categorized. For example, a risk with the severity of ‘high’ may have a certain dollar threshold impact, or have the potential to affect more than three workstreams.
When those criteria are documented, the project team can use objective measures to categorize risks and issues. They will also have clear guidance about what needs to be escalated to program or portfolio level, and what is relevant to share with the client. In our experience, transparency between the performing organization and the client’s organization works best, but there might be some risks or issues purely related to your internal functions that are not relevant for the client to see.
There are lots of things that go into making a project successful from the beginning, so these five tips for starting a project are just the start of the list. We cover all this and more in our project management training classes.
You can probably see how much time it will take to make sure each of these elements is properly thought through. That’s why we recommend taking your time at the beginning of starting a project and managing expectations: a robust project initiation phase will make life easier for everyone as the project progresses! Start your project in the right way and reap the benefits later.