Like a happy new year, a new project is a fresh opportunity to do things right, to benefit from the hard-won lessons of the past. The project charter is still a blank page. The work breakdown structure and project schedule are further down the road. The team is yet to be formed.
The possibilities can be intoxicating. But they’re not illusory. A strong well-considered beginning paves the road to a successful project. As Aristotle said, “Well begun is half done.”
Although this quotation doesn’t prove out literally in the project schedule (wouldn’t it be great if it did), certain project initiation activities are essential to give the endeavor its fighting chance. So just like new year’s resolutions, consider these four new project resolutions.
- Discover the problem to be solved.
All too often, people propose a solution before understanding the core of the problem. Resist. Look at the issue with fresh eyes. Do a “why-why” analysis to understand the problem and its root cause. If there’s a disconnect between the cause of the problem and the project, have a heart-to-heart discussion with the project sponsor. You might save the organization a huge amount of money and time. Even if you can’t change the trajectory of a misguidedly conceived project, you will have had your say. Plus, you might be able to do things within the project that can still address the root cause of the problem.
- Align the project with the organization’s strategic goals.
Understand how (or even whether) this project is furthering the strategic goals of the sponsoring organization. An executive might have proposed the project haphazardly, without any thought to how it fits into the larger strategic context. Then when the project is canceled or otherwise unsuccessful, there’s head-scratching or finger-pointing about the reasons why. If your project unequivocably aligns with at least one of the strategic goals, your purpose will be clear, and you’re more likely to get the budget and resources you need. If the alignment is fuzzy, you can strive for clarification or propose a change.
- Articulate the project goal and objectives.
Write your project goal to describe the desired outcome or achievement. The project goal becomes the guiding light for you and the project team throughout the project. Develop the associated objectives so that they’re Specific, Measurable, Assignable, Realistic, and Time-based. If you haven’t already figured this out, these form your “SMART” objectives.
- Identify success criteria.
As soon as a project ends, you know whether it was on time and within budget. However, a truly successful project can result in increased profit, decreased costs, improved customer service, or some other fundamental measure of organizational progress. Upon initiation, work with your stakeholders to determine the project’s success criteria. Establish when and how these criteria can realistically be measured. You might have to wait as long as 12 to 24 months after project completion.
If you are steadfast with these four project resolutions, you’ll have an auspicious start. Of course, project initiation is far from done. You need to gather requirements, develop the project scope, obtain stakeholder approval, and prepare the project charter. Only then can you start the project planning processes, in which you create the work breakdown structure, estimate work, prepare the budget, plan for resources, and build the schedule.
Amid the thrill of initiating a new project, you need discipline to step back. These four resolutions allow you to envision the project as a whole, and see it in the larger context of the organization. Depending on what you find, you might have to ask tough questions and have potentially difficult conversations.
However, the fact that you initiate your projects on such a strong foundation will tremendously add to your value as a project manager who completes successful projects with measurable results.
Read more about project initiation in Chapter 3, “Getting a Project Off the Ground,” of Your Project Management Coach.
Talk back: What element or ingredient do you find essential to starting a new project well?