Congratulations! You’ve just been assigned to oversee an exciting, high-profile project. It’s a great opportunity to show off your project management skills and raise your visibility at work. The only problem? You have no idea where to start.
Even for seasoned project managers, the initiation phase of the project is often the most daunting. It’s when everything is messy, unknown and unclear. At the same time, this phase is also the most important. It’s your job to find clarity in the mess. Doing the right things at the very beginning of the project can set you up for success, while failing to do them can position you for a lot of pain and suffering down the road.
The number one thing you need to get any project off on the right foot is information. Unfortunately, that’s not always proactively offered. Usually, you have to do some digging to get the information you need. The following 5 questions are a good place to start:
Too often, people jump into projects without truly understanding the end goal. The person who assigns a project to you might not even know what that is! It’s your job to help define what success looks like. Otherwise, you’ll have no way of gauging whether or not your project was, indeed, successful.
Get clear on what items you physically need to deliver, the impact your work should have, the problem it should solve, etc. Define exactly what is included in this project and what is not. One of the most common challenges in project management is “scope creep,” which happens when the goals and parameters of a project continuously change and grow after the project has begun. The best defense against this is to define the scope in clear terms right from the very start.
While many projects won’t have a budget, some will. It’s always important to get clear right up front about how much is available. This will play a critical role in decision-making as you’ll need to allocate funds appropriately and prioritize expenses. Going over budget on a project can put the whole thing at risk. If you’re managing the project, you must be vigilant about monitoring spend.
Like budget, time is a resource you must monitor vigilantly. You need to know the deadline by which your project is expected to be complete. From there, work backwards to determine a deadline for each phase (or milestone). Think of these as interim goals to help you stay on track.
Depending on the project, your role as project manager may involve a lot of back and forth communication with different parties. For example, you may need to get input from the people impacted by the project (the stakeholders) or get approval for certain elements from specific decision-makers. You don’t want to be surprised by this information in the future. Find out, up front, who needs to be involved and in what capacity. Create a plan for keeping the required people in the loop throughout the process.
Finally, get clear about the other resources at your disposal. This includes technology, materials and people. While some projects may be 100% yours to own and execute, others will require additional support. You may not have the time and/or expertise required to complete the project on your own. If you need help from others, find out who is available and how much time they are able to commit. If you need access to certain materials or technology, make sure you can obtain them. Do this early so you don’t stall out later because of unforeseen needs.
As you go through these questions, document your answers. Once you have everything organized and in writing, you’ll have the beginnings of a project roadmap. Share it with the project owner and make sure everyone is on the same page. This document will help prevent miscommunication, and it will also be a useful record should there be some dispute about the project parameters in the future.
Next time you start a new project, follow these simple 5 steps to set yourself up for success!
Chrissy Scivicque believes that work can be a delicious, nourishing life experience—and she loves helping professionals discover exactly what that means for them and how to achieve it. Her popular website, EatYourCareer.com, is devoted to this mission. As an award-winning writer, certified career coach and experienced corporate trainer, Chrissy brings a unique perspective to the world of professional development. She is also the author of the new book, “The Proactive Professional.”