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Starting the Project With Both Feet on the Ground

~ By Brad Egeland

Pair of feet standing by the word start on the ground

When the call to start a new project comes, we're often excited, nervous, skeptical, and ambitious all at the same time. At least I know I am.

Excited to show what I can do with a new project from beginning to end. Why? Many times we get charged with taking over someone else's mess. Or restarting an old project that had paused for a few months under different leadership, etc.

Nervous because the new project brings new challenges and the obvious chances to screw something up.

Skeptical because we're handed everything in a nice, neat package from Sales. We're told "it's all in there and ready to go" when we know that there's about a 150% chance that's not the case.

And ambitious because that's how a good project manager approaches new challenges…or so I'm told. Seriously, though - new projects are fresh projects with no failures or missed deadlines associated with them, yet. Wait…I think I've just gone back to skeptical. Sorry.

So we have a new project. Now what do we do with it to ensure that we start with both feet on the ground? And by that I mean think realistically. Plan well. Avoid a pie-in-the-sky type of solution. Focus on what customers need…not what they want. And pay attention to the allotted timeframe and budget.

For my own project management best practices, this is how I handle making sure I start with both feet firmly planted on the ground - and in reality.

Start With a Great Project Kickoff Session

Every great project starts off with a good, productive and well-prepared-for formal project kickoff session with the customer. Other attendees at such a formal kickoff meeting should include:

  • Key stakeholders
  • Customer end users (if applicable)
  • As much of your team that you can get your hands on at that point

At the very least, a business analyst would be nice. And some senior management from your organisation in case there's customer hand-holding or final contract questions or tweaking that needs to happen in order to not set the project behind schedule.

Set Expectations With the Customer on Execution and Communication

This starts with the kickoff meeting presentation. Beyond that, though, make sure you have proper discussions with the project sponsor. You want everyone on the same page going into the engagement. The fewer questions remaining on procedures, policies, methodologies, and responsibilities the better as you head into the real heart and soul of the product work that should be lying ahead of you and your team.

Engage the Team and Instil Project Ownership

By engaging the project team very early in the planning process, you get their buy-in to the project tasks you're going to be assigning them. You give them a good understanding of where the project is going and needs to be. You instil ownership of the project's well-being and outcome all at the same time.

Discuss Project Goals With Senior Management

Finally, make sure you have senior management involved in the project to some degree. Make sure they understand the project and what the goals and expected outcomes are and will be. Look at this as setting senior management expectations much as you did with the customer above. If you don't set their expectations now, they may try to set your expectations later on. Stay in control. This is your project.

Summary

What we're trying to do on our projects is obviously ensure we have - sometimes against all odds - the greatest chance of success. That means staying ahead on budget, timeframe, and customer satisfaction while managing a team that is working 110% on the solution for the client.

Getting the project off the ground properly can set the tone for the entire engagement. So be project smart. Start with both feet firmly on the ground.


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You never get a second chance to make a first impression, or to successfully kick-off a project engagement. This list will help you get the project started off right.

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PROJECT SMART is the project management resource that helps managers at all levels improve their performance. We provide an important knowledge base for those involved in managing projects of all kinds. With weekly exclusive updates, we keep you in touch with the latest project management thinking.

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