Something was wrong.
The software was almost complete — in the testing stages, in fact — but the end users were still changing their minds about what they needed. Yikes.
I was in a new role at a consulting firm, and I’d been brought on the project midway through. And I watched in horror as timelines slipped, budgets overran, and my bosses and the clients became increasingly unhappy.
Upon investigating, I discovered that the project had likely been doomed from the get-go.
The team was navigating from a broad statement of project scope that had been written into the contract — but that statement was missing key information about outcomes, goals, and deliverables. The result was a project that got further off track every day.
This kind of thing happens far more often than I would like to see — and it’s usually the result of rushing the early stages of project planning.
We often feel that we need to jump in and execute, rather than taking valuable time to plan… but then unforeseen issues derail our efforts and force a do-over.
Common errors like this one are why I believe that ALL professionals should possess basic project management skills. At some point in your career, you’ll be charged with leading a project — and successfully delivering on that project serves your organization and sets you up for more opportunities and faster career growth.
Project Success Begins With A Solid Foundation
New project leaders often feel pressured by tight deadlines and high expectations. And they may worry about asking clarifying questions or pushing back on unreasonable expectations, for fear of highlighting their own inexperience.
But to deliver a successful project, you must first develop a crystal clear understanding of the project goals and objectives. And that involves asking lots of questions — and insisting on clarity before you proceed.
Follow these three steps to lay solid foundations for your project:
1. Understand what the project is intended to accomplish.
Before you can make a plan, you need to understand the big picture. The answers to these questions will guide your actions and decisions through the project management process:
- What outcomes do you want to achieve?
- What results do you want for your clients?
- What is the real problem that needs to be solved?
- What is the strategic value of this project? In other words, why is it worth devoting time and resources to?
- What is the impact of not doing this project now?
2. Identify the stakeholders who will be impacted by the project.
Stakeholders are your best source of intel on true project requirements — and stakeholders whose needs are not considered early on can derail an almost-complete project.
Stakeholders might be the end users of a new software; other teams or units who are impacted by changes in a system or process; customers or clients; or organization leaders. Each stakeholder will have a different perspective on the goals, impacts, and desired outcomes of a project. As the project leader, your job is to pull all those ideas and perspectives together to ensure that the final project accomplishes its true goal.
We’ll get into the details of HOW to do this in our next blog post. For now, you’ll need to figure out who your stakeholders are — and try not to miss anyone!
- Who would need to be involved in planning?
- Who would be impacted by the project?
- Who might be impacted by project outcomes?
- Who will you need to do the work?
- Who should be included – functional managers, vendors etc?
- What questions would you need to address to get started and who can help you answer these questions?
3. Create a Project Charter.
Now that you’re clear on what you’re doing and who you’re doing it for, it’s time to create a Project Charter.
The Project Charter is a storyboard for the project. Think of it like a book cover for a book – it provides a short synopsis of the project so everyone knows what to expect.
It details the strategic purpose, goals, and desired outcomes of the project, and it will serve as a lodestar for the team. It helps the team and stakeholders have essential conversations about outcomes, scope and approach. Note that the process of creating the charter is designed to facilitate discussions and collaboration – it is not a document that someone creates in a vacuum so they can check it off the list as done.
Projects go off the rails when we lose sight of their strategic goals and intended outcomes. Refer to your Project Charter any time you face questions, decisions, uncertainties, or setbacks, so you can keep the big picture and required outcomes front and center.
Use the outline below to construct your own Project Charter:
The Project Charter is a living document that will help keep you on track throughout the implementation process. But it’s intended to serve as high-level guidance for the team. To build out your full project plan, you’ll need to drill down to the details.
That’s what we’ll cover in the next article in this series — how to get crystal clear on every last project requirement.