Project management is a complex process and involves a lot of risks. It calls for an extensive as well as collective attention to various budgetary, human and technical variables. Besides, a project often includes specialized factors that are critical to its success and need to be addressed for proper implementation. Now the question is: How do you define success?
Is it when you accomplish the scope of work? Or when your client pays for the project?
In most cases, businesses have no pre-defined success criteria to kick off a project. Worst still, many have a wrong set of criteria to begin with. There are instances where every person involved in a project had a different notion of what success is and this is the reason many projects fail.
Here are 4 things you need to prepare before kicking off a project.
1. Define Objectives
The first thing is to understand what you need out of the project. Read the “Statement of Work” and decipher each item listed there. This document spells out the objectives, timeframe, scope, assumptions, high-level requirements, resources and everything else about the project. So read it thoroughly.
Most projects go wrong here. Managers fail to fully understand the objectives and scope, which in turn, affect the project’s cost estimation, timeline, and resources. Understanding of the objectives and scope of the project is one of the core requirements.
Now it is also important to understand that a project has more than one objective. It is therefore important to understand relative importance of each objective and define scope for them. For example, if the Statement of Work is to create an eCommerce website for a retail brand, the objective is more than creating a platform that allows online transactions. You need to first define the business model, based on which the eCommerce design will be decided.
In addition, you need to define other scopes such as shopping cart, log-in features, payment option and shipping, etc. In fact, scopes can be anything ranging from ideas to features that your client would like to incorporate.
Listing your objectives and scope will also help you to understand the various constraints that you are likely to meet on the way. Let’s go back to the eCommerce website example once again. Do you want to create a new site or merge it with your existing website? What are the major challenges there and how you can overcome each of them?
In addition, you need to define the timeframe. Defining the scope along with the timeline is what brings you, the team, and your client together. In its essence, scope is the driving force of a project.
2. Research and Due Diligence
Once you’ve defined the objectives and scope and had them approved by all parties involved, it’s time to determine where you stand, in terms of the project. Your research team needs to create a detailed report including the market opportunities and challenges. A few model questions you need to answer include:
- What are the current market trends?
- Who is the target audience?
- What does the target audience need?
- Who are the competitors?
- What is the competition up to?
- How can you help your client to be different than the competition?
- Is there any challenge the market is facing? If yes, list each of them
- How can you address the challenges?
- What are the problems (if any) your team is likely to face to complete the project?
- What are the best alternatives to solve the problem at hand?
Now, these are just some examples and there are more such questions. The goal is to get a clear perception so that you can go to the next step with due diligence.
3. Plan of Action
Your plan of action begins with defining roles and responsibilities. Some of the key players in a project are:
- Client/Project sponsor. They are the ones who fund and own the entire project and all aspects of the plan must be reviewed and approved by them.
- Business experts who will define the scope and approve the related documents.
- Project manager responsible for creating, executing and controlling the project plan.
- Project team to build the end product and is responsible to identify risks, design issues and quality.
In addition, there are others who actively participate in a project such as auditors, procurement specialists, and quality and risk analysts.
During this step you also need to give a definite timeline for each activity. In other words, you need to estimate how much time is required to complete each task. Set relatively frequent milestones and deadlines to ensure that your project is on track.
Similarly, you need to prepare budgets and resource allocation. Budget is a crucial factor. Your aim should be to stick to your budget until the end or come in under budget. In terms of money spent, it is necessary for your team to know where they stand. Same goes for resources, which are the life-blood of a project. Also, make sure that the project team has the right skills and attitude for the successful completion of the project.
Finally, get the plan of action and each item mentioned above approved by your stakeholders.
4. Contingency Plan
What if your Plan A fails?
Developing a good “Plan B” is important. As discussed, there can be times, despite good planning, when things go wrong. This is why you need to invest your time and effort in contingency planning. This again includes risk assessment and determining what could go wrong.
You will need to create a backup strategy after identifying and prioritizing risks. The goal here is to address all business-critical operations, keeping everyone’s needs in mind. Also, keep the plan simple.
In addition, your Plan B should address outsourced resources and emergency funds, should you happen to need them.
A lot of what we’ve discussed here revolves around understanding the objectives and scope of a project. From your client and stakeholders to your project team everyone should be aligned to the objectives and scope. Communication also plays an important role in successful project management.
Finally, understand and accept that there will be situations where you need to deviate from the specifications. This is why we recommend you to invest in contingency planning and have extra time for such changes and requests to both save time and avoid pain points.
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