I’ve spent the last eleven years analysing, organising, managing and delivering projects.
In that time, one of the problems I often come across is this: how do you actually start a project off?
Now, before you switch off, thinking this doesn’t apply to you since you don’t have any big implementations, hold on for a second. Those 3new hires you want to recruit? That debt collection process you want to review and update to make sure you’re not leaving any more of your hard-earned cash out there than you absolutely have to? The piece of functionality clients have been asking for since last year; the one you can no longer postpone which now has to be added to your offering?
Getting any of these done involves a project: a temporary and unique vehicle within your business to achieve specific aims and objectives. It is finite, and will be completed within a defined period of time.
And whether you have someone in-house who delivers your projects, bring in external resource to support you, or you do them yourself, these are the 5 things I recommend you do to kick off any project in your organisation:
1. Outline Your Thoughts & Ideas
You’re sure to have a flurry of ideas about what you want to do!
The best way to start moving these ideas into reality is to start sketching them out.
Granted, there will still be more gaps than substance in your knowledge at this point, and details will be few and far between.
What you’re doing here is the equivalent of taking an aerial shot photograph: you’re drafting out your idea at a high level.
How did your idea come about? Why do you think it is needed, and what problem does it solve in your business?
What do you want your idea to achieve, and are there any risks or major issues you know of at this stage that will need to be tackled?
A good first step is providing all this background context; you’re starting to paint a picture of what’s to be done.
2. Do Some fact-finding
Up till this point, you will have had more white space than writing on the page.
This part of the process is about filling in those gaps, and getting a clearer view of what your idea involves.
Those aims you outlined? Get specific about what they are, and how will know when they’ve been achieved.
Start to think about what would make this a success for you when it’s completed. Are there any best and worst case scenarios?
Is there anything that has to happen before you can start –and finish – your project?
3. Draw Some Boundaries
Now that you’ve had some time to think through the practicalities, are there some elements to your idea that aren’t a good fit right now?
Could it be that, due to the additional time they will take, or cost and other resources, it make sense to exclude them from the project for now, or keep them to be done as part of a second phase?
It’s also a good time to think about the resources that you’ll need to work on this. Who are the people and teams in your organisation that will be affected or involved in getting this off the ground?
Do you need the services of external resources? If so, what do they need to do, and for how long do you estimate that to be for?
This will start to give you some costs, which you can use next.
4. Re-visit Why You’re Doing This
Ideas are great, and if you’re the creative type, I’m sure you have bucket loads of them every single day!
However, there are valid reasons why so many end up on the cutting room floor: it’s not the right time; it costs more than you’re prepared for right now; or your business just isn’t ready operationally.
There’s no harm in getting to this point and when everything is considered, deciding not to go any further.
What WOULD be costly is pushing on without assessing the idea.
Are there different solutions to consider, and how do they compare?
I’ve written before about the importance of this part of the process, and why skipping this step is the most dangerous threat to successful projects. Take a few minutes to see what you should look out for.
5. State What You Want
You’ve outlined your idea, done some research, established some boundaries (very sensible! You’re unlikely to be able to do everything to first envisaged in one go), and made the case for it, financial and otherwise.
If your idea has stood up to scrutiny after all this, congratulations! It’s really worth doing.
You now need to explain the details of what you want, so the various elements can be delivered by that recruiter / your IT department / that external digital agency.
Referred to as requirements definition, here you should list out:
i. WHAT you want the solution to do, e.g. the website must be optimised for mobile devices; and
ii. HOW you want it to do them, e.g. the recruitment process must be completed in 2 weeks.
Prioritise everything you want; as you run though each one, are they an absolutely necessity for the project? Or are they nice additions that can wait till later if you are already over budget?
I’ve deliberately not used project terminology such as functional requirements, MOSCOW and the like. If you have a professional Business Analyst or Project Manager to support your implementation they will know what these are and what they apply to.
But this will help you know what they are doing on your project, and you’ll know what to do if you’re going down the DIY route.