Saturday, December 1, 2007

Getting the right start for your projects


By Michelle LaBrosse

Think about the projects you have worked on. When you look at the difference between the successes and the failures, there are often a few star culprits. Scope creep is common. Lack of communication often rears its head. Budget overages can have dangerous ripple affects. And all of these can be prevented, if you begin with the end in mind.

A strong project needs a strong foundation. In this article you'll find the key questions to ask when forming the foundation for your project. As you answer these questions, also ask yourself what constitutes an agreement in your organization? If you work in a formal environment, then you can transform the answers to these questions into a project agreement. If you work in a more casual and free-form environment where a handshake is an agreement, I still recommend at least using a top-line email to capture the key elements of your project.

What is the scope of the project?

The scope is made up of a number of elements, and one reason for scope creep is that often times the scope has not been accurately defined.

What is the project objective?

What are you setting out to do? What will it look like when we're done? Make sure everyone knows what success looks like.

Who are the customers?

Think about the customers both outside and inside the organization. Make sure you define the customer needs and requirements, and know what problems you're solving with the final deliverable. With any specific customer requirements, make sure you know the priority of importance for those requirements. This is significant when you're dealing with budget and time management. And finally, know how you will measure the customer's satisfaction.

What are the key business factors you need to be aware of?

Don't bury your head in the project and get too removed from the reality of what your project means to the outside world. Focus on these three impacts, and know what the possible outcomes may be.

  1. Market impact. How will your project impact your competitive position?
  2. Organizational impact. What will your organization gain by pursuing this project?
  3. Strategic impact. From a long-term strategic perspective, how important is it that you are successful with this project?

Who's on first?

Know who your team members are and clearly define their roles and responsibilities. This includes agreeing on how much time each person needs to commit to this project. Often, people's time becomes over-promised, so something eventually falls through the cracks. Make sure everyone on the team knows the critical success factors of the project and knows how the project will be judged. For example, is management focusing on business performance, while the team leader is focusing more on team performance? Know what the stakes are, and it will help everyone make decisions using the same playbook.