How To Start a Project
“The journey of a thousand miles begins with one step,” goes the old adage. Yet it neglects to say that the success of that journey or project is dependent on how you take that first step.
A large project (or a small one) starts with the small stuff and builds to something bigger and more complex. You need to get to work, but how you get to work is equally important
3 Essentials to Starting a Project
In larger or more formal projects, there is the project “kick off,” an entire phase of the project that is made up of everything that needs to be done before the actual start of the work.
Briefly, the kickoff involves gathering all the information you need to find the right team, the right tools and defining the project’s objectives and scope by creating a lot of documentation.
For example, there’s the statement of work, which is a description of what you intend to accomplish. There are budgets to create, supplier contracts to draft, team organization charts and risk assessments, to name just a few.
All of that is important. But sometimes, while scurrying around madly getting approvals and documentation created for the upcoming project, we forget about the basics. Whether you’re planning a large project or a small one, you want to remember the essentials of what makes a project start out on the right foot.
We’ve outlined three essentials to starting a project below.
Get Everyone on the Same Page
It’s crucial that everyone involved in the project is brought in early to define the project and weigh in on the project’s risks, outcomes and deliverables to help ensure a successful outcome. That means not only your team, but the project stakeholders, business owners, end-users, IT architecture team… everyone.
Devin Deen, Scrum master and project management expert, suggests that the most effective method of getting everyone on the same page at the start of a project is simply by creating a Powerpoint presentation together with your team. The key word there is “together.” Everyone should contribute to it, workshop it, and yes, that even includes your business stakeholders. The presentation should cover the top-level points about a project, such as objectives, scope, rules and responsibilities, approach, schedule and risk. By enlisting their support you’re getting all parties on board, and encouraging their buy-in.
But more than that, by inviting people to participate in the co-creation of the project, you’ll get engagement and support early on in the project. So whether you choose a collaborative Powerpoint presentation or just invite key people to coffee, the important point is to get everyone on the same page as early as possible.
Get to Know Your Team
You hire for expertise, but projects are not all about just delivering tasks on time. You spend time with people you work with sometimes more than you see your own family! It’s important to develop a team culture where everyone feels engaged, involved, heard and respected. To do that, you need to get to know the team.
This isn’t as hard as it may sound. Take a little time to meet individually with team members, and learn what they want to achieve with the project and how it’s going to impact their lives. Also ask what are the skills and opportunities they hope to gain. It’s important for you to know early on in the project where you can add value to help build skills in your team members, but also where they can add value on other areas of the project that may not be evident with their core position.
Not only that, but by showing your team that they’re important enough to you that you’ll take a break from your busy schedule to meet with them personally, they’ll appreciate the effort towards making yourself available and that you’re open to listening, too.
You’ll also want to create team engagement opportunities, like the classic kickoff party. Or even a pre-kickoff meet and greet. It may seem a bit premature to party at the start of a project, but every milestone on the path to a successful project completion needs to be acknowledged.
You don’t have to make a big affair of it, though. It can consist of practical activities, such as going through the Powerpoint presentation as mentioned above. But if you gauge the level of your team’s interest to be open to something more challenging, then why not do a mountain bike ride, fishing trip or obstacle course. It’s important to take time to kick off as a team. It helps your core project team come together an a unit.
Another thing that a kick-off event helps with is making sure everyone knows that the project has begun and it’s time to get to work. It may sound funny, but it helps to make these things very clear. If you don’t acknowledge the kick off with an event then people can be confused and not know if they’re supposed to be filling in time sheets, for example. A kickoff event ties everything together.
Get the Right Tools
When you’re getting to know your team, inquire about what tools they need to get the job done. It’s better to have these defined and delivered at the start of the project, so the beginning of the work doesn’t feel like a chaotic swarm of people demanding access to this or that, or worse, sitting idly by because they don’t have the software they need.
Plus, if you establish an online collaboration space for the project early on, all of the above activities like team engagement, skills assessments, documentation and defining project scope and plans can happen in a shared space. If you start out the project with facilitated collaboration tools, you ensure that project conversations happen in a centralized place, and time isn’t wasted chasing up people by email.
Make sure you select tools that can extend to everyone on the team. You’ll want project planning and scheduling features, reporting and project dashboard capabilities, task management, budget tracking and team collaboration features all in one. Then, if your team requires specialized tools, those can be added on to the core project tool, via API or plugins, so you set up a workspace where all the data and activity is centralized.
Whether you’re working on a big project or a smaller one, the right online project tools are better to start your project with, versus a handful of disparate spreadsheets or data tools that don’t facilitate easy data sharing and team communication.