Starting a project

It is tempting when we begin a project to jump right in and start working on it. Similar to a developer who just starts coding this can create problems. On some smaller projects, you may be able to start with briefly assessing all these points but, it is still important to make sure you have them all covered.

Create problem statement

What are you trying to accomplish? The problem statement should concisely answer this fundamental question. Similar to an elevator pitch, the problem statement is something you could tell people and they would understand the problem you are trying to solve. For instance, “We want to reduce loan application approval times from ten days to five by eliminating the paper scanning steps.” This is a short statement that tells our main aim and how we plan to go about it.

The problem statement can create the vision for the project. It has been said that without a vision the people will perish. On a project without a vision, you will not garner any motivation to move forward. Don’t neglect this first step or your project could start out on the wrong foot.

Some project managers call this the business case instead of the problem statement. Where the problem statement is more concise a business case encompasses more information. For instance, they may include reasons the project was undertaken and other options considered. The business case will include other benefits too.

Define goals and objectives

Once you have your problem statement defined you should easily be able to define the goals and objectives for the work ahead. For our problem statement of reducing loan approval time, we highlight eliminating the paper scanning. What changes do we need to make so that is possible? Perhaps we need to change the user interface so we can capture all the information there. Our goal maybe to identify all the changes we need to make that possible.

Gather requirements

With many years experience as a software developer, I understand the need to gather requirements. In the book The Pragmatic Programmer, the authors remind us that requirements are rarely found at the surface they must be dug for with good questions and thoughtful discussions. We need to take the time to listen and understand the business and their goals. This will guide us to find the requirements that might be initially hidden from us. Here are a few good questions to get you started.

  • How will you use this enhancement?
  • Is this a process and, if so, what are the steps?
  • How might we meet the organization need?
  • How do we know it is done?

Define deliverables and success

We need to define deliverables for each project. “In each phase, a deliverable marks the end of the current phase and gives the project manager authority to continue.” from The Complete Idiots Guide to Project Management. As we build these deliverables into the project plan we give us milestones or check-ins to make sure we are meeting the goals of our stakeholders.

Assumptions and risk

Every project has assumptions or expected events during the project. As a project manager or person with experience in this area, we believe that these conditions will be true. It is important to describe these assumptions and understand the corresponding risks that go with these. The Guide to Project Management Body of Knowledge PMBOK® Guide 5th Edition lists a Project Assumption as “A factor in the planning process that is considered to be true, real or certain often without any proof or demonstration”.

I have learned a lot from some great project managers who have made sure we get all the assumptions out in the open. These need to be communicated to those involved in the project, the stakeholders, and those responsible. Risks also need to be outlined from the beginning. As a project progresses new risks come about. I have learned how important it is to let everyone know the risks. I once tried to mitigate a risk to a project only to have it blow up into a larger problem.

Scope and Stakeholders

Project scope is just the work that is needed to be completed for the project to be done. As a project manager, it is important to clearly identify the scope of the project. This includes all deliverables that need to be completed. Make sure to have the time and budget components worked out as well beforehand.

We need to know our stakeholders in any project. These are not just the people paying for the project but, anyone involved directly or indirectly. For instance, if one department uses your new application you are developing but, another gets a report from it for accounting we need to flush out their requirements too.

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