Get Your Project off to a Great Start
The Chaos Manifesto by The Standish Group identified that in 2012 18% of all projects fail (are cancelled prior to completion or delivered and never used) and a further 43% were challenged (late or over budget). Often the reason why projects fail or become challenged is time is not taken up front to think about what the project is trying to achieve. There is so much enthusiasm at the start and people rush into the project. What then happens is the project stops because of a multitude of reasons from building the wrong thing through to being completely unrealistic about what could be achieved.
The way to increase the chances of your project being a success is to have a really good start up approach and in this article I show you how I get my projects off to the best possible start. I will walk you through the template that I use so you can see how I do it. Below I break down my template into the various sections and explain what goes in each part so when you come to do your project start you know what to do. By the end of the article you should be clear on how to get your project off to the best possible start. If you like how I start my projects you can download a free copy of my project start up template so you can use it on your project. In fact in case you have heard enough already here is the link to download your copy now.
Before I go into how the project template works so you know that I have had lots of success with delivering projects here is a little bit about me.
For over 12 years after getting my degree in Project Management I have been successfully delivering projects. I have gone from being a novice and trying to figure things out on my own to delivering huge complex projects which have included new cancer drugs through to complex software developments. I am now confident that I can deliver any project that I am given regardless of it’s size or complexity. This confidence has resulted in my salary continuing to grow even when the economy has been struggling.
The project template is split into 3 main sections and each of these are broken down further. The first section is all about understanding why the project is needed and what a successful outcome will be. The second section is about the benefits and the justification for the project. The third and final section is about identifying who the major project stakeholders are.
Section 1 – The Positioning
Understand the Problem
The key to starting a project is to understand the problem. If you do not understand the problem, you may end up building the wrong solution. For example, think about Concorde. While it did cost a lot it did successfully do what it was designed to do which was transport people as quickly as possible so why then is there no Concorde or any supersonic passenger aircraft today? The reason is when Concorde was developed is was to solve the wrong problem. Airlines do not want to transport passengers as quickly as possible at a high cost. The airlines want aircraft to transports as many people as possible as cheaply as possible. If this problem were properly understood, then Concorde would have to end up being completely different and still flying today. So make sure you fully understand the problem you are trying to fix.
With the problem fully understood the next step is to identify what the impact is. Using Concorde as an example, if the cost of air travel had been properly understood as the problem; then, the impact would be high cost. High cost means people travel less and therefore, the airlines make less money. With less money, there would be less airline companies and therefore a shortage of buyers for new aircraft. This, in turn, would push the price up for new aeroplanes which would then push the price of travel up even further. By fully understanding the impact of the problem it starts to become easier to justify why the project is needed.
Who is Affected
With the impact completed the next part is easy as it is just listing who is affected by the problem. In our example, this would be the airlines, their passengers, the aircraft manufacturers, etc. The key here is to try and list as many as possible as this will help you later with your communication plan
Now that the right problem is identified the next part is the vision, what would a successful outcome be. While you still have to remain realistic try not to be limited by thinking about budget. It may be that the vision can be achieved in a slightly different way once solutions are examined to solve the problem. In our aircraft example say Star Trek like teleports would not be a realistic successful outcome even if it would address the problem. However, stating a successful solution is an aeroplane that would use less fuel than current aeroplanes and could transport 800 would be a great outcome.
Section 2 – The Payback
What is the financial benefit of the project? There are four ways a project give a financial return
Additional Income – By doing this project, will it lead to an increase in revenue for the organisation? Will this project result in a new revenue stream from a new product for example?
Cost Savings – Will completing the project results in money being saved. For example, can you cancel a support contract for an old bit of software which will no longer be used?
Costs Avoided – If this project is done will it reduce the chance of not being compliant with legislation and avoid a fine.
Time Saved – Sometimes projects will result in old ways of working being improved and therefore save time. The trick here is once you have worked out how much time is saved you need to turn these into a cost. To do this you need to establish how much it costs to employ someone on a daily basis. It is generally accepted that on average regardless of you company or sector that the average cost per person in $500 per day. This cost is worked out by looking at additional costs such as equipment and recruitment as well as salary.
The final part of the payback section is to provide the softer benefits of why the project should be done. This can be anything from customer service improvements through to risks avoided through completing this initiative. The purpose is to give high level reasons why the project is a good idea along with the financial return.
Section 3 – The Stakeholders
Who is the Sponsor?
The project sponsor/owner is the person that has initiated the project. In an organisational setting, the owner is usually the executive that has authorised the funds for the project. Establishing good communication with the project owner early on is crucial. Every Project Manager should check in with the project owner every once in a while. Holding regular meetings with the project owner ensures that they are fully aware of any major setbacks or problems.
Who is the Champion?
Typically, owners are director level executives. In large organizations, most executives don’t have enough time to monitor each and every one of their projects. If an owner is too busy to manage a project personally, they will usually hire a champion to take care of the details. The champion works closely with the project team to make sure that the project accurately translates the owner’s vision into reality.
I hope you have found this article useful and now more confident in starting your own project. In summary we covered why projects fail and that getting the project off to the best possible start increases your chance of successful project delivery. A good project start up template starts with understanding why the project is needed before moving on to the payback the project will give. Finally it is a good idea at the start of the project to identify the major project stakeholders. Don’t forget you can get all of this already in a template by clicking the download link below.