Starting a new project at work can be daunting. Questions immediately begin circulating: Where do you even begin? How will you meet the deadlines? Do you have the right resources to be successful? Here at JCA, we’re experienced at managing projects. So we’ve pooled our knowledge and put together this list of five key steps to make your project a success.
An important step in initiating a project is identifying a Project Manager (PM), or the person who is best suited to be in charge of the project. A PM needs to know how to lead the planning process, manage the team as they execute the plans, keep things under control, manage change, and bring the project to completion. Above all, the PM must be an effective communicator. No small task!
The PM needs to understand why the project was selected and the expected benefits. Is it to create more efficient processes? Achieve a strategic goal? Meet a regulatory requirement?
The PM can start with a project initiation checklist to document what is needed. To start off a project, it’s helpful to think through these four questions:
- What information do you need?
- How are you going to get this information?
- Who is responsible to gather information?
- Where are you going to centrally store the information?
As an example, let’s say your organization is implementing a new CRM system. Some needs for this type of project could include:
- Documents outlining the purpose and objectives of the project.
- Checklist for basic system functionality needs.
- Who needs what type of system access (server, front-end, back-end).
- Organization charts (if you are working with other companies).
Project planning helps ensure that everyone who will contribute to the project is on the same page. Planning ahead of performing the work helps assure agreement and sign off on scope, schedule, and budget. There are many elements to project planning, and a pivotal planning document is the project scope statement. Besides defining scope, there are three key areas to pay attention to:
We all have assumptions and expectations. The challenge for the PM is to uncover these assumptions from the project team and stakeholders, and document them. It’s critical to understand what stakeholders believe to be true about the project, as incorrect assumptions introduce risk to projects.
Going back to our CRM implementation project, here are some example questions that could be used to uncover assumptions:
- Who is responsible for providing system access? Are there any dependencies?
- Who is responsible to test the system? What type of tests should be undertaken?
- Who is responsible to deliver training? What type of training will this entail?
- If a resource leaves mid-project and needs to be replaced, who is responsible?
Constraints limit options and potentially impact schedule, cost risk, scope, quality, and resources. The PM needs to be aware of and document any constraints.
Some common constraints include:
- Vacation dates for project team members.
- Organizational campaigns and events that will limit staff availability.
- System limitations.
- Milestone dates.
Documenting what is excluded from a project is just as important as documenting what is included in the project scope. This will help avoid surprises and misunderstandings further into the project.
For our CRM project, some exclusions might be:
- System functionality that is not available.
- Training (or types of training) that will not be delivered.
- Customizations or integrations that are not in scope.
In executing a project, the PM needs to inform team members about information that might affect them, and to help remove barriers or roadblocks to progress.
For a PM, it’s all about communication. Some common execution tactics that PM’s employ are:
- Listen actively and consistently to confirm understanding and assumptions.
- Meet with clear purpose and expected outcomes—e.g. issue resolution, expectation setting.
- Use central repository for shared documents—e.g. Google Drive, Confluence.
If anyone on the project team asks for help, the PM should be willing to assist within the constraints (such as budget and schedule). The PM does not have to know how to do the work necessary to deliver the project outcome, but rather facilitates communication so that the experts can do the work, without getting side-tracked in other project-related issues.
Monitoring and Controlling
As the project moves forward, the PM monitors progress to keep everything under control. Making changes to a project's scope is not inherently a bad thing. However, when scope changes occur without addressing the effects on the schedule, budget, and resources, or when it's done without approval, it becomes a problem. Scope creep is a common problem and it is the PM’s responsibility to avoid it.
However, the PM cannot be the only person on the lookout for changes. All team members and stakeholders need to understand:
- What is in scope.
- What is out of scope.
- It is their responsibility to alert the PM if they hear about potential new scope.
For our CRM project example, some examples of scope to monitor:
- User acceptance testing.
- Data that resides in secondary databases.
- Account de-deduplication within and between databases.
So you’ve done it! You’ve completed your project. Time to celebrate, right? Not quite…
During the project closure process, an important step is to gather team members and stakeholders together and conduct a project debrief. This step can easily get missed or perpetually delayed, as it is human nature to move on to the next thing.
Some important tips for scheduling your project debrief:
- Schedule lessons learned within a month after the project wraps up. If too much time passes, people will forget those important details. (And if done too soon, emotions can run high.)
- Provide opportunity for team members to share what went well, what did not go well, and their puzzles.
- Make sure to document the lessons learned.
- Make sure you store the lessons learned in a central location for future reference.
In summary, following these key steps can help ensure success at your organization:
Get yourself organized with your initiation checklist. Gather information on assumptions, constraints and exclusions. Hone your communication skills. Watch and listen for potential scope creep. Conduct a project debrief so you don’t lose those valuable lessons learned.
Don’t worry. We’ve got you covered.
At JCA, we are dedicated to providing the best outcomes to our clients—and it starts with project management. We'll deliver your project on time, on budget, and with quality, so you can keep working (and stop worrying!) and your stakeholders can stay happy. Contact us to learn more.
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