So, you’ve got a signed contract with the client, the funding is all approved, and everyone’s keen to see the project underway – but before holding the kick-off meeting and plunging headlong into delivery, there are some important planning steps you can take which will make things run much more smoothly. They are the 5 ‘Ps’ of Successful Project Preparation:
1. Pick your team
Unless you’re running a very small project on your own, you’ll need a mix of skills to deliver the project objectives. What skills are likely to be needed? Who has those skills? Who is available? Who has done this sort of thing before? You may need to work with a resource manager or a number of line managers to secure the resources you need… but the sooner you have these conversations, the better, as you’ll need commitment of team resources to move to step 2…
2. Plan your project timeline
Speak to the client – what are their expectations for the delivery timeline? Do they have a hard deadline? If they are using a Project Manager on their side, has their PM thought about a project plan already? If not, you’ll need to put one together. If they have, it’ll almost certainly need validation to ensure it’s realistic and achievable.
- Identify any key dates and / or milestones, and any deadlines which must be met
- Consult the team members for their knowledge and experience, to ensure the time allowed for tasks is realistic and includes all necessary steps. Can they see any blockers which might need to be factored in, or addressed?
- Build holidays (public holidays and annual leave) into the project plan – these could quickly throw a plan off track if not considered
- Identify any possible risks and issues, and discuss these with the client up-front so that mitigations can be agreed and factored in to the plan. Aim to bring solutions to that conversation where possible.
No Project Manager can build a good plan in isolation – doing all of the above will help make it realistic.
Once you’ve got an outline plan in place, it’ll need refining, so onto step 3…
3. Prioritise your project goals
Once you’ve captured the key tasks, you can begin to look at the priorities. Are there any dependencies between tasks – does task ‘x’ need to happen before task ‘y’ can start, for example?
It’s also important to make sure there is an agreement not only on the end goals of the project but also on any priority order of the deliverables – which are most important to the client. Some may deliver benefits more quickly than others.
Make sure everyone is clear on what’s not being delivered, as well as what is – clarifying and controlling the scope of work will help keep the project on track and avoid ‘moving goalposts’. Any added work will need to be treated as a formal change to the project, and the plan and costs adjusted accordingly.
4. Prepare questions
No Project Manager has all the answers, and the trick is to leverage the right expertise… but also to know what to ask of them. You’ll also need to agree on how the project is operated. Ahead of the kick-off meeting, think about:
- How will we track and review progress on the project?
- How will we communicate/collaborate?
- How will we approach this aspect of the project scope that I know will present challenges/risks?
- What risks have we identified around this project?
- What are the assumptions that we are making?
- What is our plan for managing and mitigating scope creep?
- How will we manage project change?
- Could you please explain some specific terminology for me?
- What information will be required in reporting? (Agree the frequency of project reports, and any KPIs to be included)
5. Prime yourself and your team
Rather than going into the kick-off meeting cold, and risk everyone being a little unsure of themselves, a little disengaged, take the initiative and get in touch with everyone in advance. Introduce yourself and break the ice, explain the lay of the land – what the project is about and why it’s needed; show them why they’re crucial to the project success and work to get their buy-in.
All being well, by the time the kick-off meeting is underway you’ll have an engaged set of team members ready to gel as a team, all committed to moving in the same direction.
Much of Project Management is about preparation, prediction and stakeholder relations, and the prepared PM stands a better chance of successful project delivery.
So, as you embark on your next big project, remember ‘The Five Ps’ to ensure it gets off to the solid start it deserves. Good luck!
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