By definition, a project is a temporary, but carefully planned, endeavour to achieve a unique, non-standard or particular aim. It will draw together a transient organisation of resources (people and tools) and have distinct, measurable objectives. In short, there’s a beginning, a goal, and an end.
That’s a pretty cold description, isn’t it? Depending upon your perspective though, meeting your scope, budget and deadline are not the only ways of measuring a project’s success.
To your customer, the project is important because it’s usually on the path to bigger and better things. Your customer will undoubtedly have a business strategy that will yield outcomes and benefits beyond the outputs from the project alone, so will have a vested interest bigger than would appear.
To your organisation, the project is a source of revenue (and profit). It’s good way to showcase your expertise and foster partnerships and then to open up new opportunities or repeat business.
To you and your team, the project is a proving ground, a chance to work together with experts to deliver something of meaning. It’s then an environment for learning, to develop new skills and experience.
With so many expectations, a project often needs strong shoulders and a firm footing. Unfortunately though, these same pressures frequently force a project to kick-off with a shaky start.
Before you start your next project, ask yourself:
- Do you have the capability to make the project a success?
- Are you prepared and equipped to meet the challenge?
- Are you ready, willing and able to do what is expected?
Let’s take a look at what being “ready, willing and able” means by applying it to your capability:
The ability to cope with the demand both physically and emotionally. Having team members available at any time who have space will allow them to take additional load among other pressures, moreover, it can help them adapt to current and future workload.
Starting a project without a plan and cohesive team will undoubtedly get the project off to a slow start. Additionally, having a lack of understanding of how much demand it will have on you and your resource, can leave you ill-prepared and it will likely put a strain on other projects in your portfolio at short notice.
The ability to commit to the project with an interest in the subject, having a buy-in to the project outcomes and a desire to take responsibility to meet the goals.
A wide disinterest in the project will lead to other projects trumping priority and can result in a lack of attention when needed. It will encourage using transient teams who drop in and out to deliver tasks with no shared responsibility, which can make the project run late with lots of unexpected issues, difficult to resolve.
The level of technical skills, transferable skills and experience to meet the task at hand, and the ability to learn and share knowledge with others.
If we understand the skills required we can develop appropriate development plans and recruitment drives to always have the right people around when required. Assigning unprepared, unskilled people to the team will result in slow delivery and cast doubt on your ability to meet the goals.
If any of the parts of your capability are weak then it doesn’t automatically spell disaster, but it might mean that you’re rushing into a project without the necessary preparation to keep it a success. At the very least you will have challenges.
Consider the following areas and questions when you’re starting a new project:
Portfolio: Does the project fit within your strategy or wider organisation goals? Can it be prioritised alongside, or within, your other commitments?
Demand: Do you understand the project outcomes and constraints? Is there a plan? Do you understand the demands of the project? How long will it take and how much effort?
Resource: Can you build a team in time? Do you need to recruit? Do you need partners and suppliers? Can you delay until you have a team ready? Can you maintain a consistent team throughout the project? Have you equipped your team with the right tools for the job?
Engagement: Do you and your team believe in the project outcomes? Are you engaged with the customer and their goals? Do you understand their business? Can you see other opportunities? Are you a partner or deliverer?
Wellbeing: Can your team devote their time consistently to the project? Does your team work well together? How can you collaborate with the customer and suppliers? Will your team be overworked? Can you reduce travel? Can you create breathing and thinking space to allow the team to invest?
Learning: Do you have the experts you need? Do you need to train juniors? Does everyone have the support they need? Are there learning experiences for others outside of the project? Is this new experience or a case study? Can we learn from mistakes and respond quickly?
This is a distilled introduction to the importance of being prepared so you can start projects with success in mind. This is the basis of Enterprise Project Management and we may cover more aspects of that in another post.