Five Steps to Start Your Project off on the Right Foot

If a project is worth doing, it is worth doing well.  Project Management does not just “happen” without intention. Here is a 5-step Process to starting your project out on the right foot.

  1. Complete a Project Charter.
  2. Assign a Core Team.
  3. Create an Operating Agreement for the Core Team.
  4. Run efficient meetings with important details documented.
  5. Be ready to pivot quickly when things change unexpectedly.

Below is a description of each step in further detail. Remember to include the role of Project Manager – whether internal or external, this person plays a critical role in the success of the project (and will drive completion of all these items!).

1.      Complete a Project Charter.

At the beginning of a project people are usually excited, energetic, and full of goodwill towards everyone who is on their team!  Stepping back and completing a thoughtful Project Charter takes discipline, and it adds time to the beginning of a project.  This is not always super fun for that excited team who is raring to go and just knows that things will work out.

Writing a Charter feels so formal and time consuming at this stage.  Without it, expectations for the project may not be aligned up front.  There is no better time to level set on these items than at the beginning of the project when everyone has a full tank of goodwill towards each other.

Here are the components of AJC’s standard Project Charter:

  1. Project Goals / Objectives
  2. Project Scope (in / out)
  3. Project Stakeholders: Roles & Responsibilities
  4. Project Approach / Milestones
  5. Project Deliverables
    1. Budget
    2. Success Metrics
    3. Risks / Potential Mitigations (first pass)
    4. Stakeholder Communication Plan (high level – add a Change Manager/Comms person for complexity)

2.      Assign a Core Team.

The Core team is involved in the project execution.  They attend regular cadence meetings (recommend at least weekly), complete most of the action items, provide feedback, risks, updates, and follow up with others in the organization to complete specialized portions of the work (i.e., in a new office move, they may work with a room designer to ensure the layout is completed to the company’s specifications).  The Core Team’s Roles & Responsibilities should be outlined in the Charter so that all the stakeholders know who is on the Core Team and what they will be responsible for doing, as well as where they will need help to get things done or decisions made.

3.      Create an Operating Agreement for the Core Team.

Again, this may feel a bit formal and time consuming, but who has not had the experience of setting a project schedule only to learn that key team members are going to be on vacation during a critical portion of the execution? Also, this is where the team agrees to their standard meeting agenda, so everyone is aligned, and you can run efficient meetings (see the next item).

Here are the components of AJC’s standard Operating Agreement:

  1. Team Process Management / Logistics
    1. Team Meeting Frequency
    2. Standard Agenda
    3. Decision Making Process
    4. Team Communication
    5. Expectations
    6. Vacation
  2. Appendix: Escalation Template

4.      Run Efficient Meetings with important details documented.

No one wants to sit long meetings where they feel they are not contributing.  Patrick Lencioni has even written a book on this called Death by Meeting!  That is why we come up with a standard meeting agenda and stick to it – ending ON TIME, and scheduling follow up conversations with only the required parties if needed.

Here are the components of AJC’s standard Core Team Meeting Agenda, using a single spreadsheet tool to capture the important details so that when issues are resolved, the resolution is listed.

  1. Check in (round robin, brief)
  2. Schedule Review, focus on immediate milestone – is anything at risk of completing on time?
    1. Any problems pushed to the Issue Resolution area
  3. Adoption Pulse – how is the whole company feeling about this project currently?
    1. Any concerns pushed to the Issue Resolution area
  4. Action Item Review – quickly run through captured actions.
    1. Anything lingering over ~2 weeks old pushed to the Issue Resolution area
  5. Issue Resolution – round robin to add anything “new” that needs to be discussed (team members can fill this out early as well); and prioritize the HIGH items as a team; Discuss those first until they are resolved.
    1. Document the resolution, decision, Parking Lot, or action needed – actions pushed to the Action Item area
    2. Note that not every issue needs to be resolved in THAT meeting! Focus on the High priorities for maximum impact
  6. Monthly – Parking Lot Review
    1. As issues come up that will need to be resolved, but not within the current month, list them in the Parking Lot by approximate month they will be relevant and review that monthly to pull in these issues as they are timelier.
  7. End Meeting on time – is anything still open that needs to be discussed before next Core Team Meeting?
    1. If so, schedule a follow up with only the relevant team members.

5.      Be ready to pivot quickly when things change unexpectedly.

It may come as a complete surprise that things change – often without warning! The team needs to be aware that this can happen, which will make them open to change and ready to pivot when something unexpected hits the fan and all the best laid plans are undermined.  Note that Contingency Plans are only as good as the team’s ability to predict problems.  Mindset and willingness to think creatively and re-assess for Plan B when actual shifts occur is critical to the project’s ultimate success.