A project can be as small as one task, a piece of standalone work or part of a bigger programme of work.  They can all be approached in the same way using the following methodology which helps to understand the size, complexity, stakeholders and very important – the delivery date of the ask.

What is the problem you are trying to solve?

Sometimes referred to as the ‘problem statement’ or the ‘exam question’ provided by the sponsor. Get clarity at the beginning about why the piece of work has come about, e.g. a complaint, feedback, a broken or non-existent process. Once you have this, keep coming back to this to make sure you’re not veering off from the objective and heading down the wrong path.

What is the deliverable and how do we measure success?

Make sure you understand the brief using the five W’s: Who, What, Why, When, Where (also referenced in ‘How to manage assumptions successfully’). Ask as many questions as you need to at the outset. Sometimes you need to reflect on the information and check your understanding by asking more questions. Why does the deliverable need to be completed? Is there a legal or regulatory component? If so, make sure you understand all the elements of the project and keep checking that the requirements don’t change.

Map out milestones

Milestones are key dates and deliverables, again ask questions, reflect on the responses and then play back the answers. This is your chance to ask the ‘daft’ questions and challenge the process (if one is already in place) and deliverables – are they are achievable?

Draft a plan

A plan is critical to the project. It doesn’t need to be on specific project planning software, spreadsheet, PowerPoint, POAP (plan on a page), it’s more about the content and the story so those involved can understand the journey. Watch out for the use of TLA’s (three letter acronyms) and terminology that isn’t understood by everyone. Consider capturing a terminology list as part of the project – this will avoid misunderstanding and make things transparent for the people who have been afraid to ask before.

Socialise and Get Buy-In

This can be the most time consuming and complex part of planning as you will need to ensure your message is clear and concise; gaining consensus, agreement, or understanding. Do not underestimate the importance of communication which needs to provide the right message at the right time and to the right people.

Talk to stakeholders, they may not be directly involved, but indirectly affected on how they do things. You want them to feel included in the shaping of the project. Even if you don’t feel they will be directly relevant to the delivery, sometimes their thoughts and suggestions can change the route of the process, streamline things or make you aware of changes that are coming down the line that will affect your project in the short/long term.

Ensure your sponsor and stakeholders are feeling included, take them on the journey with you, they are part of a greater goal and you can’t successfully deliver without them. No-one likes to feel like something is being ‘done to them’. They’d much rather feel involved and aware of changes. Be ready to be challenged and your plan amended through this ‘fact finding’ part of planning.

Draft plan is ready…almost

You’ve polished the plan, refined it and now the draft is shared. Take the opportunity to walk the sponsor (after all they are responsible for the project’s success) and the stakeholders through the plan in full to check their understanding is aligned with the deliverables, ensuring the delivery fulfils the brief and solves the problem. Once you have the green light to proceed (make sure you know who this is at the start!) next comes the task of putting the plan in place, managing the moving parts, reporting on progress and of course delivery!

How do you start your projects? Share your top tips in the comments section below.

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