While starting a project always has its challenges, that doesn't mean it's a very complex task. Whether you are an expert with a lot of experience managing projects, or a novice in this profession, it is possible to establish a small basic sequence of steps to develop a project. And I anticipate, the way you start your projects, is fundamental to increase the chances of success of your project.
What is a project?
When I asked the most recent version of Copilot / Bing Chat, it responded:
A project is the planning and execution of a series of actions that, in order to achieve a given objective, are carried out. In other words, a project is the ideation of a given task, for which we establish the way in which it is going to be carried out.
The project should include a plan of all activities and how they are to be carried out.
Finally, the project must also include details of all the resources and means necessary to carry it out.
A project can be of an infinite number of types, depending on its purpose, content, financing, complexity, among others. The vital elements that make up a good project are: time, scope, cost, organization and planning, stakeholder management, communication, task allocation and results.
The 5 qualities that define a project
It says many things, but I help you to rescue the 5 most important things:
- A project is an undertaking to achieve a specific goal. For example, when you decide to take a vacation. All the effort you put into raising the money, planning the vacation, making the reservations, traveling and enjoying your vacation is conceptually a project, whether you do it consciously or not.
- Projects have always existed. They are vehicles for change and transformation, and surely you have led or participated in them without knowing it. The important thing here is their temporality - they always have a defined beginning and a planned end - that is, you start knowing that, at some point, the project will culminate.
- Every project requires resources, among them, the most important for me, the work team - for me it is a separate category, but academically speaking, the team is always included in the resources. Besides equipment, money, time, raw materials, machinery that helps you transform those raw materials.
- Project management is an integral part of the project. If we take the example of a vacation and assume it is a vacation with friends, managing communications with your friends to decide the destination, the duration, confirm reservations and keep everyone informed, is an integral part of the vacation project itself. And I assure you, everyone will remember a good or bad vacation, but no one will remember how well you managed the communications, or the stakeholders.
- Although it doesn't happen very often, you can change the whole plan of a project, but never its objective. If you change the objective or purpose, you have a new project.
Now, let's continue with the steps.
Step 1: Define the objective of the project
The first thing you should do to start your project is to define the objective: what is the aim of the project? Why have we decided to start the project? What result do we hope to achieve at the end?
Each project is unique, even if you do two projects with the same objective, it is unlikely - not to say impossible - that you do them at the same time, in the same place, with the same team and for the same people or clients. For sure, each project has something different. And that will mean that your next steps will not necessarily be the same.
If the goal of your project is to build a house, you will probably follow a different plan than if you want to research a vaccine for a disease. However, both projects need you to be clear about the goal.
Step 2: Establish the management model.
It is essential to establish, from the beginning, the steps to follow to carry out a project successfully. This beginning is a key moment that, although it may seem simple, if done correctly increases considerably the probabilities of success. You must establish a project management model that fits the project's context or reality. Many ignore the need to establish "the rules of the game" and make the mistake of thinking that you must always perform the same steps to do all projects. Have you never been in a meeting where someone said, all projects should be done with Scrum?
Project life cycle and phases
All projects have a life cycle, and this is because every project has a beginning and an end. It is not possible to start a project without having in mind the goal or objective to be achieved, even if it is not possible to determine the exact result expected at the end. In my classes, I always repeat that projects are vehicles for change, transformation and evolution. Projects are instruments that take us from state A to state B.
This condition of temporality, that is, that all projects are defined with a beginning and an end in mind, determine what is known as the life cycle. And the life cycle, marks the steps you must perform or follow to define, execute and close a project.
The phases of a project refer to the moment in time of the project. Each phase has a time - moment - and a main objective. However, do not expect to find a detailed description of every single activity that has to happen in each phase. Many activities depend on the nature of the project and what we want to achieve. The objective of the phase is the same, the activities to accomplish it are different.
The phase that never existed: project control
Before moving on, you may be wondering, what about the control phase? This is a common misconception, defining control as a phase. The reality is that control is more of a "category of activities" across all phases. Many people confuse control with a phase, so don't feel bad, just remember that control is like breathing in projects, it happens all the time. What you don't control, you can't manage or improve.
Step 3: Identify available resources
The third step is, of course, to identify the available resources. That is, to answer the question: what do we have to carry out the project?
And the first and most important thing is to know, identify, assign, recruit or hire the people who will accompany us in the process. Without people, there are no projects. Without people, projects are meaningless.
The project team
Every project needs a team. The team and the skills you need to complete the project. When you identify the resources - among those the money that will help you in many cases to hire or finance the work team, the machinery, and the supplies and materials, my first advice is to focus on the people who will help you achieve the project goal.
To do so, I invite you to reflect on the following questions related to the people who will accompany you in moving your project forward:
- What skills should these people have?
- What experience would be helpful or accelerate the progress of the project?
- When should they join the project and with what availability?
- Can you pay that person well? What remuneration mechanisms can you define in your project?
Example of project team structuring
Let's go back to our example. Your project is the construction of a small rest house on the outskirts of your city. To build your house we can divide the project into three stages:
- Designing the house
- Building the house
- Furnishing the house
For each of those stages of your project you need different skills, and some of them will have roles with major involvement in different stages. So, in the design stage you will need professional architects and designers to have a good house. If the terrain has some particular challenge for the design of the structure or the accesses, some engineers will surely be involved.
However, when building you need skilled labor to build and architects and engineers are likely to be partially involved because they are not the ones who build.
When furnishing the house you will surely need capable and experienced interior designers to help you - if you wish - to choose from the colors of the walls and the materials of the floors, to the furniture.
As you can see, at each stage you need different skills and abilities and your job is to, to some extent, anticipate those skills and the team of people who will be able to help you achieve your goal.
Agile project teams
Not all projects are the same. Some steps require adjustments during the realization of the project to adapt to the project context. What if it is not possible to anticipate the exact outcome of the project? Here I explain.
Imagine your project is more exploratory and less prescriptive. You know you want to build a house, but you're not clear on what it should look like, or what areas it should have. Then, during the design phase, you can put together a team focused on maximizing the benefit of the design.
So, you don't define the team in terms of what you want to build - a house - but in terms of maximizing the design. That said, you could put together an "ideation" team that might include members of your family, a couple of architects with different views on design and, why not, a kid with ideas that might be crazy in principle.
We call this model of equipment agile teamand focuses on complementary skills that work to maximize the value of the outcome - which includes discovering value.
Structuring of innovation projects
If it seems a bit strange to you, then imagine you are the head of an innovation or new product design area in a cosmetics company. Would you want everyone on your team to think alike and have the same ideas? Maybe, have someone with divergent thinking. Your job may not be to define products, but to encourage productive discussions in a team of diverse thinkers.
The way you structure the team will define from the beginning its potential to offer new, highly innovative or totally disruptive ideas. It is an important thing to consider in your steps to realize a project.
Who are the project stakeholders?
Without complicating things too much, imagine that the people involved in a project have two positions. Those who get involved, participate and carry out the activities of the process to achieve the objective - which we would normally call a team. And the people who participate in a specific way in making some important decisions, or as auditors, or auditors.
These people do not contribute directly to the realization or achievement of the goal and often require more of a communicative and political effort than a physical or mental one. This group of people are known as "stakeholders" - not a very accurate translation of "stakeholders". stakeholders.
Most common start-up phase tools
There are a large number of tools or artifacts for starting a project. This list is not intended to replace frameworks or methodological guides, so I will share with you some of the most common ones:
- Project incorporation act (Project Charter)
- Scope statement document (Scope Statement)
- Management plans - there are many, but among the most recognized are the stakeholder management plan and the risk management plan.
- Statement of equipment (Team Charter) or the Team Canvas.
After completing the initial steps, which is some "organization and preparation" literature, it is time to work with the team on more specific and clear definitions that will allow us, as soon as possible, to move into action.
Step 4: Develop the work plan
At this point you are clear about your goal, resources and equipment. You have basically answered the following questions.
- What do we want to achieve?
- What resources do we have?
- Who are we going to work to achieve the goal?
However, it is not always clear what you should do first. The steps to carry out the project contemplate of course the structuring of a plan. A plan that can be as detailed and strict, or as simple and ambiguous as required.
The planning process is as complex and in-depth as the project requires. If your project is to structure a camping trip with friends, you don't need a big plan. If your project is to structure the renovation of a city to get it back to normal after a flood or hurricane disaster, well... you get the point.
Detailed, incremental and adaptive plans
Again, the question is what you want to achieve. If you're developing a new product, you'd probably want to validate the hypotheses about the product first. And therefore your plan doesn't extend much beyond that first validation. In any case, what's the point of planning further if the market might reject your product?
We call these plans incremental. They require early validations and therefore limit the execution of a plan beyond one delivery. Like when you want to conquer someone? Every next action depended on the previous one.
Other plans require more anticipation. We call these detailed or predictive plans. Based on knowledge and experience it is possible to anticipate or predict the most likely outcomes.
Plan like a pro
Planning is a process that is as wide as it is tall. It is extensive and even has specialties by industry or sector. There are experts in planning for engineering works, or construction of residential condominiums. There are experts in incremental planning for software product development and experts in adaptive planning for scientific research projects.
Always seek to validate the best planning practices in your industry - the sector in which you work. You will discover that there is a world of knowledge and best practices that will empower you and your team.
Issues to consider when planning a project
Some of the issues to consider - but not all of them:
- What do you want to achieve? - We call it outreach or scope
- How do you want to achieve it? - plan, roadmap (roadmap) or timeline if it is very detailed.
- How much will it cost? - quote
- What are the risks to our project, our plan and our team?
- How are we going to control the quality of the products or services we develop in the project? How are we going to assure our processes?
- How will we manage the team? How will we manage the stakeholders? What legal or supervisory requirements do we need to comply with?compliance?
Preliminary reflections before starting execution
Before you begin execution, remember that the plan is your best attempt to anticipate things. Sometimes, depending on the nature of what you are trying to accomplish, you may anticipate more or less detail.
However, plans are, of course, projections and assumptions. Your job throughout the project - everything, without exception EVERYTHING - will be to always validate that the plan is consistent with reality.
I would gladly tell you how many times I have consulted on projects where the plan was a document that was completed at the beginning and never reviewed or updated again. It is because of things like this that senior management in organizations are not only unaware of the changing nature of some plans, they also often justify their inability to understand, accept and approve necessary adjustments to the plan, budget or scope.
Nothing could be more useless than a plan that only represents the emotions of the HiPPO and is not a valuable tool for the project team.
Step 5. Run
There is little I can say about this phase. Execution is almost entirely a project team effort. If we talk about a construction, to execute is to build, if we refer to the development of a new mobile App, to execute is to develop and test software. When the context is scientific research.... well, you get the idea.
The important thing, from a project management point of view, is to keep the team focused, support them in discussions and decision making to complete the plan and adjust to the unexpected.
Here, although the team is in "execution mode", you as coordinator or director, must be in "monitoring and control" mode.
Support the team in the execution and objective monitoring of the plan.
I can't separate execution from follow-up, it's impossible. For many years, in my project management courses I always left this slide at the beginning of my classes:
We can only control what is in execution. We can only execute what has been planned.
This sentence sums up the nature of the phases we have seen so far. If you want to execute a project and have some control, you must have a plan and support the execution.
I could write a whole book. But this article is meant to be an introduction with the steps to make a project happen. So for now keep in mind these two important things about the execution phase.
- Executing and controlling are like a couple dancing. Each step of one person triggers a reaction - coordinated and subtle - from the other person. This means that if something happens in the execution - planned or unplanned - the control should reflect it. If monitoring detects information or evidence that could affect our objective, the execution should respond accordingly.
- You don't execute once, you don't control once. Again it's like a dance. The process repeats all the time until the song - in this case the project - is over.
We have reached the end of the project. The activities and plans have resulted in reaching our goal. Of course, it is possible for our project to end early for different reasons that I will present below. However, let's talk about the happy ending.
When we have achieved the objective it is time to close the project. Here are some activities that may include, among other things:
- Settle contracts
- Terminate relationships with contractors and allies
- Deliver results to our clients
Celebrate the closing of the project
All the steps in a project are important. Without exception. Many times we don't stop to celebrate what we have achieved. My biggest advice is, don't stop celebrating every step and every closure. It's not just money invested in the project.
The only thing we people give to projects that we can never get back is time. So, in completing a project, it is our time and dedication that brought that result. And, therefore, celebrating, thanking and congratulating those who deserve it, is fundamental.
What is the role of the project manager?
The projects are unique and unrepeatable. The teams are the people we work with who make the experience good or bad. But it is the leaders who make each project memorable, valuable and of personal and professional growth.
Good managers will lead better personal and professional experiences for their team, and better and more stable results for the organizations they work for.
Free resources to learn more
If you're interested in going into detail, there are specialized programs for structuring projects and some free resources that will be useful to dig deeper.
- Kickoff by PMI
- Disciplined Agile - this is a slightly more advanced resource
- Development Project Management
- PMI Educational Foundation Resources
- Introduction to project management
Tell me, how has your experience been in the projects you have had the opportunity to participate? Has it been good? Why? Has it been bad? What steps have you followed to carry out the projects? Have I forgotten any of them?