How to Launch a New Project (A Quick Guide for Project Managers)
So you have been assigned to a new project, and now you need to take the role of Project Manager. What will be your first steps? How are you going to launch the project quickly and efficiently?
In this quick guide we will tell you how to be a good project manager and how to manage a project at the startup stage. I will list the basic steps of the startup process. You can use this article as a project startup guide. Please feel free to leave your comments and considerations at the end of the article. Thanks.
Project Manager Skills
A good project is a project that has been successfully started up. In other words, the success of project implementation depends upon all those inputs that have been provided to the project at the initiation stage. By inputs I mean a range of activities and also the contribution that a project manager needs to take care about in order to launch the project. Now let’s talk about the startup activities and the contribution in detail.
The contribution a project manager makes to a project at the launch stage can be defined as a set of skills the manager needs to possess. A well skilled and experienced manager is likely to start a new project quickly and efficiently. So here are the key skills you must have when entering the project manager role:
- Planning. You must be a great planner in order to identify and define the tasks, resources, equipment and materials required for your new project. You also need to be able to develop forecasts and analyze constraints and assumptions at the initiation stage and throughout the entire project lifecycle.
- Prioritization. Having an ability to rank events and identify the most important aspects will help you make the startup successful. As a project manager, you must set clear priorities for project activities in order to help your personnel manage their daily tasks efficiently.
- Delegation. You can’t do everything by yourself. You must learn to delegate duties and authorities. Delegation will help you focus on your project manager role and also keep your staff focused on current tasks and duties.
- Leadership. You are a leader who must set the direction of project work, motivate personnel, correct their actions, and control team performance. Leadership skill will help you establish teamwork and make the project move towards success from the outset.
- Communication. Through communicating with the stakeholders of your project you will know what’s happening now. Communication also includes team feedback that tells you if there are any issues remaining unsolved within the project environment.
Project Launch Activities
Now let’s describe the main activities you must perform at the project startup phase. Here they are:
- Take Responsibility
- Identify the Scope
- Agree on Deadline
- Set Priorities
- Outline the Plan
Activity #1. Take the Responsibility
The very first thing you will do before taking the project manager responsibility is to make sure there is adequate sponsorship provided to the assigned project. There should be a sponsor who invests adequate funding and resources required to deliver the project on time. You must communicate with your sponsor (sometimes called “champion” if there is an external investor) to get a confirmation about availability of the necessary funds. Also you need to talk about the level of the sponsor’s involvement in decision making and to agree upon the full support through the project. Read this article about Sponsor’s Role to learn more.
HINT: before entering the role of project manager, you must be sure there is an adequate financial plan that allocates the necessary resources and funds to your new project launch. Through communicating with the sponsor you can get a written confirmation about availability of the necessary funds.
Activity #2. Clarify the Scope
So you have agreed to take the PM responsibility, and now you know who drives the financial part of your project. The next step is to review and clarify the scope. The purpose is to make sure that the project starts with a clear and correct statement of the deliverables. You don’t want to step through the project and suddenly know that the things the project produces do not satisfy the customer, do you?
So you need communicate with your customer to discuss the deliverables (items to be produced upon project completion) and make sure the customer expectations are taken into account. You must also agree upon the business need to be solved by the project and the solution to be used in problem solving.
HINT: before planning for tasks and activities of your new project, you must clarify the scope of work to be done and the deliverables to be produced upon project completion. This issue can be addressed through communicating with the customer. Note you must elicit the customer expectations in advance in order to reach scope clarification.
Activity #3. Agree on the Deadlines
The scope has been clarified, and now you must identify how much time is required to complete the project within the scope. This step requires you to communicate with both the customer and sponsor. The customer will tell the desired date by which the deliverables must be produced. By talking with the sponsor you need to discuss that date and determine the project deadline. This deadline must be feasible and realistic.
HINT: ideally you want try to agree on a fixed time-frame for delivery rather than a fixed date. Why? Because a fixed time-frame for delivery will give you some freedom in panning your project manager startup. A fixed date ties you up from the outset. So when talking with the customer, try to convince of the need for setting the project deadline as a fixed time-frame for delivery.
Activity #4. Set Priorities
Once you have agreed on the deliverables and deadline, your next activity at the startup stage is to set right priorities. Setting priorities means creating a list of the deliverables in which every deliverable is ranked. By using such a list you will know how to best start a new project.
Priorities are set in communication with the customer. You must hold a meeting with the customer to focus on the deliverables, their ranks and the project deadline. The meeting will result in a list of the deliverables agreed and ready for use in project startup planning.
HINT: make a list of the deliverables and meet with customer. Then ask the customer to prioritize the items from highest to lowest. Try to agree on some deliverables that can be produced after the deadline, if needed. Once the list is prioritized, use it in planning project tasks and activities.
Activity #5. Outline the Project Management Plan
And the final step you must do to begin a new project is to create an outline that includes tasks and activities necessary to produce the deliverables within the scope, by the priorities, and under the deadline. It is actually a pre-planning stage that results in developing a drafted project plan that requires further clarification and approval at the planning stage.
You can hold a kick-off meeting with all the stakeholders (the team, customer, sponsor, experts, etc.) to discuss the project, present your drafted plan, and agree on project objectives. It is critical that you must gather feedback from the stakeholders about your plan.
HINT: Prepare an outline of project plan and share it with the customer. Then ask the customer what is the driving force for the project and what makes it successful. Also remember about making records on your conversations with the stakeholders in order to have a documented confirmation of all the decisions made.