20 June 2016

Preparing for a Project

Yes, I am getting back into project mode again for MPOW. This time not as a project manager but "adding rigour" to project control through documentation, processes etc.

Today I had to write up a list of things for the to do list prior to the official launch of the project. So I'm borrowing my list for this blogjune post. It's not identical but similar - each project has its own idiosyncrasies so adapt adapt adapt.

A lot of preparation has already been undertaken in terms of obtaining funding and authorisation and buy-in at the director level so for us we now need to line up all the stuff we need before a kick-off workshop with stakeholders and project working parties.

Contract execution

It can be mighty embarassing and a big waste of everyone's time for a big launch if the contract negotiations don't end up going through and you have to cancel the whole thing, or postpone while alternative suppliers are organised.

Define Stakeholders 

Take some time to identify all of the players who can claim a stake in the project and its outcomes. A table is a good start. At minimum you will need to name them (groups or individuals) and write down why they have an interest of influence over the project. This is important for you to figure out what and how you are going to communicate about the project. For a major project go the next step and assess how much influence and how much interest they have in the project. You may find this tool from the Victorian Dept. of Environment and Primary Industries useful. It provides a matrix and instructions on how to run an analysis session.

Define Key Deliverables

How else will you know if you are focussing on the right work? You might not have all of these defined at the project kick-off but you must have a good idea of these by the time you launch with stakeholders. They may come up with ideas for deliverables that you haven't yet identified - take their ideas and assess them for inclusion/exclusion in the scope of the project.

Define Benefits & Measures for Success

Once again, these will probably change a bit during the project, but you need to sell the benefits of the project to the stakeholders (gaining buy-in). Figuring out how you are going to measure them will enable you to determine how successful your project is. Often some of these benefits will not be realised until well after the project and you might not think it worthwhile worrying about them. If you ever suspect that you will want to get funding for another project in the future it's worth measuring and reporting on these. Pro tip - tie the benefits/measures to your organisation's strategic goals to easily demonstrate value.

Assess Resourcing

This actually goes on throughout the project, but for the launch it helps to have a pretty good picture of what you need, especially in the short term. This will affect the project budget so you will have to forecast an overall value for resources, but you also need to consider not just the number of people who will do the work, but the skills required. Don't overlook project skills - I can tell you from experience that while it is feasible to chair a meeting and take minutes - it is difficult. For a big project make sure the project manager has some support and does not become the slave of the project. The Project Manager is a facilitator not a dogsbody. In addition to human resources there is also equipment and software to itemise too.

Prepare a Collaboration Site

Figure out how you are going to communicate, where you will share documents, how will you track project issues and risks. Sharepoint is great for this, but there are other tools out there. You can get Sharepoint & Planner via Office 365, but there are free alternatives. Put together what ever combination is going to work for your project team. It might be a combo of Dropbox, Google Sites and Trello.

Develop a Gantt Chart

You can make these with MS Project, but many people use Excel or other tools such as Tom's Planner. For a really complex project I'd go with MS Project. Even after many projects I still don't use all the features of MS Project as it gets too fiddly at times. Gantt charts provide a good visual look across timelines. Make sure you mark key milestones and update as tasks are completed.

Plan a launch workshop

  1. Decide on key messages to share
  2. Overview the project including why and how at a broad level, and who are the key personnel and working parties.
  3. Talk about how the project players and stakeholders can communicate
  4. This is about engaging with stakeholders so figure out who to invite (maybe not all stakeholders as per your analysis). I'd recommend inviting those who have a high interest and making sure there is a session encouraging them to share their ideas - and tell them how they can share their ideas privately after the launch. Remember there are introverts and others who take time to process information before they come up with ideas.
  5. Answer questions. If you can't answer a question immediately make sure you follow up from the launch with an answer either directly, or through a project news update.