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Key Steps to Starting a Project
By Satya Narayan Dash

A project is at a greater risk of failing when it begins. Also, most of the time a project fails later because it was not well-planned earlier. A project initiation or start-off is an indispensable exercise which must go in for every project.

The first things which will hit you will, why instantiate a project. The answers are natural like knowing the outcome, who will be the team members, when you are going to complete, the project, etc… Beyond that it serves the following key areas:

  • You a get a signed off project charter as a project charter authorizes a project
  • You get to know all the stakeholders as any stakeholder who can derail the project
  • Roles and responsibilities are highlighted.
  • The outcome of the Project as a project is undertaken due a market demand, technical changes, competition etc. You need to know the outcome of the project
  • You get commitment about the resources
  • You get commitment about the initial timeline or estimate
  • You get commitment about the initial cost or budget

Now coming to the main point, how will you start off a project? As always, we will have the hands on approach.

1. Identify the sponsor

Normally it is easy. If you are working in an outsource environment, it will be your customer. To look it in a very linear way, the person who will provide the “money”.

You need to have a commitment from your sponsor to start a project. This is of paramount importance.

2. Identify the key stakeholders

Any one who is directly or indirectly gets affected by the people is a stakeholder. The person or entity can be internal or external to your organization.

You must identify the key stakeholders, so that their voice is heard in the beginning of the project and more importantly you gain the buy-in of them.

3. Have a questionnaire

A questionnaire helps you in identify the various areas: bottlenecks, issues, risks etc. for your project. You can have the following:

  • What is the primary outcome of this project?
  • Who are the stakeholders? (we all know how important stakeholders are)
  • What areas will be impacted when the project is complete?
  • What are the biggest hurdles for the project?
  • Who is authorized to approve the changes, requirements, documents, etc.?
  • Who is opposed to this project and why (legitimate, political, apprehensive etc)?
  • What are the biggest risks for this project?
  • How will you judge the project as a success?

4. Interview all the key stakeholders

Here the idea is not to cross question them and put them into an argumentative mood. But, the core concept is to gather information.

It is not gathering requirements; rather it is about knowing their expectations, ideas, issues. In the process you can also know some other stakeholders or areas which you would have missed.

5. Conduct a kick-off meeting with your team

Once you have gained a certain insight into the project, you should conduct a kick-off meeting with your team.

A kick-off meeting mainly focuses on the followings:

  • Informing the team what you are trying to accomplish in this project
  • Explaining how project administration and controlling will be done
  • Assigning individual roles and responsibilities
  • Rallying your troops and giving them a go ahead

The important thing to note here is that it is not about technical competency here; rather it is about leadership, trust, communication and organizational skills.

6. Have a project charter

This is the single most important piece of document that you need to have. This document officially signs off a project.

A project charter normally informs:

  • Who the sponsor is
  • For what purpose the project is taken
  • Assumptions and constraints
  • High level risks involved
  • A high level budget
  • A high level milestone list

7. Have a preliminary scope statement

We all know the triple constraints, scope being one them which normally constraints or drives the other two, i.e., time and cost.

A preliminary scope statement, as the name suggest, informs about initial scope statement for the project.

8. Identify and resolve the problems early or at least be aware of the risks

As explained earlier, the chances of a project failing is higher at the beginning of the project. Identify and document a list of problems and discuss it with the sponsor. It should be done before you go for a project charter or it will be built into a project charter.

An example can be – you do not have a key stakeholder available for meetings for the next two months or testing resources can not be available as you are expected. You need to plan you project accordingly.

Satya Narayan Dash is the Principal Consultant and Founder of Teleox® Consulting, Bangalore, India. Prior to that, he was Project Leader with Wipro® Technologies and a Project Leader with AdventNet®, Inc. He has rich experience of 8+ years in product development, and architecture in Java® and J2EE® based Telecom solutions. As a certified Project Management Professional (PMP®) from Project Management Institute (PMI®) and MS Project 2007®, he has trained hundreds of project managers and consultants. He holds a Bachelor Degree in Electronics and Communication Engineering from National Institute of Technology, Jalandhar, India. He can be contacted at email: ndsatya@gmail.com

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