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Starting a Project – How to Initiate a Project (#2 in the series Starting a Project)
By Neville TurbitProject Perfect

Here are some steps you can undertake to properly initiate a project.

Identify the likely Sponsor

Usually the Sponsor is evident but it may not be so. The Sponsor needs to be committed to the project rather than just nominated to the position. If the Sponsor does not believe strongly in the project, what chance do you have for support when the going gets tough?

Identify the Key Stakeholders

With the help of the Sponsor identify who else is a stakeholder. Don’t accept ruling a key stakeholder out because they don’t support the project. Sometimes a person outside the project can sink the project more effectively than someone inside the project. It is better to understand why they are opposed to the project before you start.

Prepare a Questionnaire

Look at the four questions above, and put down some questions you would like to ask people about the project. Here are a few:

  • Where do you think the project is up to at the moment?
  • What do you expect will change in your area when the project is complete?
  • What are the biggest hurdles we need to overcome?
  • What differences of opinion exist regarding the project?
  • What is the business problem the project is trying to address?
  • Who will authorise requirements, changes etc.?
  • What areas of the organisation are opposed to this project and why?
  • What are the biggest risks to the project?
  • Is there anything significant about the completion date?
  • In your eyes, how will you judge the project as a success?

Interview the Key Stakeholders

Book half an hour to an hour with key stakeholders and work through the questions. At this stage you are information gathering. Don’t try to resolve differences or you will not get through the interview. You also risk getting the person into an argumentative mood and they may be less than forthcoming. Remember to ask about who the other key stakeholders are. It is not unusual to unearth a few stakeholders you didn’t know about. After you finish, document the discussion.

Identify & Resolve Problems

Looking across all the interviews identify conflicts and differences. Make a list of these issues and discuss them with the Sponsor. They need to be either resolved prior to you developing a project charter, or the impact built into the project charter.

If a key business area says they will not have anyone available to work on the project for two months and you can’t change their mind, build a project plan that delays the project two months. If the Sponsor disagrees, the Sponsor has to convince the business area to make people available earlier.

Conclusion

The cause of many project failures can be traced back to the early days of the project. What eventually causes it to come tumbling down is often visible from the start. The fault is that everyone hoped it would go away. It is the responsibility of the Project Manager to identify these problems, and either solve them, or escalate them to the Sponsor.

The Sponsor has a responsibility to the project. Part of that responsibility is, at any point in time, to decide if the project should continue. If there is a major success-threatening issue that the Project Manager cannot resolve, and the Sponsor cannot resolve, the Sponsor has the obligation to stop the project. On the other hand, if the Project Manager cannot solve the problem, and the Sponsor can, the Sponsor has an obligation to fix the problem.

Project initiation is about scouting around to find out if there are any problems that will impede progress and addressing them on day one. The further the project goes, the harder they are to fix. It also means that planning can be more effective because the project manager better understands the context of the project.

Project initiation and interviewing stakeholders is not about gathering requirements. It is about understanding if we have a project, does everyone see it as the same project and can it be a successful project.

Project Perfect is a project management software and project infrastructure consulting organisation based in Sydney Australia. Their focus is to provide creative yet pragmatic solutions to Project Management issues as well as to set up the infrastructure an organisation requires to successfully manage projects.

Project Perfect sell “Project Administrator” software, which is a tool to assist organisations better manage project risks, issues, budgets, scope, documentation planning and scheduling. They also created a technique for gathering requirements called “Method H”, and sell software to support the technique. For more information on Project tools or Project Management visit www.projectperfect.com.au

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