Are We Ready to Start? (Free Checklist!)
In another article, we pointed out that the Process Groups you find in the Guide to the Project Management Body of Knowledge (PMBOK® Guide) are not the same as project phases. Instead we need to consider them as collections of similar types of processes, rather than processes that need to be carried out in a particular order. However, the initiating processes are those that lay the foundations for the project and we really need to have these complete before we can do any sort of meaningful planning.
That does not mean that they need to be absolutely finished, but they do need to be in a healthy enough state to base our planning work on. So, for instance, we might not have identified every single stakeholder that the project will encounter, but we should have a stakeholder register in place and the obvious candidates identified.
Similarly, some sort of project charter must be in place. This could be inspired by an internally-generated request for the project, or an external one. In the latter case, we are likely to have a Statement of Work and a commitment from the customer. While the contents of the charter may be very sketchy, requiring further feasibility work, it is vital, from the project manager’s perspective, that there is a written statement of intent. We need to have formal approval to go ahead and spend the company’s money and tie up the company’s resources.
So it is useful, at the start of a project, to reflect on the initiating process group and ensure that everything is in place before getting stuck into detailed planning. An obvious first question to ask is if a feasibility study has been carried out? Have different alternative solutions been evaluated? This is really important for the sanity of the project manager: can the proposed work be done?
If there has been no feasibility work carried out, then it is well worth while suggesting that a study take place before going any further. Even if the company has committed to taking on the task and the project has to go ahead, taking the time to evaluate alternative solutions will pay for itself down the line. It is much better to discover that the proposed approach does not work early in the project than after the bulk of the money has been spent.
Another obvious question that should occur to any project manager with a sense of self-preservation is whether or not this whole venture has been approved by the powers that be. There should be some official statement commissioning the work and assigning you as the project manager. A sobering example of how dangerous “under the radar” projects are seen in the old war movie, “The Eagle has Landed”. There, Oberst Radl took on a covert operation without his boss’s approval. When it failed, he was shot. While very few modern project managers actually get shot, going on unapproved solo runs can be career limiting experiences.
Another thing the canny project manager looks out for is a preliminary risk assessment. Do the powers that be know what they are letting you in for? A project risk assessment also shows that some feasibility work has been carried out. It also gives a new project manager a feeling for the risk appetite of the organization.
Now supposing the project charter, or statement of work exists and has approvals, then we need to check what else it contains. Does it clearly state the purpose of the project and its scope? While it seems obvious, it is surprising how many projects set out without clear goals. Make sure that you know what you are letting yourself in for. A very useful way to obtain clarification is to add some more detail to the project's scope definition and elaborate it by stating clearly what you think is both in and out of scope. This can be a fantastic technique to bring hidden requirements out into the opening. Customers, in particular, can benefit hugely from vague requirements – complaining at the end of the project that they really meant the project should include a whole lot that was implicit in the Statement of Work. Another good way a project manager can tease these out is to list assumptions and constraints.
An outline project schedule is also good to see. What are the milestones and deliverables expected? Are these realistic? A bit more project planning work can show up naïve assumptions in the early schedule and provide helpful feedback before a project is fully cast in concrete.
If you have been formally assigned as project manager to this effort, then make sure that the resources needed are in place. These are good things to list in your assumptions section. Also, be careful with the personnel available. An outline schedule could have been created with the assumption that experienced, skilled practitioners are doing the work. Make sure that you do not have to meet these deadlines with only graduates at your disposal.
Finally, ensure that the stakeholders for the project have been identified. Again, this need not be the final list, but you need to see a stakeholder register and get an understanding of how visible this project has to be.
Velopi has put these points into a checklist and will send this on to any project manager who is interested. Simply contact us by e-mail and we will send one straight back to you.