Don’t Lose Your Way In A Project 🗺 — ABC’s to starting a project journey off in the right direction

How easy is it to lose your way on a project journey (I ask rhetorically)! Yes, easy. Countless times I’ve seen vital updates, clear objectives, risk planning…[insert long list] slowly slip away into the void of day-to-day busyness.

Never lost your way? Well count yourself lucky and stop reading. For the rest of us — including me, yes I’m guilty of missing a step here or there 🙈 — take 5 minutes to read these ABC’s I’ve put together to remind us about the most important detail when kicking off a project (the Project Charter). If you get this right, you’ll be setting yourself and your team up for success.

An effective journey is one that is well planned. So give that car a clean, check the oil and tyre pressure, study the map, strap in, remember to use those mirrors, start the engine and off we go…

Analyze Problem Statement

So what’s the first thing you should always do when starting a project? You guessed it (if the title of this section didn’t give it away already) — dive into the Problem Statement.

Is the problem we are trying to solve specific i.e clear on what you are doing and trying to achieve? Is the problem we are highlighting important to the business? Is this problem important to your stakeholders? If you’re struggling to answer these, stop, put the brakes on, and dive a little deeper to analyze what’s there and be sure this is the right problem to solve.

A lovely technique for digging into the root of a problem statement is the simple (but effective) “5 whys”. A quick example…

Problem: Projects Fail

Why? — “A lot of these projects are not kicked off correctly, and in my experience — across several teams & countries — there are common themes in why they fail”

Why? — “People lack experience / or just need a reminder around areas to focus when kicking off a Project”

Why? — “Not everyone has the opportunity to hear learnings / or to share and help others out”

Why? — “Hmmm…. there are only so many hours in the day”

Why? — “I guess….. it’s not written down in a quick, digestible, format”

Ah ha! Now we are getting to the root and identifying the real problem statement…our Project Learnings are not documented or shared.

Be ‘SMART’ on Goals and Success

Any well planned journey has clear milestones and goals, set these correctly now and use them, helping out on route and at the final destination. SMART goals allow us — as Project Managers — to have a clear (‘specific’) understanding that we are on target (‘measurable’) and within the deadline (‘timebound’).

  • Specific: Who, what, where, when?
  • Measurable: How much, how many, indicator of progress, how will we know when it’s finished?
  • Attainable: How will the goal be accomplished? Who will do it?
  • Relevant / Realistic: Does this goal even matter? Can we do it? Do we have the time and budget?
  • Timely: When can we do it by?

Let’s write a SMART goal for the Problem Statement example…

“Drew will write a Medium article to share 5 Project Management tips [Attainable] with 50 people in his team [Specific], so we see a 100% reduction in project escalations [Measurable] by end of the year [Timely] helping the team better meet deadlines [Relevant]”.

Quick reality check ☔ — Most of the projects I’ve been involved in work back from a non-moveable deadline (yep, I’ve been on some fun projects). That’s fine, but be clear how it’ll affect other areas of the SMART goal e.g the indicator of success (‘Measurable’), or what can be achieved in the time (‘Attainable’).

Communication

Now we get to the heart of the matter. Communication. The route to a successful project. Let me pause for a moment while you reflect on past projects, what went well and why, what went wrong and why? [Pause….] Communication, right?!

I love how this illustration articulates this message (photo credit below).

Clear communication across all aspects of a project — especially at the high influence stakeholder level — is vital to delivering the right outcome and avoiding scope creep. Well, avoiding scope creep as much as possible (it’ll happen).

Doing this at the planning stage by having all stakeholders involved, contributing, and signing off is the key here. There will be a little conflict and that’s a good thing, it’s an opportunity to resolve misconceptions before the project starts, plus introduce an elevated level of commitment from your stakeholders.

An initial next step would be to put together a simple comms plan and stick to it. Something that looks like this…

Still here? Great! Since I’ve still got you, let’s turn this into the A-E’s with two more super important points 🤓.

Define Stakeholders

If this image isn’t detailed enough to cover everything we need for this section, then I give up. I found gold when I found this image (credit below).

Needless to say — and I’m sure you know this — correctly identifying and defining your stakeholders can save a lot of issues later on down the road. It may not even be possible to define all your Stakeholders immediately (well… project depending), but using your network to find blindspots and mapping out key sponsors is a good place to start.

A useful mapping technique is to plot the relevant folk / groups on a scale between Interest vs Influence. This will help plan how engaged, satisfied and informed they need to be. There are lots of great reads out there on this subject.

Evaluate Risk

Finally, one that is often overlooked, Risk Management. Take time with your team to brainstorm and evaluate “What could go wrong?”. Have some fun(?) exploring possibilities, the likelihood of that possibility becoming a reality, and the impact / consequences of that reality. Then decide where to focus mitigation efforts.

A few examples… in previous projects we’ve been prepared with a “Rip Cord” button to take an area of a site down if a hypothetical scenario was realized, or made a plan for A/B testing a feature on release to confirm a risk hypothesis for the long term. None of this would have been possible if we didn’t plan good Risk Management.

Thanks for reading. Happy Project planning ✌.

Working @Google across SYD & LDN. Developer. Innovative. Problem solver. Passion for making a difference through what I do. Proud Dad of two amazing girls.