Here at the start of the school year we’ve had many new projects kick off and it’s given me plenty of time to think about how to successfully start a project. So, PM to PM, here are my top three tips for getting off the ground:
1) Dissect the Letter of Agreement (LOA). Most of our project LOAs go through several rounds of revisions, with various stakeholders marking it up; we also see revisions happen once the Purchasing Office gets involved. You may know how the LOA started, but make sure you know what actually “survived.” Several of my projects have been temporarily derailed when the project team expected a deliverable that was removed at some point in the contract negotiations.
Additionally, I recommend that, as a PM, you look for each deliverable and highlight who/what/when. For example, you may see wireframes listed in the LOA. Identify: Who is delivering this? Who is reviewing this? Are there details that help me understand what to expect with this deliverable? When in the project will this be delivered? I lay out each deliverable chronologically in a spreadsheet with answers to the who/what/when so I can get a quick, high-level view of what’s coming down the line.
2) Ask questions. It seems as if this advice, “ask questions,” is in every PM-related blog, and yet it bears repeating here. We don’t expect you to be web redesign experts (that’s why you hired us) and even if you’re a redesign veteran we don’t expect you to be experts in our process. Some types of questions that I should be asked far more often:
What is this deliverable? What does it look like? Do you have past samples we can reference? Who do you think should review this type of deliverable?
Can you give me a high-level overview of this phase of the project? What can we expect over the next 4–6 weeks?
Who on your team should I contact for _____?
I try to give you the answers to as many questions as I can think of in advance, but I may not know or understand your particular concerns. Ask me and I’ll make sure we talk until you’re comfortable moving forward.
3) Give your project some breathing room. Do not plan a budget or a timeline that is at its absolute max — allow your team the flexibility to take more time or add scope as we progress. Inevitably you’re going to learn a lot more during the course of the project than when you started, make sure you’ve given your team a timeline and budget that has some flexibility.