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Managers: 7 Steps to Successful Project Launch

Debra Sunohara

You have a fairly clear picture of what you want to accomplish and you've secured the budget, so you’re ready to start a new project...or are you?

Plan to Fail

I think that most of us are familiar with the old adage “Fail to plan...plan to Fail”. But, did you know that the rule of thumb is that 5% to 15 % of your overall project effort should be project management effort and 50 % of that should be spent on planning?

It is also widely known that – in some way - 30% to 70% of projects fail. These statistics highlight why 20 out of the 42 project management processes in the Project Management Body of Knowledge (PMBOK) are planning processes.  

What Is a Project?

The Project Management Institute (PMI) defines a project as "a temporary endeavour undertaken to create a unique product, service, or result".

PRINCE2 states that, "projects are the means by which we introduce change".

Every project, by its very nature, therefore introduces risk.

Once you have ruled out implementing a standardized process to address a need or service request - and thus confirmed the need to projectize - this risk can be reduced significantly by starting it off on the right foot. Shuttle-launch-350x146Whether you have assigned a project manager (PM) or designated a lead resource to head up the project team, using a simple start-up checklist will dramatically increase the odds that your project will succeed.

The Steps to Project Failure

The contributing factors to that spectacular 30% to 70% failure rate are well known, and important to keep in mind as you initiate your planning process:

  • incomplete requirements and specifications,
  • changing requirements and expectations,
  • unrealistic expectations,
  • unclear objectives,
  • unrealistic time frames,
  • lack of proper planning,
  • and lack of ownership.

The Steps to Project Success

  1. Set The Bar High– Expect and be supportive of good project management practices. In order to do so you need a working knowledge of project management basics so that you can “talk the talk”.

    Don’t forget to also “walk the walk” - in other words don’t ask your project manager to take short cuts. Ensure that documented processes for lessons learned, time, cost, change, risk, and issue management will be used.
  2. Confirm Project Scope–Clearly define the work that needs to be accomplished.  Any future scope changes can only be managed if the scope is well defined up front.

    If you are undertaking a large project, consider breaking it up into smaller pieces or stages, and setting smaller milestones. You will see incremental benefits more often rather than having to wait until the end of the project.
  3.  Define Success– On time and within budget, satisfies users, meets project goals, deliverables completed to specification or quality requirements...

    Success may be hard to define, but don’t put off defining it. Well defined success metrics will help you gauge whether you have defined the scope and allocated the resources required to achieve “success”.  It will also help you track your project status. If you don’t define will you know when you have achieved it?

    Remember to ask, “Are these targets achievable?” Make sure your expectations are realistic. Allow for possible scope creep, and build a time and budget allowance into your plans
  4. Set Reporting Requirements- Insist on regular status reports that include metrics and confirm not only project status/health, but also that sound project management is being used. Make sure that you will receive the project information you need, when you need it, and in the format you need it.

    Wouldn’t you have much greater peace of mind over the weekend if you review the project status report before you leave the office on Friday?
  5. Build a Strong Team– Find and allocate the best possible members to your project team.

    Ensure that your Project Lead and the project team are reliable, technically competent, can communicate effectively both with one another and with other stakeholders, and they understand the fundamentals of project management.
  6. Set Tolerances– And then let your Project Lead manage the project.

    You can manage by exception as you have already set your reporting requirements in step four.
  7. Kick It Off Right – Do not forego a project kick-off meeting even if you feel that it is a formality...because it definitely is not.

    When conducted appropriately, a kick-off meeting  can help you and the project team:
  • understand the project background,
  • confirm that the project fits in with your strategic objectives,
  • develop a business case,
  • clarify roles and responsibilities,
  • identify project deliverables,
  • identify key risks and stakeholders,
  • secure executive management support,
  • develop project plans,
  • and define a project governance framework.

    It doesn’t have to take a lot of time, and I can assure you, it almost always pays off in spades.

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About this Article

Posted by Debra Sunohara
Posted on December 3, 2010

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Categories: lessons learned, management, project management, risk management