Six first steps to the project manager

Sometimes the time is lost at project start with lots of talk but not much action (the “fuzzy front end”). Contrast this with the intensity of effort used by the team at the end of the project – hurry to meet a looming deadline – and the need for some structure and focus becomes clear.

Each project manager may have their own takeover of this (and the actual first steps will be somewhat dependent on the particular situation), but these six should be at the forefront of any list:

1 – Read the business case

If it doesn’t exist, get one done. There is no need to start a project if the reason why we are carrying out the project and WHO it is for has not been clearly laid out and signed. If available, identify who developed it, who was consulted and who approved it. Finally, is it still relevant? Has anything changed in the environment that could affect the realization of the expected benefits?

2 – Identify key stakeholders

Who benefits from the project? Who can influence the results and who can be influenced by them? The business case should be a guide, but it is important to conduct a thorough stakeholder analysis before the next step is completed. Identify project sponsor and set up an early “mind-meld” meeting to establish sponsor-PM report.

3 – Determine the requirements

What does the customer actually need? What do other key stakeholders want? What must be delivered to achieve the target benefits? Detailed collection and analysis of requirements may be possible later as part of the scope of the project, but at least high-level needs must be established here. Determine what constraints will affect how the requirements can be met – these will affect project scope, quality, schedule, costs and resources.

4 – Identify similar projects

Has anything similar been done before? If so, what lessons did we learn from this project? Is there something similar or somehow related happening at the moment? If so, can there be potential overlap or addiction? Can artifacts be reused from similar projects (e.g., plans, actual information, risk data)?

5 – Identify the core team members

What features need to be involved in defining and generating project deliverables? Who specifically represents these features in the project? Who do you need on board to help generate a complete, reliable plan? Who should oversee the various workflows? Limit the core team to a maximum of 8 people to promote effective meetings and decision making.

6 – Create a statement of project objectives

WHAT IS DONE, WHEN AND HOW MUCH? The project must have a concise, overwhelming statement of defense. By doing this (ideally as the first activity involving the core team), the focus is quickly shifted away from the strategic (business case) and over to the tactical aspects of the project; it also helps to highlight potential issues early and ensures high-level clarity and customization as a precursor to elaborate on the details of the project plan. Validate POS with the sponsor.

Begin with the end in mind

The step numbering here only indicates the general flow – it is not a prescription project startup sequence, as iterations will often occur among the six before they can all be interrupted as ‘done’. These first steps embody the proverb “Begin with the end in mind” and initiate an answer to the five laws (see Five laws on effective project management).