6 Steps To Get Your Project Off To A Flying Start

strategy transformation Oct 21, 2019
There is a secret amongst people in the change and transformation world that I want to lift the lid on! And that’s just how many projects get off to a really bad start. It's incredibly challenging to pull them back around, which is why this week’s blog takes you through the six steps you need to ensure your project makes it out of the initiation zone successfully.

When it comes to change and transformation projects, what exactly do I mean by a bad start? 

Essentially, either the sponsor, stakeholders or key users don't understand from the very beginning where you're going with this project.

The key to ensuring that you don't fall into this trap? 


Everything you do in your project, particularly in the first stages, needs to be co-created. Read on to find out exactly how to go about doing this.


6 steps to get everyone on board and your project off to a good start:


Step #1: Understand the sponsors' view

For most projects, the sponsor is appointed before you have even begun as project manager. So the very first thing you need to do is chat to the sponsor about their views on the project to take their steer on it. 

  • Where do they think the project is coming from?
  • What’s their perspective on every aspect of the project?
  • Who are the key stakeholders and what might the politics of the situation be?
  • What are the basics about why you’re doing the project?
  • What is it supposed to deliver? 

In Step #2, we’ll look at how to co-create all of those things with the stakeholders in a key workshop, but it's really important before then that you and your sponsor are aligned, because you don't want to get there and have your sponsor disagree with you or go quiet at key moments. You and your sponsor need to be shoulder to shoulder, talking in exactly the same way about your project - and that requires a little preparation. It requires you spending some time with them to truly understand their view; not just a five minute elevator pitch. 

Next you’ll want to invite the sponsor, key stakeholders and any key users on your project to a workshop. The length of the workshop will depend on the size and complexity of the project, and where your stakeholders are travelling from, so get a feel for that when you're having a chat with the sponsor. I've done workshops ranging from half a day to three days and have flown all around the world delivering them. If this is a project with some history, you're going to want to allocate a little extra time, so use your judgement.


Step #2: Acknowledge the baggage

Now to the workshop itself. When it comes to facilitating a successful workshop, the first thing you need to do is allow key stakeholders and users to express their feelings about the project without judgement or argument. 

Everyone in the room will have a different perspective. Even if they are all positively invested in the project that could be for different reasons and it is so important to get every aspect out in the open.

Urge them to describe how they're feeling, and clarify exactly what they mean. This is important because it allows them to feel truly heard. They can express different views to each other, but only by stating their own view, not by arguing with other people's views. 

Now I've got a methodology I use for this baggage sharing session called ‘The Wall of Truth’ and it works amazingly well. I have even had people describe it as the highlight of the Smart Start workshops. However there will be other ways of doing this. The important thing is to provide a launch section at the front of your workshop that allows people to have their say really early on, then everybody can appreciate the different perspectives in the room and you can all move forward together.


Step #3 Understand the basics

When it comes to running a successful workshop and getting everyone on board, it’s important to realise that it isn't what your project is about that is important initially, but why you're doing it.

So start by understanding the problem your project solves by asking:

What’s your statement of need?

Why is the project needed in the first place? 

What is your project supposed to be delivering?

What benefit is it therefore supposed to deliver?

Then get a bit more detailed by asking:

What are the requirements and success criteria?

What outputs and outcomes are expected as a result of the project?

After getting clear on these questions, only then is it appropriate to talk about scope. 

In total there are seven questions and although it is most logical to start with why you will find that one thing leads to another as all of these questions are interrelated, so each time you add something in one section (statement of need; benefits; requirements; success criteria; outputs; and outcomes) you have to check whether that in turn suggests something to be added in another section.

That’s how we get to a scope that is going to deliver the desired outcome and solve the problem it was designed to solve.


Step #4: Create the how, who, when and where together

As a consultant working in the change and transformation field, I see a lot of people create the how, who, when and where of a project independently and then struggle to set a performance baseline for the project.

But just in the same way we used the art of co-creation in the previous three steps, we need to really understand and tease out all the nuances of how, who, where and when, together with your key stakeholders and users.

Start by dividing the scope of the project into work streams to give it some structure that you can hang the rest of your planning onto. Then you can think about the required resources; the people who you need to be in your project team and other key users that you need to interact with.

Think about locations 

I've worked on many global projects where understanding where people are based, whether that's office locations or country locations, is key to understanding whether people can work together closely on the same work stream.

When I ran a global transformation program, it was important not to have two people working on the same piece of work who were on opposite sides of the world because they didn't get a chance to collaborate. Instead they had to play document ping-pong with one person making edits and sending it on before getting it bounced back a day later. Obviously it didn't work out so well. Ideally you want people who have overlapping office hours in complementary time zones so they can work together, even if virtually. 

Milestone schedule

After you've thought about resources and locations of those resources, then it's good to think about the milestone schedule. Look at the first two levels of milestones to get a realistic picture of the work that needs to be delivered. 

The first level of milestone, that top level, are the ones you get signed off. They're the ones your governance group will want to know you’ve been successful in meeting.

The second level are supporting milestones, which relate to the end of large chunks of work that you need to do to deliver those milestones that are going to be signed off. 

This step is about painting a high-level picture with your stakeholders and users so they've got an accurate feeling that you are co-creating the project with them. Just as important is allowing them to have a say in what goes on in the future with the project. This is where governance comes in.

Step #5: Agree the governance model

The sponsor may have been named right at the beginning of your project (perhaps before you were) but now you need to find out which of the stakeholders want to be on the project board.

Who is really passionate - both positively and negatively - about delivering this project? You’ll want to get a good balance between the different factions within the business on the project board. That could be different divisions, specialisms, or geographic areas. Get a nicely balanced project board so that everybody involved feels they have someone who they can speak to and who will articulate their view for them.

In addition to agreeing the governance module, you’ll also want to get the first few meetings in the diary. These need to be timed just after the first few key milestones. There's no point having lots of meetings before you get to the first key milestone and repeating the content of the workshop. Instead, send a beautifully summarised update of all of the workshop documents to your stakeholders.

Look for the first few meetings in the diary to be when there's something serious to discuss. This will show you are respectful of your stakeholders’ time and not wasting it having another chat about the project. Earn their goodwill now because there will be occasions later in the project where you're going to need it.


Step #6: Pull your resources together face-to-face

Congratulations! You’ve delivered a brilliant workshop and everyone is celebrating the combined vision for how your project is going to be delivered. 

Now comes your vital final step: After the workshop, once the sponsor and stakeholders have gone home, you need to convene another meeting with your project team. 

This is when to bring all the resources that were promised to you together, ideally face to face. Much like in your stakeholder workshop, an in-person meeting where you can develop the detail that underpins all of the planning is going to ensure your project gets off on the best possible foot.

If you are going to have a particularly schedule-driven project, you might want to develop more detail on the schedule such as:

  • the third level of milestones
  • the cost plan for the resources required to deliver the project 
  • the project management plan with your project team

The most important thing is to get your project team together as there's a good chance that some of them weren’t in the original workshop and it's just as important that they feel they've co-created the detail in the same way the stakeholders further up did.

If you follow these 6 steps, you’ll have a project that's all set up and ready to run, with the initiation phase accomplished in effectively three meetings. 

  1. Talking to the sponsor to understand their positioning
  2. An in-depth workshop to go through the high level detail with key stakeholders and users
  3. A detailed face-to-face meeting with the project team.

Now you're ready to go with some momentum from a supportive team of sponsor, key stakeholder and project team, behind you.

Want your project to get off to a flying start? I offer a 30 day 1:1 programme called The Smart Start to help you deliver these steps with ease. Get in touch to find out how I can help you navigate this essential time in your change project.

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