Posted by: Doug Geiger | 2010/03/27

Project Kickoff: From Chaos to Order

From Chaos to Order

The beginning of a new project is filled with chaos. Smart project managers  (PMs) start off by listening to all of the people involved in the project–those that are paying for it, those that will be working on the solution, and those that care about the outcome–and they make darn sure they understand what success looks like for this project for these people. After we get a good idea of what success looks like, we start pull a couple documents out of our trick bag that will keep the good vibes flowing all the way through final sign-off. I want to introduce some of these initial tools with the hopes that they may help you keeping the projects in your life on track.

Project Charter: This document is usually only a page or two long, but it is so helpful because it is the first time all of the requirements and constraints are written down in one view for everyone to see. Some of the key information this contains: the reason for the project, the objectives, those involved and a brief description of what the project will accomplish. This can be written casually or formally but must always end up with a signature from the person that authorizes (and pays for) the project. Think of this as a letter from the king that you can use in the future to get resources, answer questions and end debates.

RACI Matrix: (also called just “RACI“) This sounds more complicated than it is. It is  basically a table with each major task in its own row and each job role in a column. At the intersections of each task and role, one of four letters is listed: R, A, C and I. These stand for Responsible, Accountable, Consulted, and Informed, respectively. This is one of my favorite tools. Have you ever heard someone say, “I thought you were supposed to do that,” or ask “Why didn’t you tell me you did that?” A RACI, when followed, clears up all of those miscommunications before work begins and tensions rise.

Work Breakdown Structure: (often referred to simply as the “WBS“) A WBS is kind of like a blend of a genealogy tree and a story board for the work that will be done. The highest level tasks are shown at the top with sub-tasks branching out, underneath. I am continually surprised how powerful this simple tool is in uncovering issues upfront, before they cause delays and cost over runs.

As I mentioned earlier, the beginning of the project is the most chaotic. What I didn’t say was that it is also the part of the project where changes are the the easiest and least expensive to make. Try these ideas out the next time you need to get a number of people to work together for a common goal. They will take you far. And of course, if you or someone you know thinks I might be able to help, drop me a line.

PS: I couldn’t find the artist who made the graphic–otherwise I would have gladly given attribution. What a perfect visual for the process of managing projects!

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