New project? Begin with the end in mind.

Covey 2nd HabitHave been given the new task to develop something new or fix something that exists today?  In the project management world, that’s a “project.”

Project Management Institute defines a project as something that is temporary in that it has a defined beginning and end, and therefore defined scope and resources.  A project is unique in that it is not a routine operation, but a specific set of operations designed to accomplish a singular goal.  So a project team often includes people who don’t usually work together – sometimes from different organizations and across multiple geographies.

Their definition is a bit wordy, but the most important part is that projects have a beginning and an end.  If you are running a program and you are going to improve that program, but the program will continue to run after you have improved it, the program is still managed throughout the improvement effort, but the improvement effort is a project.

With that in mind…we take on projects all the time.  Project management is just a way of life for all of us.  We do projects at work as well as at home.  What’s the best way to make sure your projects–all of them–are successful?

I’m going to steal a Coveyism–Begin with the End in Mind!  Stephen Covey, in his Famous 7 Habits for Highly Effective People, highlighted the second habit as Begin with the End in Mind.  Covey’s habit was very personal-based.  He spoke to having a personal mission statement.  I think it more talks about having a mission and a vision, but I digress.

I want you to draw a table on a piece of paper or on a white board.  The table will have five columns.  Label the columns: Project, Plan, Execute, Measure, Analyze.  Make it look like this:

Planning Sheet

In the Project column, write down the name of the project and you name as being the project manager.  Now you are ready to begin.

When you start a new project–any project–begin with the end in mind.  Ask yourself (and confirm with the sponsor of the project if one exists) what is the desired outcome of this project?  What will things look like when I’m done with this project?

Once you have that mental image–write it down.  This is the goal of the project.  When you think about this goal, also consider if this is something that you will need to sustain over time.  If so, how do you design it in the project that provides sustainability?  Put this goal right under your name as the project manager in the first column of your paper.

Planning Sheet

Now, with the goal written down, think about what major aspects of this goal that can you analyze at the end of the activity that will tell you that you have met the goal of the project.  There are probably two to four things, maybe more, that you can look at about the project that you would expect to look a certain way…write these down in the Analyze column.

Now think about what things do you measure today or will you need to measure that you don’t measure today that you will review in your analysis.  It helps to look at each one of the items that you’ve listed in the Analyze column and ask what do I need to collect measures on that will tell me that I have achieved this.  Measures can be quantitative, qualitative, or milestones.  Write these items down in the Measure column–even if they don’t exist today.

By understanding the goal of your project, what that goal looks like from an analysis aspect, and what you need to measure that will tell you that you have achieved your goal, you have begun your project with the end in mind.

The purpose of this blog was to frame up your thinking of starting everything with the goal in mind, as an added bonus, let me share the remaining steps of this little exercise that you can use with every planning activity.

Now that you have your project, analyze, and measure columns filled out, move to the Plan column.  The first three steps of planning your project area done–defining the project, end state, and measurements.

Now list the activities you need to accomplish before you get started doing anything on this project.  You will write these items as activities:

  • The first activity (after define the project, end state, and measurements) is to determine who will lead the project–this might be you, or you might have to find someone else.
  • Determine if a team is required and build the team.
  • Determine your budget and resource requirements for the project
  • Conduct any research or benchmarking
  • Write and approve a project charter and a project plan

These activities in the Plan column vary based on every project–you might not have to write a charter or a plan, their might not be any resources required other than the team…a team might not even be required, but this gives you and idea of the things you think about before starting your project.

With four of the five columns filled out now, its time to think about the major activities that you need to accomplish to get this project done so that it achieves the goal.  Write these steps down in the Execute column.  Sometimes you might want to describe the step in a bit more detail with sub bullets, but this is what the step looks like, not actions required.  Write things down like develop, create, build, gain or receive approval, etc.

By writing this down, you create the major milestones along the way.  Don’t forget to develop new measures, to start measuring after implementation, to document, train, and communicate any changes.  These things are often overlooked when doing something.  Make sure you are addressing the project, analyze, and measure columns in your actions–if you are doing something in execution that doesn’t build to the project, analyze, and measure columns, why are you doing it–are you doing the right things.

Your final sheet will look like this:

Final Planning Sheet

This deliberate approach should only take you an hour to accomplish.  If you consider what you now have on paper (see the example above), you have just drafted your entire project plan using a very simple and repeatable approach.  If you really need to get detailed, you can assign a start and stop date to each item starting with your plan column and working your way right.  You also can determine what has to happen before something else and what can be done together (concurrently).  Additionally, you can assign each step of the plan to a specific person to accomplish.  This creates a very complete and well thought out project plan.

All from taking a few minutes to begin with the end in mind.

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About johnrknotts
John Knotts is a results-oriented business professional leader, manager, and supervisor with experience from the military, small business, several nonprofits, and is currently a management consultant. Working out of the San Antonio, Texas, he retired from the Air Force in July 2008 and worked with Booz Allen Hamilton from the end of October 2008 to December 2011. Now he is a Strategic Business Adviser with USAA. John leads large and small strategic transformations and has extensive experience in the areas of change management, strategic planning, process improvement, strategic communication and marketing, strategic human capital and resource management, education and training, facilitation, organizational design and development, modeling and simulation, financial and budget analysis, activity based costing and management, quality management, competitive sourcing and privatization, leadership development, and business development.

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