Although any methodology or standard addresses in detail all the processes involved in starting a completely new project, and the vast majority of Project Managers would be delighted to be given the task of initiating a new project from scratch, in practice, this situation rarely arises.
Often, we will encounter situations such as:
- It has been decided to take a desperate turn of the helm to try to correct the course of a project that seems doomed to failure.
- The work has already started. Or there is a prototype. Or there is already a team working on the project but in an unorganised way.
- The previous Project Manager has left the project or the company or has been removed. Or maybe there was never a Project Manager.
In any case, as taking over a project that is somehow already running is the most common situation, it is necessary to be prepared and have a strategy to start seamlessly.
To do this, we must start by paying attention to:
For each of these three areas, the fundamental task is to gather all the available information, study the existing documentation, and talk to as many involved people as possible to rethink the project with the best chance of success.
ENVIRONMENT: THE ORGANISATION, THE PROJECT AND ITS CIRCUMSTANCES
It is essential to know and understand the organisation where the project will happen. That means knowing and understanding its vision and mission. Thus, we will be able to integrate as flexibly as possible into the corporate culture. Also, if we can know if the company is setting new objectives, we will assess their potential impact on the project.
There are fundamental questions to answer: Why does the organisation need the project to be completed? What are its strategic objectives? How does the project fit into the business model of the organisation? Is there a Mission Statement for the project which explains clearly why the project exists and why its outcome is meaningful and worthwhile creating?
And finally, you need to have access to the Business Case for the project. If it does not exist, the Project Owner should address that task as soon as possible.
PEOPLE: THE STAKEHOLDERS, THE TEAM... AND OTHERS
People are the most critical factor in the success or failure of a project: those who are part of it and those who, one way or another, will be affected by it. So we must take into account:
- The work team that will be in charge of directly carrying out the development or implementation work until they reach the project scope.
- Stakeholders, all those people who will be directly or indirectly involved in the project, such as managers of the organisation or departmental staff affected by the development of the work itself, as well as by the success or failure of the project.
- External suppliers of materials, products or services with whom we will have to establish the necessary purchase or acquisition processes, as well as the existing restrictions in terms of deadlines, quality or budget.
- External or internal customers, or the end-users of the developed product, whose response will evaluate the quality and usefulness of the result of the performed work.
How we start our relationship with them will determine to a large extent whether there is an optimal environment of collaboration and synergy between all parties. Therefore, from the start, we will need to:
- Identify all these people.
- Establish regular and frequent channels of communication.
- Be aware of their overall professional objectives and the ones specifically related to the project.
- Know what their expectations are concerning the project.
THE PROJECT ITSELF
Finally, when dealing with a project that is already running, it is necessary to compile all existing documentation and analyse its current status.
We must understand what its objectives, its expected results and its required scope are.
We will study and review the pre-existing Project Charter and update it to fit the new situation. If there were no Project Charter, that would be a critical red light on the status, and one of the first tasks would be to draft it.
With all the above, we are ready to reach the first milestones of the project:
- Renew the Project Charter and have it accepted and signed by the Project Owner and the Project Sponsor.
- Realistically but positively update the expectations of the stakeholders.
- Create the Project Management Plan.