No matter how simple a project may seem, the most seasoned project managers know that appearances can be deceiving. For example, even a one-page microsite may have many loopholes waiting to be uncovered, or contingencies to be addressed. So is there a safe and reliable blueprint out there for one to follow in the wake of so many uncertainties?
Unfortunately, the answer is no. With the world’s digital landscape evolving to be ever more sophisticated, the innovation delivered to the masses comes with one big caveat; intricacy. Yes, innovation calls for intricacy – the former cannot sustain without the latter. Not only do complex, intricate details need to be included for the purpose of building a product that is of relevant standard, but every aspect needs to be meticulously maintained/regulated so that results turn out to be as expected.
This might sound painstaking and even ominous, but the industry of software development in Sri Lanka among many other destinations that are big on technology outsourcing have long since realised this. The only way out of the challenge is through it, and technology professionals unanimously agree that adhering to project management which is based on the unique requirements of the project at hand is the best (and only) way to go.
But then again, this doesn’t mean that projects should be managed completely on an ad hoc basis. Most existing project management methodologies are a great foundation for starters, but can be tweaked depending on varying project needs. This value structure furthermore serves as a blueprint for project managers and clients alike – but without the shackles of strict compliance to rigid processes.
Coming back to the topic of a competitive digital world, building a product that is on par with what’s out there, if not exceeding prevailing standards, is the primary objective that any business should be aiming at today if they want to thrive in their respective markets. So how does this tie in with project management? Well, the quality of how each task, feature and deliverable is achieved determines the overall quality of your product – and all these processes are only made possible via stringent project management procedures.
On top of that, the first step is always the scariest. Likewise, the initiation phase of your project feels just as overwhelming, but it is necessary to start off on the right note because this is what influences the pace and outputs throughout the remainder of the product development lifecycle. So, before you get to turning the cog wheels of your project in motion, here’s a quick guide on how to start off right, period.
Project initiation is defined by the momentary phase that comes after both parties officially sign contracts, and shortly before people settle down to getting things done. This phase can last from a few days to weeks (perhaps even a month, in some cases) depending on the length and complexity of a project. On top of that, many other common and not so common factors further come into play. Even a lack of transparency or communication can lengthen the initiation phase, along with a bulkier project that has multiple initiation stages due to more segregation between the development phases.
Irrespective of what your project aims to accomplish, following a few good rules will help you steer your endeavour towards the right direction. In the event that something unexpected or undesirable happens, smart guidelines on crisis management can once again assist you to get back on track – all of which we will cover below.
Of course, this is a no-brainer. But it’s surprising as to how many projects start off with poor communication, or communication with someone from the client side that is just not equipped or relevant enough for the project at hand. That’s why the importance of preliminary client meetings should never be ignored, and ensure that the right questions are always asked throughout the briefing stage to get good grasps on the ins and outs of what your team may have to dedicate themselves to for the next few weeks, months and in the case of ongoing long-term projects – even years.
First things first, reach out to the right member from the client side when your agency receives an inquiry. Next, you need to understand what their business pains are – even if they specify what it is they wish to create. For instance, while your client may be keen on revamping their website to attract better online sales, their business problem suggests that an app may be more suitable for achieving the same purpose. Suggesting what works and what doesn’t is a great way to show your client that you’re dedicated to attaining optimum customer-centricity for them, while working towards creating a stellar product to drive it all.
At this point, you should have most, if not all the information you need to brief your team about the upcoming project. Before you gather everyone around to discuss, it’s wise to create a brief with all the information you have. Sure, your team members are going to be well encouraged to actively pitch in, but a preliminary brief from the project manager is a great foundation for them to begin with. At the same time, brainstorm who exactly you will require for the project at hand – for example, would a pool of designers and developers do, or will you need a hand at content writing and publishing as well?
Next, take this brief to your team members. The goal of this briefing is to transfer information pertaining to the project, and help every member of the team wrap their heads around the many technicalities involved. Showing them the brief you’ve prepared will not only give them a basic idea of what the project entails, but how any solutions you may have proposed could be improved. Also, since they’ll be the ones working hands-on, they may also be able to recognise their strengths and weaknesses, and advise who should do what, if needed.
Now, you’ve got feedback from two key sources – your client and your team members. It’s time to prepare your PID for locking everything that’s important about this project with formal approvals. A PID shall outline what your team will and won’t do when it comes to this project and how things shall be executed under the constraints present. While the contents of PIDs are subject to change from project to project, here are some basic areas that can be addressed irrespective of project type or size:
While a PID will be a handy point of reference for every individual that is involved in your project no matter how far you’ve progressed, it’s also just as handy for folks who join in midway. In the likelihood that you have to hire more resources if your current ones are inundated, or if you need a specialised set of skills, a PID can be the go-to document for newcomers to get informed and acquainted with your project, sans any delay.
More elaborate than its PID counterpart, an SoW is a detailed document that focuses on the nitty-gritty of project scope alone. It covers all the items that your team is due to commit to, while also outlining items that don’t constitute time, labour and budget. With an efficient PID already in place, one may ask why more effort needs to be put into preparing an SoW.
A Statement of Work stands out from a PID for one main reason – because it’s much more detailed by nature. This means that every objective and task will be comprehensively laid out in an SoW, along with its many variabilities. A full disclosure on what will and will not be done is the advantage an SoW offers for both clients and agencies. Conflicts that arise out of a misalignment between tasks and the scope can be mitigated through a Statement of Work contract, thereby eliminating any guesswork and reminding all parties what the project was supposed to entail.
Considering the many challenges and hardships that may come along in due course of executing your project, it pays to have a contingency plan. Although a suggestion that may sound peculiar when one first hears it, emphasising on the worst that could possibly happen is the best way to prepare well ahead in advance, without a doubt. This otherwise stoic outlook can have surprisingly insightful results, and while it sounds counterintuitive, it can also help you understand how much of an extra budget your client needs to factor in for possible future obstacles – thereby giving you the information you need to provide cost estimates with greater accuracy.
In order to perform a risk analysis, gather your team around and encourage them to brainstorm the worst possible scenarios for the awaiting project. Note all these factors down in a RAID log, with each variable falling under its relevant category. Now that you know what the possible problems could be, it’s time to brainstorm how they could be solved. In turn, your RAID log will prove to be a useful resource lest an unpleasant situation arises. But instead of panicking, you’ll already have your blueprint waiting for you.
Now that you, your client and your team of technology professionals have all done their due diligence on what this project should and should not constitute, along with the conditions surrounding the same – you’ve got a strong foundation for finally doing the honours of beginning the project. All you’ve got to do is place your seals and signatures, to get started.
The world of project management is plentiful in complexities – ask any seasoned project manager who’s working even the shortest, most condensed project and that is what you will hear. It’s the reason why versatile methodologies such as Agile exist. With the aim to offer project managers and their teams the capability to deliver no matter what constraints prevail, each methodology has its strengths and weaknesses. In spite of a hybrid management mechanism, nothing is guaranteed, thanks to constantly disruptive technologies that catch their respective markets by storm.
Businesses therefore need to deliver products that keep their audiences engaged – and fast. As a result, the pressure on project managers has ever increased, as delivering exactly what’s needed has to be done in the wake of many challenges and constraints. No matter the nature and size of the project, the right start is imperative to digital success. But what comprises of a robust start in the first place?
Enter the phase of project initiation, and the phase that precedes it. While project initiation consists of basic rules that all of us are aware of, it’s still good practice to remind ourselves and subsequently adhere to these rules-of-thumb. Starting off, client meetings need to be productive by asking the right questions about prevailing business pains, and suggesting a range of possible solutions/outcomes even if the client has a specific deliverable in mind. Next, discussing with your team and getting them involved in solution seeking is a viable step, as it allows each member to not only get acquainted to the project ahead, but instils a feeling of control and solidarity among the group.
Preparing a Project Initiation Document (PID), Statement of Work (SoW) and a Risks, Assumptions, Issues and Dependence (RAID) log with the information gathered are the next steps of the process. Upon approval, all documents can then be signed and your project shall be well equipped to venture towards an initiation that is organised, well founded and transparent in terms of communication.