What does it take to facilitate a successful project launch? Let’s look at two scenarios, one that results in potential failure and one destined for success.
The Wonder Wheels Company assigned Tom Dooley to manage a high-profile project, a project critical to the achievement of the company’s annual goals. Jane Johnson, a senior leader and the project sponsor, called Tom to her office, handed him a few memos and described the project deliverables. Coldly staring at Tom, Mrs. Johnson gave him the deadline—six months; this was a do-or-die situation.
Tom immediately called a team meeting to discuss a quick development of the requirements backlog. He urged the designers to start the first-sprint design work as soon as possible. Tom planned to use every trick in the book—crashing, fast-tracking, sprinting, and late nights (even though he knew it would put stress on his family life).
Fast forward two months. Droopy-eyed Tom facilitated a stand-up meeting with his project team and discovered that the team would be unable to complete the second sprint on schedule. The team members were fuming about the lack of clarity in the project resulting in scope creep, rework, missed deadlines, and budget issues. To make things worse, the top developer resigned the previous week.
All Tom Dooley could do was hang his head and cry. He knew his career was about to die (okay, humor me).
Most project managers have endured challenging situations like this. What’s a project manager to do? How can we start a project successfully, even when there is immense pressure to execute immediately?
First, start by engaging your sponsor and key stakeholders in the development of a project charter. Project charters are used for authorizing the project. However, project managers may be assigned a project without a statement of work or project charter. In these cases, wise project managers still take the time to complete a charter. Why? It is to improve communication and collaboration early in the project.
Imagine if Tom had facilitated discussions to clarify the business case, goals, deliverables, constraints, assumptions, exclusions, high-level risks, stakeholders, and team members. Yes, this takes time, but we’re not writing a novel. The project charter is typically two-to-three pages in length and requires a small investment of time relative to the remainder of the project.
Further imagine that Tom had a kick-off meeting with the sponsor, project team, and other key stakeholders for the express purpose of getting everyone on the same page. Mrs. Johnson shared an inspiring vision for the project about how the project supported the company’s strategic plans and made it clear that she would do everything she could to help the team.
Next, Tom reviewed the project charter with the participants by walking through each section. As he noticed puzzled looks occasionally, he asked for questions and feedback. Tom asked some of the stakeholders—who were involved in the development of the charter—to amplify why certain assumptions had been made.
Towards the end of the kick-off meeting, Tom shared a schedule of upcoming activities and who would be involved. After the meeting, he emailed the meeting minutes and a copy of the project charter to the meeting participants and to those who were unable to make the meeting.
Energized by a successful project launch, Tom Dooley and his team held their heads up high, looking forward to the planning and rapid execution. Instead of fuming about a lack of communication, team members were pleased to have a firm grasp of the essentials.
How about you? Been assigned a project recently? Congratulations!
Will you be like Tom in the first or second scenario? Successful launches require that we be intentional.
First, work with your sponsor and stakeholders to develop your project charter. Second, plan and execute a kick-off meeting. Third, distribute the meeting minutes to ensure everyone (even those who were not present) receives the launch plans. Your best days are ahead!
For tips on creating project charters quickly, check out my new eBook!: How to Develop a Project Charter