How to run brilliant projects from the start

Just because something doesn’t do what you planned it to do doesn’t mean it’s useless.

Thomas A. Edison. Inventor.

How do you start a project effectively?

By understanding what problem you are trying to solve.

It sounds silly to make it so obvious but have you ever worked on a project and not known what the goals are?

  • Ever worked for a company that appears to have no purpose?
  • Ever started building something but not known why?
  • Ever engaged with a customer on a project and not had enough detail to get started?

If the company or project has no purpose or vision, and/or you don’t know what problem you’re trying to solve, then how can you know what value that project adds?

The following framework is a collection of ideas from the many years of running teams and launching projects; software projects, management projects, new initiatives, HR projects, personal projects, hiring revamping and now my own consultancy services.

They are all the same – they are projects that need shipping and all follow logical steps to getting clarity to move forward quickly.

Step 1 – Get Knowledge

The first step is to get knowledge so you can collectively agree on what you’re doing.

  • What problem are you trying to solve?
  • What are we trying to achieve? (i.e. what does the future look like?)
  • What is our purpose? (Why are we here and how do we add value?)
  • What are we assuming or presuming? (Do we have facts around everything or is it just opinions?)
  • What are we predicting will happen?
  • Do we have a strong business case? (Are there some tangible, measurable values associated with this?)
  • Do we have support from the right people?
  • And the right budget?
  • Do we have all of the right people in the right places? (Any skills/experience/people we need? Do we have any coasters who aren’t adding value?)

Step 2 – Clarity

This stage is all about gaining clarity.

A good way to assess whether you have clarity is whether you can articulate the problem and associated plan on a single sheet of Yellow Legal Paper (my favourite, but normal A4 works too).

I’ve seen too many plans that even the plan owners couldn’t articulate.

And the acid test – do you feel comfortable presenting the plan to a wider team with clarity and passion?

  • Can we articulate our strategy simply and without jargon?
  • Can we explain what success looks like, or at least have a True North?
  • Can we explain how our people will contribute to this success?
  • Will our teams be emotionally connected to this?
  • Is it powerful enough?
  • Is it compelling enough?
  • Are we ourselves visibly passionate about this? If not, why not?
  • Do we believe in it?
  • Do we think it’s doable? If not, why not, and what can we do?

Step 3 – Measures

This stage is all about deeper measures.

It’s important to define measures at step 1 and 2 also, but I break this out as a distinct section to spend time talking about, defining and communicating measures.

The key is that these measures need to be communicated and owned by the very people who can influence and change them through doing good work.

  • What does success look like?
  • What are we measuring?
  • What are we not measuring and why?
  • Who owns the measures?
  • What data do we have?
  • How reliable is that data?

There will be deep discussions in this section and be sure to define the measures from the customer’s perspective.

Also be careful about setting targets. Targets often drive the wrong behaviours.

Step 4 – Experiments

I call this section experiments as that is what creative and innovative work is all about, but some execs, managers and clients may not like the word experiments.

Substitute this with initiatives or tactics if you like.

These are the actual options that we have in order to fulfil the purpose, achieve what success looks like and have measures moving in the right directions.

Experiment, initiatives, tactics, work – whatever – these are the plans, next steps, milestone, moves, backlogs, etc.

This section is all about path to live and how to Ship.

  • No shipping, no feedback.
  • No shipping, no payment.

This is all about getting results. What do we have to try and do and measure to move forward?

I would never plan too much in this section. Set milestones and dates for review. Get to the next location and see what options are now available. You know the main direction, now you need to see the lay of the land (or sea, or team, or code, or project).

It’s all about shipping and getting to the next step – all within the measures of quality that you define.

I’ve used this approach in various forms for years.

It is hard to get clarity, and asking the questions is often not enough.

You’ll need good facilitation skills, excellent communication skills and a team bond that allows these tough conversations to happen.Trust me though, setting off on a project or implementation based on assumptions, hot air and opinions is a recipe for a problematic project.