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Appointed PM for a new Project? - Don't Panic!

Congratulations - you are given the role of Project Manager for new Project X with likely stakeholder pressure to get going quickly.You then go back to your desk and may start panicking as you say to yourself, "where do I start?" "there is so much to do!". In this post I will take you through a check-list of things to consider in start-up / initiation linking to other posts to drill into some of the detail.
Appointed PM for a new Project? - Don't Panic!

The pressures to get going

Some stakeholders may see any Start-up / Initiation activities as "resting up" and there may be pressure to "get going". While I would conceptually resist this, I suggest two key points for you to consider :
  • manage stakeholder expectations - the best way to do this in my experience is what I call "plan the plan" i.e. develop a plan for the Start-up / Initiation phase which will produce a Project Definition including a Project Plan so there is a rationale for the "delay" (how it may be viewed) in getting going
  • I am the biggest defender of the Initiation process as a strength of Project Management foundations to build from but every strength can be a weakness. I suggest you consider whether some early work can be kicked off if resources are available. I have covered the rationale for this in a previous post

What are you given to start?

PRINCE2 and other Project Management methodologies define/imply that when appointed, the Project Manager will be handed a mandate / charter or other such document which "sets the scene" for Initiating the Project. I don't know whether I have been unlucky but in the main I have received very little documentation and certainly not a nicely structured "magical" document which answers questions such as: 
  • Background to and objectives of the Project
  • Constraints under which you should plan. This might include a specified approach or solution, maximum budget, time expectations etc
  • Key stakeholders identified
  • Statement of scope
  • Target benefits
So if you don't have this information you need to plan to obtain this as soon as possible. In terms of stakeholders, the most important is the Project Owner so if none is evident, this is certainly something to address as soon as possible as the Sponsor is a key stakeholder to interview to enable you to confirm firm foundations for your Initiation. Have a read on my post on the Sponsor / ownership Board.

Remind yourself of the end goal of Initiation

The output from Initiation is some sort of Definition document which is the contract between the Project Manager and the Project Owner. So in line with my post on Product Descriptions I suggest that, should you not be using a standard template, you agree what are the headings of this document which you will need to complete and this will start your mind thinking about how to populate the content. Have a read of my post on Project Definition which gives you these headings. 

Week 1 Check-list

Whether all of the following can be achieved in one week depends on the scale of the Project but hopefully you can adjust accordingly!
  1. Has a Sponsor been formally appointed? If not, who can act as a proxy in answering some of the immediate definition questions that will arise re point 2
  2. Study any information given and look to fill in gaps against what should be provided in a mandate / charter (see above) by doing some digging
  3. Make good progress with a draft plan to deliver the elements of the Project Definition and thus allow Initiation to exit including resources you may need in Initiation (see later for an example)

Week 2 until end of Initiation Check-list

  1. Secure Sponsor, hold a discussion and confirm any definition analysis to date
  2. Start progressing tasks in line with the Initiation plan. Draft sections of the Definition as you go along, don't leave it to the last moment
  3. I suggest that you operate an Initiation query log where you can jot down queries as they come to you and then you can review periodically to double check they have been addressed
  4. Remember that some elements may need several iterations so there may be rework but don't use this as an excuse for not committing anything down as going through the process of writing down elements are likely to bring out more points to clarify
  5. Ensure you have answered the following questions (which I am sure can be added to, suggestions welcome!):

  • What is the purpose of the project and what will it create? i.e. do we have a clear objective
  • What is the rationale for undertaking the project i.e. high level business case
  • Is the scope of the Project understood? Consider in and out of scope definitions
  • Who will be using the final projects products once they are handed over?
  • What are the intermediate products that need to be produced to achieve the final product (first part of planning)
  • Why should this project be started, and what is the justification for it?
  • Who will need to be involved to deliver the project?
  • Whereabouts will the project occur, and where will the products be built?How will the products be built?
  • What general approach will the project take in order to deliver the end product?
  • When and why must the project start and finish?
  • Have the constraints been identified e.g. budget, particular solution?
  • Is there a definition of in and out of scope aspects?
  • Have the stakeholders been analysed?
  • In terms of ownership should a Project Board be created and who fits roles of Senior User(s) and Senior Supplier(s)?
  • What is the Communications strategy?
  • Has a risk analysis been undertaken?
  • Have the costs of the Project been defined?
  • Is the Business Case sufficiently defined at this stage to justify the spend that will be requested?

Links to posts on the disciplines involved during Project Initiation

Within the Blog I have posts on the disciplines involved in Initiation. Use the Subject Tags (right hand side bar) to select these or simply use the search bar at the top, it works well!! As a starting point I will indicate a few key posts below:

Lastly - Acknowledge that emotionally, you may face the pit of despair

Emotionally you may be faced with a dip in your emotional curve when you pick up a new Project. There is a lot of information and questions to process and you may feel overwhelmed for a while. This is sometimes called the emotional pit of despair. All that I suggest is that you continue in a methodical way to work through the information, questions etc in front of you and in a short period of time you will come out the other side as shown in the graph below. Good luck!

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