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Good advice on starting up a project professionally

Good advice on starting up a project professionally 27.02.2017 - The project start-up process can be decisive to the success or failure of a project, whatever its size. When the project manager is preparing to kick off a project he can do many things to put the project on the right track, but also make decisive mistakes. That’s why it’s so essential in project management to make the necessary preparations for the project, to show project participants how the project will be structured and give them the assurance that project processes will be professionally managed in the initial project meetings. At the outset of the project they are more likely to accept new structures and processes.  Later on, it will be more difficult for the people in the project to change project processes, and for the project manager to implement changes.

Creating the basis

How does a professional project manager organise the project start-up? First of all it’s important to gain a good overview of the project and the associated challenges. So the first piece of advice is to be well-organised in your project management role. This includes administrative organisation processes such as ensuring the necessary access to information systems and platforms, as well as preparing yourself mentally for the new project. To appear competent during the initial days as project manager, and at project meetings, you have to at least be familiar at a general level with the project processes. A construction project manager has to be aware of how many storeys the building will have, what the structural components are, which trades will be involved and what the main building materials are. The project manager also has to know who is involved in the project at the outset, or at least the project activities being performed by external specialists and which companies have already been engaged. If the project manager can answer these basic questions, most people involved in the project will have confidence in his project management abilities and be motivated to do their best.

What do we have? What do we need?

The next step is the logical consequence of the first step. As soon as he’s taken a look at all the information, the project manager can tell how far the project preparations have progressed and what resources are available. He doesn’t have to read every detail of every single document or study report. In the initial days of the project, it’s enough simply to know what materials and know-how are already available. Once you know that, you also know what information you still need and which project activities still have to be assigned. The customer should obviously be involved in assigning activities to suitable firms, experts and companies. The project manager has to prepare detailed information for the customer on what decisions have to be taken by when. For example, “We need an architect and somebody who can do the calculations for a lightning protection system now, and in two months’ time we’ll need somebody who can plan and implement blower door tests.”

Securing support for the project manager

The project management team has to secure support from various stakeholders. These include both people who are important in the project implementation process, and also people who can help out from the side lines. It can be very useful to have a colleague with past experience that is going to be needed in the project. All members of the project management team should contact these people in the preparation phase to ask them questions or just to make sure that they’ll be available to answer questions over the next few months. Project assistants and experts in various fields should also be on the list of potential supporters, and the list can be very helpful in retaining an overview of all the people involved in the project. Even at the beginning of a project it’s important to have a list of customer and sub-contractor contacts, which will grow and change as the project progresses.
 
Understanding the project story

When the project management team has internalised the project outline, the next step is to write the project story. This process is all about understanding what has already happened and why the project came about. In a construction project there might have been an architecture competition to find the winning design, or studies that show why a project is important for a city’s urban development or economic infrastructure. Political decisions can play a role, as can citizens‘ initiatives, ecological studies and market analyses. If you understand what thought processes and needs gave rise to a project you can provide valuable input and work in a targeted way in the project.

The team and its expectations

The kick-off meeting is a very important part of the project management process and all key stakeholders should attend. This first project meeting should be an “official” meeting to let everyone know that the project has got started. The project management team must be well-prepared for the kick-off meeting, which involves writing down key issues, preparing a project presentation (this could also be given by an architect) and defining the first steps and objectives for the project team. The presentation of an official project schedule is also important so that everyone is aware of the timeline. Everyone should introduce themselves briefly, even the project manager, at the kick-off meeting. He should clarify the distribution of work packages and explain what the requirements and expectations of the project are. The kick-off meeting is also the place to schedule the regular project meetings so that everyone can check and tweak their schedules. 

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