Research, Tools, Templates

Start a new Project in 9 Steps

This blog post is about a situation that is common for many projects and project managers especially in the construction industry. An organization signed a contract for fulfilling a client's need and engages a project manager to deliver the project. This project manager was not necessarily involved in the project initiation phase. Often the project manager is even entirely new to the contractor’s organization. In order to succeed, the project manager has to prepare himself/herself and has to follow 9 Steps How to Start a New Project.

Primarily the below considerations focus on the contractor and its organization, not necessarily on the client in the first place.

It is important for the new project manager to understand the contractor’s organization, existing standards and procedures prior to engaging further in the project. It is also important for him or her to get access to a complete set of documents and to evaluate them as far as possible.

The project manager schedules an internal kick-off meeting at the earliest after his/her document review. He shares the agenda in advance to give participants a fair chance to prepare and understand expectations.

1. Project Charter

The most important one out of the 9 Steps How to Start a New Project is in my opinion to sign a project charter as early as possible. The project charter nominates the project manager and gives him or her authority. It also provides clarity to the structure of the team.

2. Business Case

Sometimes company leaders can not give clear answers to the following questions:

  • Why did we sign this contract?
  • Why did the client choose us over others?
  • What went well and what did not go so well in previous projects for the same client?
  • What are the success factors?
  • Who are nominated project partners?

The whole project team needs to know exactly why a project contract was signed.

3. Scope of Work Statement (Scope Baseline)

Someone with involvement in pre-contractual communications explains the scope of works. He emphasizes on scope inclusions and specific scope exclusions. He also explains assumptions, which are not yet finalized.

The team members review the deliverable list and decompose them into smaller better manageable packages and further into activities and tasks. The result is the work breakdown structure document. Often a work breakdown structure is provided by the client to fit into their planning. In that case it must be checked if it is complete and reasonably detailed. Other documents and structures such as the time schedule and, ideally, the budget are based on it.

Experiences from previous comparable projects serve as lessons learned.

4. Resource and Duration Estimates (Schedule Baseline)

The company committed to deliver a certain product or service within a certain time limit. The time limit estimate is based on factors such as resources and duration estimates. The planner who has prepared this initial planning explains his estimation approach and based on which considerations he came to his conclusion.

  • Were public holidays, leave entitlements and seasonal influences sufficiently accounted for?
  • How solid is the plan?
  • Are the resources readily available or shared with other projects?
  • What other inter-project dependencies exist?
  • What is the commencement date and milestones?

The project manager works out a detailed schedule with his team soonest possible.

5. Budget Breakdown (Cost Baseline)

I wrote about cost control in my previous post. Unfortunately, many only have cost control in mind. I'm certainly not against cost control, but the better approach is focusing on cost management, keeping in mind that other management areas are equally important.

The organization has committed itself to delivery a product or service at a certain price. The estimator, who calculated this price, explains his calculations in detail and the budget preparation methodology. Because here's the catch. As described, the contract is signed, the basic planning is done with more or less care and the project manager - you - mainly only carries out the work and monitors and controls it. On the cost calculation and the resulting budget, he has virtually no more influence.

The estimator therefore shares his estimation sheet with the project manager and explains the used:

  • Estimation methods,
  • Resource loading,
  • Duration estimates,
  • Considered overheads and risk contingencies.

What are the funding requirements and what is the expected return of the investment?

6. Team Structure

The project manager considers the preparation of the project organization chart as a high priority. During the internal kick-off meeting all key players and functions are geared towards the same common goal. Therefore through their participation in the meeting, colleagues understand that they belong to the team. The project manager observes the level of influence and relationships among colleagues and watches out for internal politics.

He also uses the meeting to clarify reporting structures. There will be colleagues who only work a certain part of their time for the particular project. For this proportion of time they are answerable to the project manager. Therefore the project manager ensures to make everybody aware of this.

7. Technologies Needed

I talked about resources above. Those resources are primarily human resources, machinery and tools, as well as material. Because construction projects are usually not done from the main office, in most cases a construction site office with communication and other facilities is needed. Data access and data backup is a topic in this context. The establishment of such a bureau is often insufficiently considered in the pricing, if this is not expressly mentioned in the deliverables.

8. Initial Risk Register

The estimator must introduce the initial risk register, which he or she had taken into account in the pricing. This is actually very important, but often neglected. The risk contingency instead is often only assumed as a certain percentage. I am convinced that poor risk management will cost some companies their ISO 9001 certification this year. But that is not up for debate here.

In many cases, the only risk considered is a possible price increase for steel or cement.

9. Current Status

The project manager and large parts of the team are only hired after the organization having signed a contract with the client. As much as this is understandable, the disadvantage is that this easily and quickly leads to an initial time delay. Thereby the team and the company lose precious time for mobilization and kicking-off the works. That's why it's important to evaluate the current progress and status of the project.

Questions that are urgent to answer:

  • What are the works enablers?
  • Is the notice to proceed received?
  • Is the design complete and approved?
  • Are licenses and permits in place?
  • What is the mobilization status?
  • Are urgent materials and other resources ordered or organized?

The team agrees on an action list and a short-term planning for the transitional period, to get out of the current situation.

A remark at the end. Action lists are for some a bit outdated and unfortunately often a document that snoozes in the email inbox until 5 minutes before the next meeting. Consider dividing a large whiteboard into a parking-like structure. Assign a parking space to every individual and post tasks in it as sticky notes. Everyone moves notes from their parking space towards the exit upon task completion. Tasks than exit the parking after review during the next meeting.

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