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Wednesday, January 2, 2013

New Year, New Project - Don't Forget the PARTY!

[Also available as a podcast]

Happy New Year - and welcome to your new project! 

The start of the calendar year often marks the start of new projects; the old year is done, the new year is fresh and full of potential. Everyone is rested from the break and raring to go...ok, perhaps recovering is the right word. However, it is still a great time of year to kick off new projects, with most people full of energy and optimism. Who knows - your New Year Resolution might even have been about your project. (Ya, right!)

Many people finished up the calendar year with a lot of social activities and parties; the closer you got to the end of the year it seems the less work was done, or at least it was harder to get work done. I know exactly how tough it was - I was in the first month of ramping up on a new project, looking for information, while everyone else was winding down from the year and starting to disappear on holiday.

Now it is a new year, people are returning from holiday, refreshed or recovering, in any case coming back to work to hit the ground running (or at least at a moderate walking pace).

So what do we need to do to get our new projects off on the right foot, to help make sure they are successful?

Quite simple, really. What we need is...a Project PARTY.

The Project PARTY

What, another party to distract the team? We just had a series of those in December - what are you talking about? We need to get everyone focused and minds back on the job!

Yes, this is true. Although we do need a fair dose of social interaction to reconnect relationships after the break, I am not talking about having another "party". What we need to to start off your project successfully is contained in the acronym P.A.R.T.Y.

Assemble the Team
Review Requirements
Team Development
Youthful spirit

Let's have a look at each of these key points:


As the Project Manager, the most important thing you can do at the beginning of every project is to get your head on straight and figure out what needs to be done. You may have already had a chance to read the Project Charter, High Level Requirements, Contract and other related documents. Or perhaps this is the first day you have them dumped on your desk (or email inbox). 

(We will assume that the project has been approved to start already and has a Project Charter or similar authority document in place - so most of the Initiation phase is complete).

Even if you read over every document twice before the break, chances are that all those parties and the time away let a lot of those details slip out of your head. So whether you have read the project documents before the break or you have them now for the very first time, it is important for you to read them over a few more times to let it all sink in.

It is also time to look over your trusty toolkit of Project Management tools and metrics, to decide what is going to be needed and work best for this new project. Just as every project is unique, the specific tools and templates you use on this project may be different than your last one. Perhaps they will be the same set of tools with little or no tweaks or changes, but it is important to think about what you actually need, rather than starting the project on auto-pilot. You might need new tools/templates, or changes to the ones you used last time based on lessons learned. 

Next, you need to review the stakeholder list - who is your Project Sponsor? Who is on the Project Control Board / Steering Committee / Change Control Board? If you don't know some of them yet, it is time to get introduced and spend a little time with them to let them know who you are, and to discuss their understanding and expectations of the project and its goals. For those you already know, go and spend a bit of time with them, asking the same types of project questions, after the chatty bits about their holiday and how the kids liked their presents.

Another consideration for you as the Project Manager is that in order to achieve project success, you will need to be the leader that your team needs you to be (which will change over time as the project progresses). I suggest you read Ten Attributes of an Effective Leader and the other leadership articles as you prepare for the next step.

Head full and spinning with words, charts & leadership advice, and hand sore from all the stakeholder handshakes? I guess it is time for the next stage.


Depending on your project, some of the team members may have been pre-selected, particularly if they are named in an RFP response, or they were involved in the Project Initiation process. Quite likely these pre-selected people will be more senior staff who will be Team Leads on your project. 

In selecting members for your team, you will need to leverage the influence of your project sponsor, and the expertise of your Team Leads. Unless you have been around the company for a long time, it is unlikely that you will know everyone and their skills and aptitudes. So use the Team Leads - review the high level project documents with them and listen to their recommendations on who should be on the project team, combined with the people that you already know would be ideal for particular roles. 

When you have the candidate list of people that you want for your project (and some alternates), it's time to try to secure those people for your project. This can in some ways be the toughest part of your project - particularly if the people you want are experts and in high demand from other groups and projects. They may only be available for a portion of your project, or on a part-time basis. This is where you can use the leverage of your Sponsor to try to secure the best resources for you, negotiating with the department managers in your matrix organization. If your project is important enough, with a high profile and strategic company direction, you will likely have more luck in obtaining the key staff you want, even if they are pulled from other projects. (Oh, no, poaching!) Well, technically that is poaching, but in the strategic interests of the company the sponsor may determine with the managers that it may be the right thing to do for the company to juggle resources around. 

If you are on the other end of the scale, you might find that your first, second and third choices are not available to you, and you are having to train up Bob from the Mail room. Don't knock Bob though - this may be the break he needs to show how skilled and dedicated he is - you never know.

Just make sure to use your sponsor's (and your own) influence to try to get you the best resources you can - that is part of their job as the sponsor.

When you have the team identified, it's time to schedule a meeting to get everyone together. But not just any meeting - you need to have the Project Kickoff

(For a detailed discussion of what should go into your project kickoff, read Project Planning 1.0 - The Importance of the Project Kickoff).


During the Project Kickoff, you will do many things with the team in going over the landscape of the new project, who is there to do what, the overall objectives etc. You will also have some form of requirements (usually high level) that describes the project scope.

Review these requirements with the team (send them a copy well before the meeting and ask them to read them in advance). These are of course not the final requirements - you will define more detailed requirements as you get further into the project. It is important to make sure that everyone is heading in the same direction though - and has a common understanding of what the project is about before they leave the kickoff meeting.

(See Developing Exceptional Requirements for more details about creating detailed requirements from high level ones during the Project Planning and Execution phases).


Now that you have the team together and you have done the ice-breaker and introductions in the project kickoff, you need to grow them from a group of individuals into a team (hopefully a high-performing one, but one step at a time). You need to structure some activities (social and work-wise) to build on your initial efforts in developing the team. If you have a large team, this may be more successful in small groups -i.e. you working with the team leads and the sponsor, and you and each team lead working with their groups (and the sponsor if appropriate for the activity).

The key thing here is to develop a sense of team success and camaraderie early on - carve out some initial deliverables that they can work on together over a short period, with a high probability of success (but not too easy, either). Make it an achievable challenge. Scheduling a group coffee (or tea) once a week is another great idea to help the team develop and get to know each other.

Although they can be fun, climbing walls and crossing moats may not give you the best outcomes for team development - you need them to work together on project deliverables after all, and some may be intimidated by physical challenges and set a poor mood. If those out-of-office challenge activities work for you, great - but if they might work against your particular team, then you may want to reconsider using them.

You may also find these articles helpful as you consider your team development strategies: 

Teams, People and Change: You Can't Push a String 
Leadership: On Developing Teams - Are you alone on the Ice?
From the Playground to the Olympics: What NOT to do in Team Development


Energy is a vital element as you start your projects. There will be many times through your project where you are worn down and wonder why you signed up to manage this %^@#$%^ project in the first place. Do whatever you can to keep your optimism and energy levels up - and remember that enthusiasm is contagious. Talk with your Mentor regularly - and especially when times get tough. They can help put your head back on straight and improve your mood.

If you can start off the project with enthusiasm around your team, it will help set the overall mood of the project and project team. (Though I don't recommend dancing on tables). Prudent optimism and enthusiasm will help sustain your project performance.

Conversely, negativity is even more contagious, so avoid it at all costs, or your project will sputter and fail - as your team becomes dispirited and start looking for the nearest exit.

So smile, be authentic and optimistic - with an enthusiastic, youthful spirit.


As we all know, there is a lot more to be done as you deliver your project. We have not covered all aspects of managing your project in this article. However, getting your project started off on the right foot is a key factor for project success. If people start off in different directions and are confused about the scope and overall project objectives, you will be doing a lot of chasing and correcting expectations rather than delivering. It is better to get that sorted out from the beginning, and reinforce/remind the team as you go along. 

If you would like to read some more Project advice, I suggest you look through my other PM articles, or  if you would like a more comprehensive reference, you can always buy my book (Gazza's Guide to Practical Project Management) in kindle or paperback format (make sure to use the current discount code!).

Good luck with your projects, and I wish you all success for the coming year!

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