Organizations and teams that do not clearly define their projects face several potential repercussions as a result. These consequences include wasted time and resources, miscommunication, and a lack of progress that can jeopardize the organization’s overall competitiveness. Investing the time to define a project is an essential piece of every successful endeavor.
It’s commonly stated in project management circles that 70% of all projects fail. What isn’t as commonly stated is that careful project management can reduce failure rates to 20% or less. All successful projects start with clear parameters.
To ensure that your project is well-defined from the beginning, ensure that you have addressed the following seven elements:
Project scope defines what the effort will accomplish. Unfortunately, too many projects suffer from an unclear scope at the beginning or fall victim to a constant redefinition of the scope. When a project is poorly defined, it can easily drift, leading directly to cost overruns, schedule delays, and eventual failure.
Think of your project scope like a trip to pick up your dry cleaning. If you aren’t careful, you could end up stopping at the pharmacy, grocery store, coffee stand, and any number of other places as additional needs come to mind. A 20-minute trip can easily turn into an afternoon of errands if the scope of your trip isn’t clearly defined and followed.
Define your project carefully and specifically. What will it include? What does it exclude? What is the targeted outcome? The greater the specificity, the less likely the project is to fail.
Once you’ve defined the project scope, allocate resources to meet the desired outcomes. Again, the more specificity, the better. Include all necessary resources in the plans by answering these questions:
- What is your budget?
- Where will it come from?
- How many people will be necessary?
- Do they need a separate workspace?
- What about dedicated or specialty software or tools?
Resource planning isn’t just about allocating resources. You also need to consider dependencies. If, for instance, a critical piece of design needs to be completed by a certain date, but your chief engineer will be on family leave during the weeks before that date, you will need to figure out how to overcome that obstacle.
List project tasks with as much specificity and detail as possible. Include every task you can think of. It may be helpful to bring in people from other departments, functions, and roles as you plan to ensure that you cover everything. For example, suppose you’re designing a new product. In that case, your marketing team will need to undertake graphic design, ad content, and multiple other product launch tasks to coordinate with the product’s release. Including that team in the project planning will ensure that you don’t end up with a product with no launch plan.
Every project needs a clearly defined team. However, depending on the project and the team, you may need to backfill those people's positions when they aren’t working on a dedicated project. If you take someone from your IT department to work on a digital transformation project full-time for six months, who will cover IT needs?
Expertise is also an important consideration. If you don’t have the right people internally, you may need to hire temporary contractors or consultants to help meet your needs. But it’s important to remember that special projects can be an important way for internal people to stretch and grow in their careers and help you keep some of your best employees. If you have internal people who can perform the project tasks, trust them with those tasks and give them space to grow.
If you’ve clearly defined your scope and tasks and assigned dependable, competent people to work on your project team, establishing timelines should flow naturally from those other decisions. As you plan your timelines, think about dependencies and issues that may be well outside your control. If you must depend on the delivery of specific equipment to complete a project, a supply chain issue may impact your deadline. In addition, vacations, personal disruptions, and staffing changes could all affect your timelines. Allow as much time as possible to complete tasks, and have a plan to deal with challenges or obstacles as they arise.
Many SaaS products exist to help plan timelines. If projects are a regular part of your business, it’s worth looking into a company subscription to workflow management tools such as Monday, Asana, Atlassian, and others.
6.Quality careful management of a project can reduce failure rate to 20% or less
Every company wants to complete projects at the highest level of quality possible, but different projects may require different levels of accuracy and documentation. Product quality in high-risk industries may need to follow strict regulatory requirements by writing, managing, and tracing clear requirements. Rewriting an employee manual may need review by internal legal counsel to ensure adherence to employment law. Other projects—a large company event, for instance—may require less accuracy. Early on, define how you will measure quality and accuracy.
Every project comes with risk, and teams need to approach every project assuming that something, at some point, will drive some element of the project off course. Take time at the beginning of the project to define as many potential obstacles as possible and establish how the team will recover from the situation and get the project back on course.
By defining your project carefully with these seven elements, you’ll be well on the way to delivering results for your company and your customers.
- Was the last project I worked on considered a success or a failure?
- What is one step I can take to define a project better in the future?
- Is there one person on my team who would be an important contributor to a future project?