Summary

Nearly all projects that go off the rails (over 80%) usually go off the rails in the early planning and team formation stages. This article explores 5 key tips for structuring your project correctly to give it the best chance of delivering advantageous outcomes.

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Whilst it's not possible to guarantee project attainment, there are a number of things you can do from the very start of your project that will promote your chances considerably.

Step 1 - Get Active - Expression is tough work! 

If you don't communicate people will make their own assessments of what's going on, you need to be maintaining perceptions and driving the agenda. Speak regularly with your team as a group, be expose and truthful and the truth will flow back. Trust is crucial to effective communication and having the information you need to effectively manage. If things are going bad, you want to be the first to know about it so that you can put in place some strategies to get things back on track.

Be human but remain the controller at all times, guide the discussion and ensure that you use an agenda for the early meetings. Having an agenda and minutes of the meetings ensure that everyone is heard and they hear that they are being heard.

Talk perpetually with individuals in addition to group sessions. Some people won't speak up in a groups.

You need to learn each persons communication style and work with it. This involves meeting with each person who is a part of the team from the outset.

Step 2: Set Clear Project Goals
A project is successful when the needs of the stakeholders have been met. A stakeholder is everybody directly, or indirectly impacted by the project.
As a first step, it is important to identify the stakeholders in your project. It is not always easy to identify the stakeholders of a project, particularly those impacted indirectly. 

Once you figure out who the stakeholders are, the next step is to find out their needs (requirements analysis). The best way to do this is by conducting stakeholder interviews. Take time during the interviews to draw out the true needs that create real benefits. Often stakeholders will talk about needs that aren't relevant and don't deliver benefits. These can be recorded and set as a low priority.
The next step, once you have conducted all the interviews, and have a comprehensive list of needs is to prioritise them. From the prioritised list, create a set of goals that can be easily measured. A technique for doing this is to review them against the SMART principle. This way it will be easy to know when a goal has been achieved.
Once you have established a clear set of goals, they should be recorded in the project plan. It can be useful to also include the needs and expectations of your stakeholders.
This is the most difficult part of the planning process ended. It's time to move on and look at the project deliverables.

Step 3: Define Clear Project Deliverables
Whilst a never ending list of tasks looks great, if those tasks don't bring forth anything tangible, they are often a road to no-where.

Add the deliverables to the project plan (gantt chart) with an estimated delivery date and allocated responsible resources. More accurate delivery dates will be established during the scheduling phase, which is next.

Step 4: Project Schedule (Gantt Chart)

Create a list of tasks that need to be carried out for each deliverable identified. The tasks should be phrased in terms of an action. For each task identify the following:
The amount of effort (hours or days) required to complete the task.
The resource who will carry out the task.
Once you have established the amount of effort for each task, you can workout the effort required for each deliverable, and an accurate delivery date. Update your deliverables section with the more accurate delivery dates.

At this point in the planning, you could choose to use a software package such as Chartgantt to create your project schedule. Creating the task list and associated relationships between tasks (dependencies) can take some time, so allow your self a full day to create a well thought through plan. This will save you significant time in the long run.

Resource

Chartgantt.com is the worlds leading author of Professional Gantt Chart Excel. They have spent 3 years building and establishing templates that are now the most desirable available in the world. Smart coding and structuring mean that the product offers far superior flexibility to any other planning tool available on the market
project plan.