Questions to Ask when Taking On a New Project

In my experience I have always been too quick to actually start working on new projects. There are a few important steps that I like to go through between saying I will manage a project and I am now managing a project. These are important because there are always steps to be completed before a project starts, and in the push to start, these are often forgotten or left incomplete. However starting a project on shaky foundations is a guaranteed way to make my life as a project manager harder and needs to be avoided.

The questions below are a checklist I have developed to know if a project is really ready to start. Until the answer to all these questions is a clear “yes”, even if I am working on a project in other ways, I make it clear to my management that I am not the responsible project manager. If I don’t say no at this point, I become responsible for the progress of a project that is not yet ready to start.

Can I have a Nomination Letter?

Let’s be fair, not all projects need nomination letters but if the project is going to have one and I’m going to be the project manager, I need it. Any hesitation here means management are simply asking me to work but are not ready to commit to the project yet. There is nothing wrong with helping out in a project under those circumstances, but it’s not a healthy situation in which to start being the project manager.

Can I do a Kick-Off Meeting?

Even if the whole project team is not available yet, I find a kick-off meeting for a new project is indispensable before people really start working on a project. Any hesitation from management here again means that they are not yet committed to the project and that it is not yet the right time to start.

Can I see the Preparation Work?

Projects are frequently based on existing work or need some other inputs to begin. If the team doing the initial work have not finished yet, then why (and how) should I start working on the project? Management attention should be focused on getting this foundation work completed and not on starting the project as soon as possible.

Can I Meet the Sponsors?

If the answer here is yes, but it’s either only one person or more than five people, then it’s important in the meeting to check that you really do have all the sponsors and just the sponsors. A single sponsor is always suspicious because most projects work across at least a few domains and need support from all these areas. On the other hand six or more sponsors suggests there is lots of interest for the project, but that the management group has not yet identified which of themselves are going to be the sponsors. My sponsors are the people who absolutely want a project to happen and be a success and if these people are not yet identified then the project is not ready to start.

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