How a ‘vision’ can make sure every project decision is the right one

Managing a project can sometimes feel like your hiking up a very large mountain. To have a chance of making your way to the top, you’ll need to see where you’re going.

In other words, you need a ‘vision’, which explains clearly the purpose of your project. Despite what you might think, this isn’t a luxury. It’s necessary for survival.

According to the Project Management Institute’s 2015 Pulse of the Profession report the main reason for 30 per cent of its members’ projects failing was due to the absence of an adequate vision or goal for the project.

You need to understand more than just the purpose

This is just one necessary piece of information you should document in what you can call a project start-up document, which is also called a Project Initiation Instruction, Project Initiation Document, Project Charter, or even a business case.

This start-up document will not only ensure you make the right decisions throughout the project, but it will also ensure you understand what is expected of you and will help explain the project to stakeholders and set their expectations.

How to create a project start-up document

You’ll be gathering more detailed information throughout the planning of the project (find out about the other vital steps of project management in The Six Step Guide to Practical Project Management). In other words, you don’t need to spend long on this start up document, and it doesn’t need to be extensive, but you do need to define the following:

1) Purpose
You need to understand the reason for the project, such as the problem it aims to solve or the benefits it will bring, as well as what you will deliver to achieve this.

2) Objectives
You will need to list the project’s outcomes — what you want the project to have achieved after it is delivered.

3) Key requirements

You’ll need to identify the top-level requirements under the three headings:

- Scope: What should the project deliver?
- Time: Is there a date this needs to be delivered by? 
- Cost (or resources): What’s the budget? What personnel are available?

You should also find out which are flexible: can either the scope, timeline or cost be changed? Or is there one which should be fixed.

4) Major milestones
As well as the start date you should record the end date you should be aiming for, only if you know it at this stage, as well as any other key deadlines.

5) Project team
You should find out at this stage who is available to help out with the tasks that will be needed to deliver the project.

Make your start up document clear (and short)

The start-up document will act as your ‘guiding light’ throughout the project. Since you’ll be referring to it regularly, so you should make sure everything is clear and specific.

Also, the point of the project start up document is not to be go overboard — it should be short and focused. After all, your job is to deliver a project, rather than create lots of paperwork.

As experienced project manager Dr Andy Makar of Tactical Project Management said: “I remember working on one project where the running joke was the project had launched yet the project charter [as project start-up documents are often called] was ‘almost ready to be signed’. It consisted of a 45-page Word document that no one would ever read in great detail or even sign off. The project still delivered on time and was successful. This example begs the question — was all that process really needed?”

A simpler and easier approach to project management

The above information is just one step in a six step process that makes managing projects from start to finish simpler and easier.

The Six Step Guide to Practical Project Management strips back professional project management processes to the absolute basics without sacrificing the vital ingredients for a successful project — to hit your deadlines, stay in budget and deliver big benefits to your organisation (and career).

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