When launching a new project, a clear understanding of the steps required is essential to break down, map out, and structure your approach to the work. Failure to do so will create confusion and complexity, as well as extra work when the pathway to progress is unclear.
Here are the five recommended project process steps that help adequately define and implement all necessary processes to maintain clarity throughout the project.
Step 1: Concept
In many ways, project initiation is the most important step. This is because a thorough, high-level discussion will plot the broad project direction and, ideally, identify the unfeasible areas that could waste time and money. At this stage, you will likely need to acquire the executive support necessary to move forward with the project.
A solid business case is first required to support the need, followed by a feasibility study to assess the practicality of any chosen direction. The best outcome of the concept stage is to embrace change, meaning that the final direction that stakeholders need to perform due diligence on is something that has iterated through open, pragmatic conversation from the original concept to something that fits capabilities and conditions more aptly.
Step 2: Planning
This stage involves taking concept learnings and putting them into a structured road map that all stakeholders can use to understand their roles and responsibilities. Broadly speaking, it requires several documents to be generated that form the ongoing template for work.
A Scope of Works (SOW) outlines all relevant stages of the project and the work performed to realize them. It breaks out specific tasks, assigns deadlines for each, and forms a progression that shows how task completion is needed to lead to next steps. The SOW is critical in a customer-facing dialog to set expectations of project time and cost, creating transparency and supporting the reasons why certain decisions have been made and how they form a pathway to completion.
Goal setting is also critical for project teams to understand the importance of individual contribution to making the whole project run smoothly. Using the CLEAR method can help to reference the overarching themes, well, clearly:
- Collaboration – Everyone works together when required.
- Limit – Keep things manageable and tidy to avoid ‘scope creep’.
- Emotion – Identify how the project is personally important! This drives the passion needed to realize why the work needs to be done.
- Appreciable – Take large workloads and break them down into smaller tasks for more rapid completion.
- Refine – Regular project meetings allow new situations or changes to be appraised and worked into the project goals. Change will always be a constant, so work with it.
Step 3: Execution
Kick off this stage with a more formal meeting including all stakeholders and teams. This is where everyone understands roles and engages the SOW assignments, resources are assigned, and tracking systems are shared for ongoing monitoring (including project management, project time tracking, and/or resource scheduling and management).
Yes, this is where the plan implements, but flexibility is required. Depending on the project duration, regular daily or weekly status meetings with both internal teams and clients will be required to keep the conversation open and everyone apprised of developments. Even if it seems everything is going according to plan, keep the meetings scheduled to provide a physical touchpoint for stakeholders.
Step 4: Monitoring
Measuring performance simply means aligning the work in the most effective way to the project plan to keep things on track. As changes (inevitably) happen, small fluctuations occur in planning that may have minor or major effects, so monitoring takes note of anything that can cause bigger changes down the line.
Key Performance Indicators (KPIs) help to benchmark how effectively things are working. These are the data points in the project such as staying on budget and timing, the quality of each stage according to the satisfaction of those involved, and how effectively resources are being used. Such data can be tracked according to its relevant value. For example, input costs versus actual worked hours (and those real costs) to achieve task completion, or quality assessment by comparing with prior project work.
Step 5: Closure
When all project stages are completed to the SOW, project-related assets such as teams and contractors are released. In tandem with the post-project assessment and client handover, the closure stage is a critical opportunity to develop learnings for future work. Final team meetings should involve the generation of “punch lists” that clearly outline where certain items missed completion, whether due to resource misallocation or project scope changes.
A final project report is essential to tie together learnings, recognition of success, and the completed budget trajectory. Digital, and in many cases physical, storage of the collated project materials is part of building up a reference resource for all future projects to delve back into.
Extra Tip: Best Practices
These five steps form a general outline to assure a pragmatic project approach that limits the potential for surprises. However, as a best practices rule, a successful project process always involves sweating the small stuff.
Details such as the ongoing monitoring of resource effectiveness will help to define the viability of those resources, whereas failure to do so can lead to the inappropriate allocation of talent and knowledge that impacts the bottom line. Equally, even though projects always veer in novel directions, consistency in time tracking is critical to focus and maintain a sense of group direction.
Goals are most often not perfectly attained according to plan, but keeping those goals present and clearly defined is key to steering projects in the right direction.