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Lee Carnihan's five ways to ensure project lift off

From getting things started, to keeping them on track and beyond.

This week we have a guest post from Lee Carnihan – self proclaimed, passionate digital entrepreneur.

Lee started life as a designer, became a developer, turned into a project manager, and now writes about it all just for good measure.

“As a project manager with over a decade of experience working for digital agencies and in-house teams, a few things have come to my attention over the years that I thought I should share – things that seem to underpin successful projects. 

“They’re useful and they’re not rocket science; any project manager could understand and apply them to pretty much any project to ensure it starts off on the right foot, stays on track and achieves its objective”.

Have an owner

“You need a high ranking executive to mandate your project and support it at senior level throughout its life. 

“They also have the power to pause it or stop it. 

“That person is called different things, such as the sponsor, or the project executive. 

“Whatever their title, they are critical because if there’s no executive level champion then your project can quickly get squashed, crushed, and generally pushed aside by other projects that do have an owner.”

Have a clear cut project plan

“Your project plan simply has to state in very clear and succinct terms what you’re trying to achieve, who is involved, what your critical path is, what time and budget you have available, and what your checkpoints will be.

“But remember, your plan isn’t the project, just like your map isn’t the territory beneath your feet. 

“It’s your starting point and your frame of reference. 

“Sometimes you will need to deviate from it, other times stick to it religiously, but most of all, don’t write it, then leave it on the shelf.”

Sign off

“Make a list of who needs to sign off the various stages of your project, and at what point. 

“Be clear about what you need them to sign off – this will save everyone time. 

“People are very willing to sign off or disapprove of things that they have no right, reason or remit to. 

“That can lead you astray and bog you down. 

“If you need a budget signed off, ask your finance team. 

“If you need a design signed off, ask the head of design. 

“This is where you may need to call on your owner’s authority – they should be influential enough to help you navigate the minefield of opinions and sign offs.”

Budget

“Understanding how your project is funded can help you manage its progress much more effectively.

  • “Is there enough funding to cover the entire project?
  • “Are those funds released all at once or gradually?
  • “Who needs to sign them off?
  • “Who needs to be paid, when and how?
  • “What are the risks if funds dry up completely or come in late?

“Large companies, as well as government departments, often have complex rules for what they can pay, how they can pay it, and when they will pay it. 

“Knowing those rules and following them is crucial if you are to push your project across the finishing line.”

Watch out for the wild card

“Blindly sticking to your plan regardless of all other factors can be a high risk strategy. 

“Being flexible in your attitude towards changing tactics and diverting from the original plan might save you time, effort and money. 

“Something might happen too that forces you to consider other options. 

“Maybe one of your team falls sick – do you wait, or call in a freelancer? 

“You can’t avoid these things so having an open mind is a good fail safe.”

And the pitfalls?

“Many things can go wrong on a project

“The owner might leave the project, the mandate might be withdrawn or changed partway through, the project may go over budget, you may experience technical issues like your computer blue screening, perhaps even a contractor may bring in their own device and infect your IT systems. 

“But the most dangerous pitfall to avoid in my experience is an ambiguous or complex business case at the outset. 

“Everything stems from that document and it should give people enough clarity, understanding and direction so that they feel confident and empowered to take positive action.”

Find out more about Lee on his website.