Indeed, the first steps in laying your foundation will determine whether your project is solid and manageable, or if it will be shaky and wobbly because the beginning was not well-thought-out, causing the entire project to struggle or even collapse. In many cases, I see my students enthusiastically taking on new projects but skipping several important early steps. However, projects are like buildings – forget to put one brick at the bottom and the entire construction may weaken down the line.
Here are six steps you can take to launch your projects effectively.
Identify a starting point
Your troops are ready to charge forward, your stakeholders and investors are ready to support and your budget is safely in place. There is a final step and million-dollar question: How to start your project effectively? I notice that many of my students and colleagues linger at this point, and on many occasions they start with a clumsy low-profile opening. Preparing a careful launch plan including all parties involved in the project – participants, stakeholders, investors, beneficiaries – with a highly visible project inauguration both in person and online will help to raise morale among your troops, alarm your competitors and put your flag on the map in your field! The launch of your project with a smaller or bigger bang not only has psychological impact, it also has a managerial dimension. You have declared the crossing of your Rubicon and promised to devote all your energy to this endeavor!
Identifying SMART objectives
Managers work on objectives according to the SMART (Specific, Measurable, Achievable Relevant, & Time-bound) formula, usually long before launching a project. The official launch of the program should also leave room for the final qualification and assessment of objectives and goals taking into consideration the latest changes in the environment, shift in old to new partnerships, possible adjustments in the budget, sometimes even personnel change and lately – the impact of COVID19. At this point flexibility is key, as our expectations and calculations during the preparation stage might be slightly outdated or need additional adjustments, e.g., setting the first SMART benchmark within 100 days!
Think about risks time and again: SWOT
The COVID19 pandemic has reconfirmed the value of an old-fashioned management tool: SWOT (Strength, Weaknesses, Opportunities and Threats) analysis. It is important to run a SWOT analysis at regular intervals according to changes in the internal and external environment for your project. From a risk mitigation point of view, it is imperative to re-run SWOT analysis time and again to be better prepared for dealing with possible disruptions and unforeseen situations. Famous strategist Denis Waitley once said: “Expect the best, plan for the worst, and prepare to be surprised!”
Develop a detailed communication strategy
In the post COVID-19 environment, the entire concept of internal and external strategic communication is undergoing a series of fundamental changes. Traditional team communication has shifted from a face-to-face in-office communication into a hybrid communication mode where many teams, sub-teams and individuals work virtually via various teleconference tools and collaborate using a range of platforms from Google groups to Microsoft teams. External communication is also shifting from reliance on the company’s or team’s websites to increasingly popular visualizing gadgets, apps, smart-phone-based and social media platforms. Therefore, I suggest that students should develop their communication strategy taking into consideration the most recent changes related to COVID-19, providing additional training to all team members and optimizing the delivery of project-related information according to the needs and objectives of the project.
Set up an information management system
In our discussions and brainstorming about information management, my students and colleagues suggest new ideas, angles and innovative ways for how to deal with information management and how to adapt to a rapidly changing environment around us. The consensus is that this field is also rapidly changing and evolving around the newly emerging opportunities and threats. Effective information management is no longer just about keeping track of information, it is also about a whole set of issues that might impact your project, from identifying information needs, cyber security, to software and hardware crashes, problems of cloud storage and information distribution.
Motivating your team: setting up an organizational culture
At the beginning of a project, it is important not only to motivate the team to work hard on the project and to develop financial stimulus, but also to set up a whole set of values that can evolve into an effective organizational culture and better team spirit. Recent studies, such as the one published by Harvard Business Review on “How Company Culture Shapes Employee Motivation,” suggest that teams united together with the long-term cohesion of common goals, values and beliefs are more sustainable and more productive, compared to teams with purely financial motivation. Setting values and goals in your effort to build organizational culture at the beginning through discussions and brainstorming with the team members will have a long-term impact on your projects!