Define Your Project

Hi, I’m Mike Clayton, founder of online pm courses. I’m also the author of How to manage a great project. And in this short video seminar, I’d like to talk to you about a crucial stage in your project, defining it. In fact, I could argue that this is the most important stage of a project, for the simple reason that if you don’t get the foundations, right, if you don’t define your project properly right from the start, then you have nothing to build on. Your plans will be based on a weak understanding of what it is you’re trying to create. And you will execute based on 40 plans based on weak foundations. So the definition stage isn’t just the first stage in your project. It’s arguably the most important in this seminar, I want to show you the 10 components of a really good project definition and let’s get started straightaway with the goal. The goal of your project answers a very simple question. What is it that you want? The goal sets out the whole aim for the project. And I always advise project managers to think very carefully about crafting the wording of your goal, to make it a little bit inspirational. Something that will inspire your team to follow you a rallying cry for your stakeholders. The goal sets out what the project is. And then the second thing in our project definition is our objectives. And our objectives, set out constraints on how we deliver our project, how we deliver our goal if you like, so that we know what success looks like. And objectives typically come in three times. For every project you need to think about are their time or schedule. Objectives are their cost or budget. objectives and other quality objectives. Set out the criteria against which you will measure success. And these are your project objectives. The third thing to consider is the scope. The scope of your project is all the things that you need to do to make your project a success. Or put another way, is all the things that you need to create. But we won’t put it that way. Because there are two different ways to think about scope. And for me, the more convenient is to think about the scope of work, the tasks, the activities that you and your colleagues need to engage in. So here you’re starting to think about what you will do. And the fourth item is What you won’t do the out of scope items or exclusions. So in defining our project so far, we’ve got the goal. What we We want, we’ve got the objectives, how we want it, the constraints that we put around achieving our project successfully. We’ve got the scope, what it is we need to do to achieve our goals and objectives. And we’ve got the exclusions, things that we deliberately determined will not be part of our project. And this is important, because once your project starts, people will come up to you and they’ll say, Hey, Mike, projects going really well. It’s one thing could you just Could you just the three words that project managers fear above all else, their someone else’s attempt to get their hobbyhorse their concerns included in your project. And of course, in doing that, in adding to your scope, they’re using up your resources, your budget and your time. So we need to be explicit in stating what the exclusions are. Scope so that when we get our project definition signed off by our boss, by our client or by our sponsor, we have signed off what we’re not going to do, so that we’ve got ammunition to turn somebody and say, No, it’s not included within our scope, we shouldn’t be doing it. Because we don’t have the time. You don’t have the resource. We don’t have the budget. If the most convenient way to think about scope is the work or the activities that needs to be done, the things that you produce the products or deliverables of the project, other fifth components of our project definition, make a list of all the deliverables or all of the products that your project will produce. Those two words, by the way, mean the same thing. It’s just that in the UK, we tend to use a word deliverable more frequently. And in the US. Project Managers tend to use the word product more frequently during the definition stage Both your scope statement and your list of deliverables will tend to focus on the big items. And some of the more detailed items may be left for the planning stage. One of the other things that you’ll be leaving for the planning stage, I think detailed specifications of the deliverables that you’re identifying in the definition stage. What you need at this stage is to note any critical functionality specifications, or any compliance requirements. The sixth element of our project definition are dependencies, and constraints. Strictly speaking, these are two different things, but it makes sense to tape them together. At the outset. dependencies are things external to your project on which your project is dependent. constraints are things that constrain the choices you will make within your project. So dependencies and constraints are often very similar, and some things could equally well be framed as one or the other. Both of them will dictate some elements of the planning choices you make in the next stage. So for me, it makes sense to include them together. If you prefer to separate them out. That’s fine. So what is your project dependent upon? And what are the constraints typical examples might be other activities going on within your organization that create dependencies, perhaps its use of resources or perhaps its key milestones or deadlines for other projects, which will get in the way of your project. And typical constraints are things like operating procedures or regulations or legislation. But it may also be around preferences of senior people within the organization. The seventh components of our project definition needs to be an identification of any risks or issues that are affecting the project. The big risks the big issues that need to be resolved or accounted for early on in the project. To give you a strong platform for success. Now risks are uncertainties that can affect the outcome. Anything that could go wrong basically, issues are not uncertainties, they are certainties that can affect outcome. They’re things that have happened or will definitely happen that need to be taken care of. So Strictly speaking, one could argue that an issue is just a risk with a probability of 100%. Anyway, make sure that you identify all the things you need to take care of all the things that could go wrong or are going wrong, and that your risks and issues. The eighth item is uncertainties and assumptions. Of course, the two are intimately linked. We’re uncertain what the budget is going to be, but we’re assuming it’s going to be $100,000. uncertainties needs to be cleared up as we move from the definition stage into the planning stage. And assumptions need to be valid data. As we move from the definition stage into the planning stage, there is nothing wrong with making assumptions. By the way, it’s a necessary way of operating as we build our project plans. The mistake is not in making assumptions, but it’s in forgetting that all you’ve got is an assumption and not a certainty. So list everything that you’re assuming to be true, but don’t know to be true. Everything you’re not sure about and need to clarify. And that’s the eighth component of our project definition. The ninth component is vital. It’s your stakeholders, because stakeholders and the people who have any kind of interest in your project, and often they will be the ones who judge the success or failure of your project. During the definition stage, therefore, it is vital to identify who the key stakeholders are the ones with the biggest impact. The ones who are most affected, the ones who are most likely to work pose your project and potentially cause you trouble, and the ones who have the greatest ability and willingness to support you and be helpful. Of course, as you move from the definition stage to the planning stage, you will increasingly identify more and more stakeholders with lesser and lesser stakes. But at the outset, you need to be starting to think and plan your project around those all important key stakeholders. Indeed, it may well be that the definition of your project the goal you set, the objectives you set and the scope you set are determined in large part by the needs, the preferences, priorities and the desires of your key stakeholders. The final part of our 10 part project definition worksheet, or your project team. Now at the outset, you’re unlikely to be able to identify all of your project team members, but what you should be to do is identify the key roles that you will need to fulfill and put names possibly to some of the essential roles, key experts that you’re absolutely dependent upon. And some of the governance roles who is going to be the project manager, who is going to be the sponsor or project director, who, or what part of the organization is going to oversee the project, acting as your project board, or your project steering group. This is your opportunity to show during the project definition stage, that you’re aware of the level of priority of the project. And you’ve thought about who the key personnel are, and what skills you need to draw into your project to make it succeed. So 10 components to a project definition, and you’ll see that you can download a simple worksheet so that you can start to plan this out for yourself down below this video. If you’ve enjoyed This video, keep an eye out for the next one, where we look at planning your project. And we can see that the 10 essential components of a project plan and I wish you well with setting up your project definition. My name is Mike Clayton. I look forward to seeing you in the next video.