Benchmark Business Group

Where Do I Start?

August 15, 2017

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This week we continue our spotlight on project management in small business with the age old question,
"Where do I start?"
 
In planning a project, there's no one "place" to start as this is not a linear process. Instead, the project management process is a constant flow of information through the project plan. However, in most cases there are two important sections of the project plan that need to be completed early: the business requirements and milestones. If you haven't already, we recommend downloading our sample project plan and using it to follow along this week.
 

Business Requirements define the wants and expectations of the project. These should include deliverables, which are the tangible and intangible take aways of the project, and what this project must accomplish. At the end of the project these will be used to judge if the project was a success, or not.


Defining the project's business requirements is often one of the first steps taken when starting a new project.  Knowing and referencing your business requirements will allow you to quickly:
  • Break the project into tasks that must be accomplished to achieve the goal
  • Have a clear idea of how to get back on track in case the project gets off track
  • Understand if you are on the right track
  • Evaluate the success of your project
  • Know how close (or far away) you are from achieving success
Getting too far in the project without knowing your business requirements is a common mistake that allows the project to move and stay off track. It causes projects to be "done" but without achieving the right results. So how do you come up with the business requirements?

You start by asking questions, such as:
  • What deliverables or outputs does the project need to have? These can be tangible or intangible.
    • For the business?
    • For any employees that will be impacted by project?
    • For other areas of business that the project will impact?
    • For clients?
    • For vendors?
  • What don't you want the project to do? Understanding what the project doesn't need to do or even needs to avoid doing can help uncover additional items that need to be achieved. (consider the same categories as above)
  • How will you know if the project is successful?
As mentioned last week, if you are not fully aware of the business requirements then one of your first milestones has to be, "research, write, and prioritize business requirements." Business requirements play a big role in mapping out the project milestones, but there is a give and take between the two areas of project management.
 
Milestones are the points in the project that a check-in or decision needs to be made. They should include where feedback is needed, when business requirements are met, where projects might be held up as the milestone depends on something else, and when decisions must be made.


Business requirements tell you what needs to be accomplished and milestones tell you when and how decisions in the project need to be made. Again this is not a linear process. You should have a good idea of what is needed before jumping too far into the project, but know that with some projects your first milestones could be to define the business requirements or even to define the milestones.  Sometimes you may not know all the milestones until you've finished the business requirements.

This is why it's never one or the other when trying to determine where to start. You may have to work on these two elements together. To get started defining milestones, we recommend a simple brainstorm session. Think of all the milestones that the project needs to hit and get them on paper. Use a mind map or just write them down as you think of them. Don't try to order them the first brainstorming session. Your focus should be on what needs to happen in the project. Below are a few questions to think about when determining milestones:
  • Who needs to be informed about the project and when?
    • On an ongoing basis?
    • When business requirements are met?
    • When something doesn't happen or is behind?
  • Who needs to provide feedback and when?
  • What deadlines need to be met?
    • Business requirements
    • Resource availability
    • Test phases
    • End of the project
  • For each milestone:
    • What is it dependent on?
      • Information
      • Deliverables
      • Knowledge
      • Resources
  • Does that milestone produce anything that is needed in other milestones
    • Information
    • Deliverables
    • Knowledge
    • Resources
  • How long will it take?
  • Can it be started/finished independent of other milestones?
Once you've got a good list of milestones, begin to order them in a timeline as shown on the sample project plan. We recommend using PowerPoint to design the flowchart and then copying or linking it back to the sample project plan. After your first draft, go through the questions again. Having the milestones in order will help you see milestones you've missed the first time.

This week we've focused on how business requirements and milestones feed into each other. It's important to note that although there will be changes to business requirements and milestones, there has to be a point in time at which they are considered stable. This point in time should be reached before too much work in the project occurs and should be defined as one of your milestones. Once this point in time is reached any changes to the project should trigger the use of a change process.

Join us next week as we discuss the change process and in two weeks when we wrap up our project management series with creating action steps.

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