25 September 2009

Determining the Appropriate Deliverables for the Initial Phase of a Project

All complex projects consist of three basic phases: the initial (or preparatory) phase; the project (or work) phase; and the finalization phase. Each of these phases has its own challenges and pitfalls. These can be avoided by having a clear picture of what should be achieved in each of these phases. This blog-post will suggest what the goals and deliverables should be for the first phase of a complex project.

In my experience, there are a number of things that typically go wrong in the first phase of a project that severely reduce the probability of the project finishing successfully. The most common pitfalls I see in the first phase are:

- The project is not set up to deal with the right issues
- The optimal links are not developed between the sponsor and the project team
- The right resources are not allocated to the team (primarily people and time, sometimes access to expertise and/or money)
- The individuals who are assigned to the project team are not developed into a team

My suggestion is therefore that the primary goals of the preparatory phase of a project should all be focused on ensuring that these pitfalls are avoided. Reaching these goals will entail a set of activities involving the sponsor of the project, the project leader, and the team members. These activities should result in a clear set of deliverables for the preparatory phase of the project.

Deliverable Nr. 1: The appropriate sponsor for the project. This should be somebody who has an interest for the key issues to be resolved through the project, and has the time and energy to spend considerable time on the project.

Deliverable Nr. 2: The optimal project manager. The project manager needs to be a person with an affinity and understanding to the key areas to be covered by the project, the right motivation for making the project a success, and the right skills for carrying out the project.

Deliverable Nr. 3: The appropriate goals, deliverables, targets, and scope for the project. This deliverables will initially be developed in an interaction between the sponsor and the project manager, and will later be changed to reflect initial discussions with the project team.

Deliverable Nr. 4: The optimal team for carrying out the project. The composition of suggested team needs to reflect the issues that the project is dealing with, and needs to include the right mixture of skills. These can typically be divided into technical and functional skills, analytical skills, and interpersonal skills.

Deliverable Nr. 5: A realistic plan for carrying out the project. This deliverable should focus on the overall timing of the projects and intermediate milestones. The important dimension of this deliverable is that the suggested timing is realistic and is accepted by all the project team members.

Deliverable Nr. 6: A cohesive team that has joint ownership for reaching the goals and deliverables of the project within the agreed timeframe. This is a "soft" deliverable that is difficult to definitely "tick off", but a set of activities should be defined that will increase the probability of the deliverable being reached. I do not believe in stand-alone team-building activities. Therefore, my recommendation is that the key activity for achieving this is a formal (and structured) kick-off session. This session should include a "get to know" session, a training session on how to become an effective and successful team, a training session in key analytical tools, an explanation of the project (background, goals, and deliverables), and a discussion on the approach and development of a detailed work plan.

If you can honestly say at the end of the first phase of your project that all of these deliverables have been developed, then the project has greatly enhanced its chances of ending successfully. The project can then move to the next phase which will involve carrying out the key activities required for developing the overall project-specific deliverables of the project.

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