Whether your company is operating at a low level of organizational project management maturity or is world class, one of the most critical points in the lifetime of a project is when it is initiated. Start too soon and valuable resources and time will be wasted while people are figuring out what needs to be done. Wait too late and work on the project may have already commenced in stealth mode and without involvement of key stakeholders.
Designing and rolling out a consistent project intake process helps, but good process rarely compensates for poor execution.
Here are three questions which can tell you if the project is ready to be started.
Why are we doing this now (and what are we saying “no” to)?
If there’s no one who can clearly articulate the rationale in investing in this project instead of the myriad other initiatives which could have been funded it might be best to go back to the drawing board. Beyond that, it’s important to understand why now is the right time to kick it off. Is there a committed deadline of some kind which will be missed if work doesn’t commence immediately?
Who’s backing this project (and can they afford it)?
If there’s no one who is ready to commit resources to the initiative, there’s little point in getting started. Even if there is a sponsor identified (both in the funding and executive support perspective), if they are at too low a level of political influence to be able to effectively align stakeholders, create a coalition of the willing and knock over hurdles in the path of the team, with even a moderate level of complexity, the project will likely get and stay in trouble.
Do we have everyone we need to start (and keep going)?
Even in the first few weeks of a project, a sponsor and a project manager can accomplish very little without active involvement of key stakeholders and team leads. If that critical mass of resources is unavailable, your project will burn time and money without making much progress. In some organizations, if the core team is not assembled, a project is not permitted to start. Faced with a hard completion deadline, that can help increase the sense of urgency across the organization to staff up the project rapidly.
The simplest way to avoid having a project fail is to stop it from getting into trouble from the beginning.