Where do you, as a project manager, begin when you are handed a new project? How do you ensure that you are asking the right questions and starting off on the right foot?
Step 1: Read and understand the Statement of Work (SOW).
SOWs can be long and full of legalize that sometimes make them a challenge to carefully read through and pull out the important information. As the project manager, you are responsible for understanding the main points of the SOW so that you can translate it into an action plan for the rest of your team. Here’s a list of what every good SOW should include and to what you should pay attention:
- Which items are listed as “within scope?
- Which items are listed as “out of scope?”
- What is the hourly, monthly and total project budget?
- What type of project is this - for example, time and materials or fixed price?
- Will it be run using the Agile methodology, Waterfall or something in between?
- What is the change order process?
- What are start, end and deliverable dates?
- What technologies are being used for the project?
Step 2: Meet with your internal development team - and that team includes the first point of contact with this new client, your business development folks.
An internal kickoff of the new project is essential to not only gauge the specific talents of the team but also to allow people to come together as a cohesive unit before any client interactions. What does your assembled team need to know about the project? What about the project excites or scares them? How can you help your internal team be successful and what does success mean for this project?
Also, too often the sales and marketing people are left out of the internal kickoff. Be sure to tap into the knowledge of those who came before you! In addition to the written knowledge in the SOW, don’t forget to speak to the business development team about their interactions with the client. Did the client mention any pain points? Does the anticipated launch date correspond with a business need and is therefore a “must have” instead of a “nice to have?” Any insight into the personalities of the various stakeholders? To ensure a clean handoff to begin the project development phase, make sure the business development leader introduces you to the client as the project manager who will be taking care of them moving forward.
Step 3: Conduct the external, client-facing project kickoff meeting.
Once you have met with your internal team and been officially introduced to the new client, it is time to coordinate a meeting with the client stakeholders. The purpose of this meeting is first and foremost to understand the business case for the project you are about to undertake. This is the best chance for the client to tell you, in their own words, exactly what they need and why. As the project manager, you should use every minute you have in this meeting to find out:
- What are the client’s expectations for how what you are building will improve their business and help them reach their company’s goals? (i.e., what is the definition of success?)
- What is the client’s expectation for communication throughout the project? (i.e., do they want to have daily or weekly meetings and who is your main point of contact?)
The length of the kickoff meeting and whether or not it should be in person or via teleconference should be a decision made between client and project manager. In many case, the SOW will spell out this expectation ahead of time too.