The project was already 1 week behind schedule according to the customer. I tried to find the humor in that assumption since the project was only 1 week old. Couldn’t they read the milestones and our current sprint plan? I could hear the voices in my head crafting up the blame game quips and quotes already. I mean really? Do you think the team has just been sitting around? I did my best form of Adam Sandler’s rendition of meditation in Anger Management and suddenly the true problem hit me.
I had failed to set the expectations of what the Start and Finish lines looked like with the customer.
How often have you taken on a project, challenge, or mission only to find out that you had a different expectation of what the project actually was? Many of us do this quite often because by our nature we want to help make a difference and we jump at the chance. In order for everyone to have a successful engagement, we must set boundaries before we say go.
Setting the Finish Boundary First
In order to have a successful project, you first must know what success looks like when it is done. This is achieved by accomplishing the following:
- Defining a vision or goal for the project. I have often been involved in projects that seem to have no end in sight. By establishing the vision or goal for the project, you bring clarity and direction. All decisions going forward should then be based upon the goal or vision of the project. It needs to be written down.
- Communicate to get alignment. Make sure a the project owner that you have alignment on the vision and goal for the project with the decision makers. When disagreement happens, you will have the end vision as a reference point for tough decisions. Stakeholders have the accountability to then reach that end goal that has been clearly communicated to them.
- Determine your measurements. Again put these down on paper. Communicate them. Make them concrete. Most times there are only a few measurements that are needed. Spend the time to truly figure out what they are.
- Define how far out your current resource limitations will take you. You must put together a plan for time, budget, and persons. This will show the physical constraints on where you will finish according to the goal and vision.
Setting up the Starting Boundary
The best way to set a starting point or boundary is to formalize it with a kickoff meeting or formal start email. While this may seem easy, you should consider the following:
- Your customers are thinking the project has started from first contact. I have been in many meetings where this is the case. It is crucial to set expectations of what the work is that is going to be done and separate that from the ideation phase.
- Start dates slip too. When this happens, you need to evaluate how that may affect the finish line. Communicate out the changes and make sure alignment happens.
- Consider ramp up time for your team and communicate that appropriately. Many times, the full team is not available at the start. Customers may assume that you are at full capacity from day 0. Hardly is that ever the case.
By establishing these two boundaries for a project, you will have a much better chance at succeeding. I have taken this approach in personal challenges, goal setting, and as a work practice with a lot of success. If you are in the middle of the race without knowing the finish line figure out what it is as quickly as possible.