Whenever I ask project managers what they should do first when given an assignment, they often answer “start planning and implementing”. I am not so sure and recommend that the project manager should first check that the assignment has been correctly understood. The idea of initiation is simple, even when it is challenging to implement.
In a perfect world, the sponsor (i.e. the person who delegates the project to the project manager) would have already made quite sure that the assignment had been well thought through and understood by the project manager. In the real world, the sponsor often has neither the time nor access to all the details (“enterprise environmental factors”) to be able to make a fully-informed decision.
A better approach to project management is for the project manager to first check what the sponsor understands by the project and to evaluate if it is achievable. The project manager is more likely to have access to some of the details and often has more capacity to dedicate to the project than the sponsor.
By checking what is required, then summarising it clearly and checking with the sponsor before starting the actual project work has lots of advantages:
- helps manage the expectations.
- brings out in the open before starting if the expectations cannot be met in the way they have been stated.
- avoids applying time and money to the wrong target.
- is more likely to address all the details than an assignment simply that is simply accepted and delivered without comment.
Finally, making sure to initiate the project properly before launching into the planning and execution improves the credibility of the project manager.