Sweat the Boring Details to Ensure a Smooth Project Start

I’ve recently taken a couple of very fun trips. They’ve taught me to appreciate certain kinds of planning—and to understand when it’s worth sweating the details–whether I’m traveling or creating software.

Traveling into the Unknown

I’ve found that what makes the biggest difference in reducing stress isn’t the “hopes and dreams.” It’s all the little details.

When we went to Ireland, I didn’t have much of an itinerary. I had read a lot, and I knew about lots of things that would be fun to see. But in place of a schedule, I made sure I knew:

  • Where I could buy a transit card in the airport
  • Which bus to take to get into the city
  • How to get from the bus stop to the hotel
  • Where to find ATMs along the way

None of that stuff is exciting. But after 12 hours of delays and plane swaps and jet lag and flying, it was really nice not to have any problems to solve. It meant that we weren’t wasting vacation time getting lost. We checked into the hotel, found a pub, and chatted with some of the locals about what we should visit in the area. Overall, things went pretty smoothly.

Software Dreams vs. Details

I’ve found that software projects are like that, too: As we get started, we’re all dreaming of the great things we can build. And that’s good! Having the big picture in your mind will help keep the team on track. But in the first few weeks, someone still needs to sweat the details.

Here are a few things to check.

Get the right people

Have you determined which project roles your project requires? Many can be filled from the engineering side, but if you need people from outside the organization, you may need to make some arrangements.

…At the right time

Double-check everyone’s calendar. We usually remember to include the project sponsor or stakeholder, but there are many other roles that need to be scheduled. Will there be people available for user interviews? What about other business process experts?

Make sure the relevant people can all get in the same room at the same time. If you need to buy plane tickets, do that before the project starts.

Equip them with the right hardware

Everyone needs a laptop and internet access. But what about the other things? Can people get into the building? Do you have enough power strips? Network cable? These sound like lame things to get stuck on, but how much does your developer cost per hour? Don’t waste hundreds of dollars paying him to drive to the store and buy $20-dollar power strips.

Do the team members have each other’s contact info? You don’t want to realize that you’re missing someone’s contact info at the moment when you need to reach them. And you don’t want to leave people stranded without contact info when they need to call someone to let them into the building.

And the software, too

Can everyone get on the network? VPN? Your time tracking system? Do they have a copy of Visual Studio? Where is your source control?

…Along with any training they need

Certain situations call for special training. For example, if you’re working in a regulated industry such as healthcare, team members who need access to patients’ medical records may require HIPAA training. If your organization requires special training, get it on the team’s checklist early so that people can complete it when convenient.

Hit the Ground Running

By all means, think about what you want to accomplish, and dream about the different directions your project could go.

But don’t forget all the little details that will let the team hit the ground running. Early in a project, there usually aren’t that many paths of development going on, so if one task gets blocked, there may not be an alternative to switch to while the problem is being resolved. With an expensive resource like a development team, that can get very costly, very quickly.

Getting the right people together at the right time and with the right resources will go far towards ensuring a smooth start to a project.