Where to Begin? – Two Tools for Starting a Project with Intention

Article summary

Starting off on the right foot, with organization and intention, can be the first differentiator between a successful and unsuccessful project.

More often than not, the beginning of a project can feel like standing at the edge of a precipice. It’s an unknown. You’re given a statement of work (SOW) detailing the goals for the project, the budget, and some background. Then you’re faced with all the questions of how to get to those goals. Where to begin?

Are the deliverables outlined in the statement of work still 100% applicable now that we’re starting? Why is the client working with us? What is the context? On top of that, each project is so different, so there’s always something to learn.

First Steps

At the outset of a project, one of the first things I do is to read the statement of work in detail, using a highlighter to take notes. I mark up questions and document the key deliverables and goals. Once you have the goals, you can work backwards from there.

Next, I assess our timeline and budget with my teammates. Working in software and design is all about working within your constraints. If you know you have a specific budget, a specific timeline, and specific goals, you can work within that.

Staying Together

The most difficult part about this portion of a project can be keeping everyone in line with these three things (timeline, budget, and goals). As you start to work, hundreds of ideas get thrown around. When people are saying, “We could do this thing,” or “I read that this kind of deliverable is the ‘in’ thing for design right now,” it’s really easy to find yourself biting off more than you can chew.

To help alleviate some of the stress at the start of project, and to keep from over-committing, I have found two types of documents (in addition to many conversations and check-ins) to be helpful:

  1. A Project Timeline – Create a timeline for this specific statement of work. What are the milestones you want to hit? What needs to get done, and in what timeframe? Make a chronological diagram in Sketch, OmniGraffle, or Keynote (pick your poison), and use this to set expectations with your client and your team. Use the document at weekly check-ins to keep track of your progress and adjust as needed. If you go a bit off track, that’s okay, just try to understand why.
  2. Weekly Scorecards – Consider these the micro level of the Project Timeline. A scorecard is a single-page document with a review of what happened that week, what you learned, and what is happening the following week. These help to bring some formality to progress, and they are a great recap document at the end of the project, showing your week-by-week progression.

It’s easy for projects to seem overwhelming, especially at the beginning. I’ve found that it helps to take your time to organize a bit, and come up with a plan. But, in the end, we all know that even the best laid plans will likely change.