Mobilising a Project? A simple checklist to follow

You have one chance to make a first impression and the same goes for mobilising a project. It is a stark fact that projects that are mobilised well have a far better chance of success, whilst those that cough and splutter into life are doomed to either fail, or at best be much harder work than they need to be. A poorly mobilised project contains hidden unexploded time bombs that will go off during the life of the project and should be avoided at all costs.

So, you have been asked to lead a project what should you do next? Get into bomb disposal….!

  • Ask and answer the question why bother? You will need to compete for people’s time and most people are, or claim to be, very busy so you have to have a compelling set of reasons that will allow your project to compete and win in the battle for their time. Make sure the project has an undeniable reason for existing, one you believe in and can muster the will and the energy to defend and sell to others. The first person you have to sell it to is yourself.
  • Consider who to involve and select your core team carefully so you have a good balance of skills, knowledge, experience and attitude. Project teams are often thrown together using only technical knowledge or job role as the joining criteria. The only question asked being what skills and experience do we need to tackle the problem and or realise the opportunity? Little thought is given to the adaptive aspects of the project. What people skills will we need and what attitudes will we require in order to succeed? I know if I had a choice I would rather work with a group of enthusiastic and engaged amateurs than a bunch of dis-enchanted professionals who just see the project as yet more work!
  • Get the team together and plan the mobilisation session carefully. The tendency will be to converge on the tasks and write a long ‘to-do’ list masquerading as a project plan. This is what most people want to do as they are trying to weigh up what their involvement means for them in time and effort terms. Resist this temptation and start the project with some relationship building and reflective thought on what will make this project a real success. Develop some simple ground-rules and discuss and agree some ways of working that takes into account the different personalities you will hopefully have in the team. A good question to ask everyone is what can the project do for them? It helps reframe the project as something that can deliver a personal aspiration, something that rarely gets considered at the start.
  • Diverge and converge in sequence. Most projects are a journey from thinking to doing, ideas and thoughts turned into results and deliverables. The underlying process should be a sequence of divergent then convergent thought. For example what problem are we trying to solve, or what opportunity are we trying to realise, is a divergent thought process. There are multiple answers to this question, so allow time for these answers to surface and encourage everyone to contribute. What are the critical issues to address, or ideal opportunity to deliver, is a convergent thought process so apply criteria, make decisions and prioritise. What ideas do we have to tackle this challenge is a divergent thought process, what ideas will actually work in our environment is convergent. How can we do this is divergent, what will we do is convergent etc. It should be noted that real value is added in the divergent steps not the convergent steps, as they create the opportunity for new thinking to emerge. It should also be noted that the dominant preference in most organisations is to converge and do it quickly so beware!
  • Develop a project brief. The art of writing a great project brief is one that needs practice and is best done with the project team in a collaborative way. The all too common alternative is for the project sponsor or project manager to write it and present it to the team, thereby inadvertently turning the project team into critics rather than co-creators. A great project brief answers a number of key questions that are worth asking at any mobilisation event, they are:
    • Name – what are we going to refer to this project as? Think creatively – for example the best communication project I worked on was called project ‘Shhh – need to know only’
    • Rationale – Why bother? See point one on this checklist.
    • Summary – How are we going to tackle this project? A short description of the collective views on how we intend to do the project.
    • Resources – What resources will we need? A best guess estimate of the people and money resource we are going to need to succeed.
    • Scope and Deliverables – What we will and will not consider and do in the project? The scope out is more important as it helps clarify what others may think you will be doing but you have no intention of doing. The deliverables should be as tangible as possible – they are things that exist at the end of the project that do not exist now.
    • Dependencies – What needs to happen if we are to succeed? This shows the key linkages to other projects or key decisions that will need to be taken if we are to succeed.
    • Key Numbers – What is the business case? The cost benefit analysis and return on investment assumptions clearly shown for all to understand.
    • Risks – What will stop us succeeding? The project risks, prioritised using a ‘probability’ and ‘impact’ filter along with associated prevention and mitigation ideas and actions.
    • Stakeholders – Who needs to know what and how will we engage and align key stakeholders throughout this project? A proactive ‘reputation plan’ for the project showing who and how we will communicate and influence our key stakeholders.

The challenge you will face in investing the time and resource to mobilise well is that these costs will be clear whilst the costs of failure are hidden. The failure costs are of course a whole lot bigger but they will emerge piecemeal during the life of the project and will take the form of excessive unnecessary communication; scope creep; lack of commitment; missed milestones; demanding unhappy stakeholders; poor team dynamics.; to name but a few.

Start well and remember the old adage ‘Less haste leads to less waste’. If you would like help with your thinking on how best to mobilise your project then please do not hesitate to get in touch.

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