It is a very old saying of Aristotle – well begun is half done. We find this true in many fields, especially when it comes to accomplish a certain goal – whether it is in studies, sports or projects.
We have developed and mastered many techniques and processes to execute a project. But we deal with project initiation with a bit of laxity. In the height of dramatic events involved in realizing a project, we sometimes fail to see the fine cracks that are being developed – in terms of missing out details, under-estimating functionalities, setting aggressive timelines etc. It then becomes a fight for the team to hold the project from falling apart during its course to completion.
It is good to estimate, and it is better to re-estimate. There are many techniques which are developed to encourage multiple estimates – quick/detailed estimates, optimistic/pessimistic estimates, low-confidence/high-confidence estimates and so on. It is also important to work out estimation parameters from the final estimate that is used to win the project. One aspect which is overlooked frequently in estimation is dependency. The project dependencies normally drive the schedules and idle-times and it is crucial to understand it early on. A good work-breakdown-structure can solve this easily.
It is also good to create a visual representation of the project and its environment, something like a map. Words can be hazy; numbers can become tough to follow; visual representations are easy to comprehend and remember. It is good to note that all military operations start with a study the area to be conquered, usually represented by a map. It is good if the project map includes not only the deliverables, but also other details such as schedule, size, assignment, risk etc.
Training and team-building are some aspects that are taken lightly. It is important for the team to understand the terrain – environment, existing systems, work-flow, domain knowledge, business rules, tools, techniques, limitations of technology – before starting a project. Building a knowledge-base is a best-practice in most of the execution frameworks. The earlier and faster we build it, the easier will be the project execution.
If we take Aristotle’s words literally, it is fine to devote half the project duration just to initiate. If you are worried about a possible time-crunch, return to some past projects and see the productivity during the last few weeks.