IT Project Leaders must be quick off the blocks, on your marks ...
Have you seen the video of 7-year-old runner Rudolph 'Blaze' Ingram who sprinted 100 metres in just 13.48 seconds?
It's fascinating to watch this young Florida athlete speed out of the blocks; and after clocking up thousands and thousands of Instagram views, as I write this, he has made the national television news here in the UK. To put this all in context, 9.58 seconds is the men's world record, set by Usain Bolt in 2009, and the women's record, set by Florence Griffith-Joyner in 1998 is 10.49 seconds.
Wow!! Those of you who know me will testify that I too, cut rather an athletic figure and for us IT Project Managers the similarities don't end there.
Reading more about this remarkable young man and listening to former athletes analyse the video it struck me how carefully planned every metre, almost every centimetre, of a 100-metre sprint is at the elite level.
When launching an IT Project, leaders and managers and their teams need to be equally quick out of the blocks and we too have to be meticulous and disciplined in our planning and execution.
The start-up phase of an IT Project is like a 100m sprint, over quicker than you think and what you get out of it at the finish tape is entirely dependent on what you do every step of the way. The 100m sprint is a pretty good metaphor for the first 100 days of an IT Project, especially for a new project leader within an organisation.
Let's run through it together.
So, the starter's pistol fires and you are off ...
0-25 Metres - Assess!
This is where you prepare and suss out your surroundings. By the 25th day, you should have completed your preparation and assessment phase. You should be engaged with key stakeholders, staff and organisational leaders. You should have learned what requirements and pain points need to be addressed first. Perception is reality and these early stages really can establish how you are perceived within the wider organisation - this will pay you back later if you get it right! When you establish strong relationships across the organisation, with influential executives who understand the value of the PMO, when you establish good reporting structures with these individuals, you will find that when you need support further down the track - it will be much more forthcoming.
By this stage, you should have assessed your resources and established what gaps you have and how you are going to fill them. Do you have the staff in-house to deliver the project, or will you parachute in resources from the Project Management as a Service sector?
I also like to identify a few key challenges that can be tackled and put to bed during the 100m sprint, your capability to deliver visible results early on can create a powerful perception within your organisation that often means you get the benefit of any stakeholder doubt later in the project...
20-50 Metres - Plan!
Around 20 days in, and still during this assessment phase your thinking needs to be split between the assessment phase and the start of your planning stage. The planning part of the project can last until about your 50th day - the halfway stage of your initial sprint!
Plans should be flexible and clear, simple but well defined, ideally, you are also be preparing an action plan for your second 100-metre sprint at this stage too.
Canvass the opinion of key stakeholders around this time also, share your draft plans with them and based on their reaction and enthusiasm make appropriate alterations.
At this stage, really think about the resources that you'll need to execute your plan. Recruiting from within and explore Project Management as a Service resources you may require to help deliver your project.
40-90 Metres - Action
Again, this stage overlaps the last and I cannot stress the importance of starting to act as soon as possible - if you feel confident to start executing sooner than this, don't hesitate! The greatest PMOs start implementing plans that they can alongside their long-term planning phase. I reckon it's not unreasonable to expect to complete one or two major milestones during this time - be bold!
Shout about ANY successful early result, your credibility increases with every early win, so don't be afraid to blow your trumpet! These results broker engagement across IT and business management stakeholders.
40-100 Metres - Measure
Measurement of the results of your actions should actually begin at the same time you start taking the actions themselves. The more you measure, the more you anticipate and the more you anticipate the more you succeed.
The final third of your initial 100m sprint should be focussed on creating firm foundations for the future and a launch pad for the next phase for your maturing PMO. This current project will fit within your wider project portfolio management (PPM) ambitions - now is a good time to measure that too!
The confidence and credibility gained throughout this first stage really pushes you on, not just in the physical sense either.
In one social media post, the star of our story, young Rudolph is pictured with a serious look on his face as he gets sets for a race and the caption reads 'My Father Told Me That You Win Mentally Before You Win Physically, I'm #1 Before The Race Start.'
I've seen projects succeed and fail based on the quality of mental preparation - teams that visualise success usually succeed and teams who visualise lots of problems encounter lots of problems. It's easier to achieve success that you've planned for and the earlier that success comes (remember those early milestones) the sooner they can have an impact on morale.
Of course, at this stage, the work of the 100m sprinter is done. For you, the finish tape of this initial sprint is just the beginning, but it will probably feel like less than 14 seconds have passed. Time flies!
Now, get your breath and run on!