The Paralysis of Getting the Project Started

Do you think it’s easier to start a new project, or to take over a project someone has already started?  Sometimes it seems as if the same projects get recycled multiple times until the project is successful.  This may be due to several factors, which have already been blogged about.  I think that many times individuals are more hesitant to get started with an already failed project and are more open to starting from scratch on a new project.  However, I remember a discussion in my MIS500 class where we talked about this same topic in relation to IT implementations, and I remember the professor commenting that if you are asked to take over a project, you are already successful because the project has already failed.  I think if I had to choose, I would take on an existing project rather than starting a new project.  First, I would welcome the challenge to learn from the previous group what went wrong, and I would aim at small wins to build the trust in the new project team.  I say this because sometimes starting a new project is difficult, as is highlighted in the article “The Paralysis of Getting the Project Started”.

This article highlights a few steps that one might find useful in getting a new project started.  Even though he doesn’t include this as a separate section, the author points out something that I think is critical in project management.  This is the realization that once you get started, it is not realistic to expect that everything will be perfect, or that it will be perfect as you continue through the project.  What the author does provide us with are the 3 steps to get a project off the ground:

  • Grab a template that has worked well in the past for you or another group, and one that you feel comfortable with.  In this step it is important to realize that it will change along the way.  In our class we learned about several great tools that we can use, but I think the key here is finding a tool you are comfortable with, which goes back to the small win concept and provides you with immediate confidence, which could be a large struggle that individuals have because they think that for a successful end there needs to be a successful start, but this means that nothing from start to finish is flexible, when in reality a successful project management plan is flexible.
  • Realize and explain to the team that it is impossible to know all the information about the project up front, so stick to the basics and move forward.  Often times many projects are delayed because the project manager wants to know and plan for every detail but if this is your focus, it is impossible to ever be ready!  Again here is an important link to flexibility…
  • You may be the project manager, but you need to be willing to let your team help.  This may take the form of brainstorming with post its to gather input on the best way to get started, or by taking your initial plan and sending it to them for review.  Either way, its important to involve the team early on to ensure you have their buy-in and being an inclusive project manager will go a long way to making the team feel connected and supported, which in turn sprouts ownership and helps to ensure that a project stays on track for success.

15 thoughts on “The Paralysis of Getting the Project Started

  1. Great points, and this is so common in any environment I feel! You mention that the Project Manager should utilize the team’s expertise to plan everything out, and this couldn’t be more accurate especially for the industry where I work (HR outsourcing). Technologies, processes, and methods are changing almost weekly, and it’s important to get buy-in and input from the people who will be closest to the work being done.

    Also, as you mention, planning every little detail upfront is impossible especially for a longer term project (or one that lasts more than 6 months). What I have frequently done is work with the team to lay out the major milestones within the entire timeline, and then work to include details only for the first 3-6 months of time. Another option, if the project is one that has been done previously, is to use a project plan template which has been used in the past and already has all of the task details that you need to get started.

    Getting the project started is sometimes such a daunting task that it’s difficult to know where to begin – and it’s the Project Manager’s role to make the planning process as simple and smooth as possible. They need to turn it into achievable chunks and guide the team through each necessary step so the team can start off right – with a clear plan that everyone understands.

  2. Personally I like to get started on a new project that way you get too really see the entire dynamic of the project. Each project can be a little different depending on how you work it, but getting the full feel of the project I feel is really important. It keeps people motivated to continue towards the goal, you become invested in finishing the project. Although I can see many ways it could be easier to join in a project that is already in progress, as like you said you have a template so to speak. There are many projects as well that are repeat projects, perhaps a task for a large customer or something of that nature. In that sense it is nice to have the previous year’s template to work off of.

  3. You made a good point about you can’t expect everything to be perfect with the project. My group and I a finding that out first hand with our project. Hurdles will always come in in projects. I’ve discovered that a good project manager has the ability to foresee the hurdles and prepares themselves for the jump.

    As for starting a new project vs taking over an existing project. I always like to be involved from the beginning. In my experience, there is a level of trust that is earned during the discovery process with my clients that you just cant earn coming into the project after that discovery portion has already been conducted.

  4. A very good and relatable post. Starting a project is always daunting. Your MIS500 professor’s take on taking over a project is interesting, saying you are already successful in taking over a project that has already failed. Taking over an existing project can be easier in that, you have a precedence to what has been done, what strategies worked, and what let to the demise. All can help steer you, not necessarily in the right direction, but definitely away from the wrong.

    Even though there is more ground to cover, I still prefer to start a project from the ground up. Your tips are spot on. It is essential to your credibiliity with the team to lay out the expectations and ensure them that it is impossible to have all the information up front and that there will be a learning curve. It will help relieve some pressure, while allowing to build a more cohesive rapport. From that, you can properly segway into your final point to show the team that you are not just the project lead barking out orders, but that you are willing to roll up your sleeves when necessary.

  5. I think the first step you mentioned is one of the most critical steps to managing any project. Finding a tool you are comfortable with is important not only because you know how to use it, but also because it is a way of engaging you, the project manager. When I’m using a tool I am uncomfortable with or unfamiliar with at work, it discourages me from doing work with that tool, so my energy and enthusiasm level drops. I find it aggravating at my workplace because they try to push a certain project management tool on everybody. They defend that practice by offering training on this tool, but it just does not function for certain types of projects. It is supremely important to have a tool you can get enthusiastic about.

  6. I think many people can relate to this article, even on a homework/project level. Many times, I find myself getting a group project early on during the quarter; however, it always takes a few weeks to get the project off the ground. Overall, it would be more efficient and practical to start it immediately either through brainstorming or group meetings to get an initial template in place. Also, like you mentioned above, starting the project earlier allows you to be more flexible because you are not restricted as much by time constraints.

    The three points from the article are extremely relevant. Ultimately, I think they all relate back to being flexible, which oftentimes can be the difference between a successful project and a failed one. No matter the situation of starting a new project from ground up or taking over a previous failed project, if you work these points into your project you have a better chance of succeeding.

  7. I think it is easier to take over a project rather than start a new one because it gives a sense of direction towards what the goal is or a template as mentioned in point number one. It is important to have some kind of template or structure because then the project manager can identify where the most important parts are of the project and ensure that those sections are a success. Also there is already work that has begun on the project, it is really easy to revive a project if at a specific part of the project is having difficulties.

    I agree being flexible is important to succession of many projects which is an important aspect that relates to the three points in the original post. However, another aspect that must be respected when taking on a project is knowing what to do when something does go wrong. For example, when a SWAT mission is carried out, they must be very precise with their decision making, however when something does go wrong they must adapt to situation. The same is true with any project, when checking the rough draft or testing the project if something is wrong the most logical thing to do is change it and have the project succeed.

  8. At first when reading the first sentence I answered it may be easier starting a new project. Reading and thinking more into it I would have to change my answer. You made some great points that a failed project could be made into a success and that “you are already successful because the project has already failed. That’s so true. By using an existing project you’re able to learn from others mistakes giving you an advantage of creating a successful project. I completely agree with all the steps.From step one it is important using a tool you’re comfortable with because you believe in your work. Step two no one can plan every single detail because you have no idea what might come along during your project. The last step is to be a team player. It is important to promote synergy because two people sharing thoughts is stronger than one.

  9. Similar to the comment above, I first thought that starting a new project would be easier because the group would be starting from scratch and therefore they could come up with new and unique ideas to complete the project. However as I continued reading, I changed my opinion. I think taking over an existing project is better because there is less pressure if the project fails. The group can use the previous information and mistakes as resources to create a successful project. If a project fails a few times, I do not think the current group should give up either. By brainstorming and learning from previous experiences, they can create a better project. Finally, I think the three points to get a project started are valid and can apply to any situation. It is important to be flexible and open minded to ensure a successful project.

  10. I find this post very interesting. I sometimes undertake projects in my free time and I have never thought of this process like this. I feel I always plan but this post (and linked article) really nail down the basic idea of how to approach a new project and to have a good chance of succeeding. I really like the idea of incorporating subordinates in the brainstorming and letting them help in the planning and idea generation because I feel that empowers the employees to work harder. When employees feel valued, listened to, and like a part of the team they will work harder and that is a part of the project manager’s job not only to plan but to encourage employees and keep their motivation up. Including employees in the decision and planning process is a great way for this (in my opinion since I personally feel like part of the team when I am included in these things as work).

  11. I think this topic shows how different individuals take different approaches during projects. As evident by the array of comments, the choice to start a new project or continue a failed one can be a choice of mere preference. Having the ability to see what failed is not always an option. As a result, I think I’d take this chance and choose a project already started. Plus, the original project manager may have overcome initial obstacles, paving the way for a more successful project the second time around.

  12. I can understand first hand some of the frustrations associated with project management. To begin a project with your own ideas, motivation and overall direction in mind is often very satisfying. However, I feel that the challenges of taking over project that you didn’t create can help you to see the perspectives) of others who may have been attempting to take the project in a different direction or even in the same, but by utilizing varying methods than your own. I think that both of these environments should be exposed to those that are learning project management. This may help to provide the manager with more insight and keep them from becoming completely tunnel-focused with their own idea(s).

  13. I think the actual process of starting a project on your own is more difficult that starting something someone else already started. However, I think there may be more issues down the line with starting someone else’s project. If you start your own project, you know everything that went into it, but you might find issues in someone else’s project that you did not know about from the start.

  14. I think the most challenging part when starting a project is planning. A lot of leaders sometimes wait until they have a perfect plan to start. What I really liked about this article is that the author made a really good point: “That everything will never be just right to get started.” I agree with this statement and with the three points that the author made but I think he should have listed the team participation first. Team participation is a really important part on the planning process. Your team has members that have had different experiences that will help you in the planning process. So what first a project manager can do is getting ideas and suggestions from the team and then start filling out the template instead of filling out the template and then showing it to the team.

  15. I agree that starting a new project is more difficult than continuing a project that already exists. There are plenty of cool projects out there that can be imitated elsewhere. In today’s technology driven world it’s very easy to look at a project that is already successful then to use that project as a model. For example, there is a social network site in Poland called Grono that has its roots in american social networking brands like Facebook. There is no need to re-invent the mousetrap every time. In fact, creating a successful business model that can be replicated should be a goal of all entrepreneurs.

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