Kick-Starting a Project | Pat Lucey, CEO and Founder of Aspira

Getting started on a project is tough. Usually people are still busy focusing on other projects that are being delivered, or supporting projects that have just been delivered. For a new project there can be lots of uncertainty and people will tend to procrastinate in the hope that the uncertainty will resolve itself. It won’t.

The challenge is a by-product of the 80/20 rule, which is that 20% of the work takes 80% of the time. For projects, that 80% of the time can be taken up by delays in getting started and delays in getting finished. Of course, it is precisely at this early stage that you need the experts involved – the people who have the battle scars and are best placed to put a realistic set of estimates and a realistic plan together. But because those people are like Hen’s Tech (i.e. extremely rare) there can be pressure on the Project Manager to just get going and use whoever is available to build the plan. Are that approach generally means you are storing up trouble for later in the project. In Aspira, we developed the Project Kick-Start service as a way to accelerate through the ‘getting started’ phase.

Novel Project Tools

We found that by combining a streamlined process with novel use of project management tools, we are able to generate 3 months of progress on a project within 2 weeks duration. Aspira has achieved that degree of acceleration consistently, across different industries and across projects of different size.

The process centers around approx. 2 days of direct engagement with stakeholders. There will be a couple of hours with the project sponsor, a day with the project manager and then a day-long workshop which requires the project team (or relevant stakeholders if the team has not yet been formed). The workshop is focused on building out the project Work Breakdown Structure, with the goal being to define the breadth of the project. This is a hugely important activity as it forces the team to consider all aspects of the project. It often unearths elements of work that people didn’t realise would be required. In parallel with doing that, our consultants leverage the existing project team dynamics to identify a comprehensive set of dependencies, risks, assumptions, constraints and action items to populate the project logs.

One point to note here is the importance of having the right people and right degree of management commitment in the workshop. You cannot just pluck random people from the canteen and send them in. It has to be the right people, with the expertise to answer detailed questions and the influence to make decisions. The biggest commitment for an organization in running the Kick-Start process is that they will commit to freeing up the right people for that 1-day workshop, and that might be a challenge for organisations as certain people can be in demand across multiple projects.

Once we have identified all the work packages we investigate different ways of structuring the project to make it easier to manage – for example by group related work under the same work unit, and therefore minimizing delays and dependencies.

The next step is to use that data to automatically populate our estimation worksheet. This is a tool that uses the expertise of the team to come up with effort estimates for the work to be done, even when there is a high degree of uncertainty involved.

Finding Problems, Not Solutions

We finish up the 1 day workshop by carrying out a risk pre-mortem session. This is a technique where we use people’s creativity not to find solutions, but to find problems (I bet you don’t get asked for that very often!). In other words we get people thinking about what might go wrong. We find taking this approach will lead to a different type of risk getting identified early – the type of risk that people may voice in the canteen but not raise as part of a formal risk identification meeting.

At this point, the participants go home having emptied their brains. Our job is then to take all that data – the work packages, the estimates, the dependencies, the risks, and use them to create a high level schedule (MS Gantt chart) for the project, plus create a RAID log (Risks, Assumptions, Issues, Dependencies). There will be some to and fro with the project manager to get this right, and for smaller projects it might take 5 days rather than 2 weeks, but usually within two weeks we have a project charter, WBS, High Level Schedule and detailed RAID log. This gives the project great momentum, and puts the PM in a position where he/she can push the team to maintain that momentum.

Aspira then provide options to our clients. Sometimes we just stop after the Kick Start and the client PM just takes over. Other times, we provide an enterprise project planning service, where we take the high level schedule further and work alongside the PM to build out a detailed schedule, including resourcing, etc.

One of our clients likes to use the Project Kick-Start approach as a way to evaluate different project options. Rather than just kick off a project, they have us work with their team to complete a Kick start for 2 or 3 different approaches to implementing that project, and then they have lots of data to help them decide which approach is likely to be faster/cheaper/less risky.

Applies across Industry Segments

Hopefully this gives you an idea of how it all works. We have used it for projects in a host of different areas – Medical Devices, Software Development, Natural Resources, Construction, IT, Manufacturing, Financial Services, and we have found that it consistently delivers. I can never predict exactly how any one individual session will go – sometime we have projects that we expect to be straightforward but during the workshop a question is asked which turns everything on its head. Other times there are projects which seem to be full of unknowns, but just getting the right people in the room can bring clarity and structure.

There is an apt saying “A good start is half the battle”. By using Aspira’s Project Kick-Start service, you can make use of a proven technique to get a great start on your project. If you’d like a specific discussion about how this might apply to your project, please contact us at – our door is always open to you.

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