Starting a project: a checklist of 10 steps to follow

Updated 9 July 2022

When you're managing a project, the day the project starts can be one of the most instrumental. How effectively your project runs depends on how meticulously you and your team have planned and prepared for it. There are many things to consider when planning a project, including anticipating challenges and determining potential solutions, so it's never too early to begin the planning stage of a project. In this article, we explain how to prepare before starting a project, including a checklist of tips and 10 steps for you to follow.

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How to prepare before starting a project

Starting a project can be challenging, even for the most experienced project managers. There are many aspects to consider and items to check. Every project's unique, and there can be a variety of tasks to consider. Follow the steps below before starting a project to ensure you clearly understand what your client wants to achieve for the best possible chance of success:

  1. Aim to understand exactly what the project's about at its core.

  2. Set up a meeting with your manager or client before you start planning anything so you can discuss their expectations for the project in detail.

  3. Determine the roles necessary to complete the various stages of the project.

  4. Select the best employees or freelancers for the roles and ensure that they're available.

  5. Start determining your initial project plan.

  6. Estimate the resources and tasks you require, and then decide how to delegate these tasks appropriately.

Tips to remember when beginning a project

Follow the helpful tips below when planning a project:

1. Set SMART goals

First, it's important to set goals for your project team so that everyone understands what to do during the project. Provide as much detail as possible when setting these objectives and outline all the tasks and responsibilities. Your summary may include a list of actions and the team members responsible for completing them, where and when they could achieve these actions and why you want to achieve them. Successful project managers use the SMART technique when setting goals by asking themselves the following questions:

  • Specific: Are the goals detailed and clear?

  • Measurable: How can managers measure the success of the goals?

  • Achievable: Are the goals achievable?

  • Realistic: Are the goals realistic and relevant to the success of the project?

  • Timely: Do the goals have realistic deadlines?

Read more: SMART project management: definitions and examples

2. Decide who does what

For a collaborative project to be successful, it's important that everyone in your team knows what to do. Create a list of the people you have within your team or task force and what their individual strengths, skills and areas of expertise are. Establish workflows, assign key tasks and responsibilities to the appropriate team members and make a list of the various third parties you may want to call on if you don't have all the necessary human resources available to you in-house.

Make sure that each person understands exactly what you expect of them and by when. Keep a list of contact details for easy reference, particularly for third parties.

3. Plan the scope of work

A scope of work is a formal document that details the extent of the deliverables required from a specific project. In project management, it defines the output your manager or client expects your team to provide. Deliverables can include products like designs, software, documentation and more.

The scope of work also outlines the milestones to complete and a projected timeline for finishing the project. It's important that you estimate how much time you think each task might realistically take and allocate this accordingly. You can work on the scope of work within your project team by asking your team members about the tasks required to reach certain goals and delegating these responsibilities accordingly.

Read more: What is the definition of a project (with planning steps)?

4. Manage expectations

In project management, it's important to manage expectations effectively. These can include the expectations of your team members regarding their responsibilities and the expectations of your client or manager regarding the final outcome. Discuss these expectations with the key stakeholders in advance and determine what they believe are the criteria of a successful project. These may include delivering your project on time, achieving specific targets and not exceeding the budget, but they're usually specific to each client and project.

Outline the scope of the deliverables clearly so that each member of the team, the client and any other stakeholders can understand the volume of work to do, the expected duration of the project and how much the entire project may cost. Keep everyone informed throughout the project and manage their expectations if anything changes.

5. Finalise costs and resources

When you know what tasks your project may involve from start to finish, you can use your scope of work document to determine the resources you require to achieve your specific goals and objectives. Make a list of the various resources you may require, such as the budget for the project itself, the cost or availability of materials, technology and tools, and ask whether you can pay for third party services.

Read more: Your guide to controlling cost in project management

6. Build a timeline

One of the key aspects of managing expectations is understanding how long the project you're about to start is likely to take to complete. Having a timeline in place ensures that your team members are aware of their contribution to the project and their personal priorities and deadlines for completing specific deliverables. It also helps your client, manager and other stakeholders to understand when they can expect the project to finish.

Having a timeline can help to streamline a project because everyone knows exactly what to do and when, helping you to prepare for key milestones and deliver by your deadlines. For projects with multiple milestones and goals, using a Gantt chart can be an easy way to visualise important milestones.

7. Decide how to report on the project

Reporting is one of the most important parts of project management. It keeps everyone informed about your project team's progress, what's still outstanding and any potential blockers for completing these outstanding tasks. Before you begin your project, decide how you want to report on project progress and how frequently, for example by having daily or weekly meetings. Let your team, manager, client and other stakeholders know when they can expect an update.

These progress reports are a good way to keep track of your project and determine whether you're on track to complete it within your schedule and establish an indicator of progress. It's also important to determine the technology you could use for reporting on the project, whether this is using an internal application or a third-party data tool.

Read more: How to become a project planner (with steps and skills)

8. Keep the lines of communication open

Communication is important for a project to run smoothly. Decide the media you're going to use to communicate within your team or with your client and stakeholders. This could involve scheduling regular in-person meetings if you're based in an office or setting up regular video conference calls if you work remotely or with teams in different geographical locations. Alternatively, you could agree that emails and memos are the best way for your project team to communicate internally.

These progress meetings are a great way to discuss performance and identify and resolve any potential blockers before or as they arise. Setting up regular meetings and sharing agendas in advance helps your team to prepare effectively for the meetings and make the best use of the time you've set aside.

9. Determine possible threats or blockers and prepare for them

Identify any potential threats or blockers that could prevent you or your team from completing a goal. Determine an appropriate process to follow if the situation arises during the project. Having a contingency plan helps you to identify and solve problems efficiently to keep your project running smoothly.

10. Prepare for the first day of your project

It's very important to prepare for the first day of your project. Ensure that your team feels fully prepared for the project to start. Outline the itinerary, communicate your expectations and arrange a project team meeting to take place at the earliest opportunity once the project has started. This provides a great opportunity to brief your team on the project ahead to ensure that everyone understands what their priorities are and check that they have everything they require to complete their tasks to the best of their abilities.

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