~ By Kenneth Darter
Before you can start churning out Gantt charts and resource levelling graphs for a project, you need to get that project approved. Whether the approval comes from the client paying for the project or the executive sponsor, it represents a vital first milestone that won't happen without some behind-the-scenes work.
Spending the proper amount of time preparing for project approval is vital. Why? When the project does kick off, you'll have laid the groundwork that will help the project be successful long term. Without this background work, the project won't take off very fast or go very far at all.
Every project should have a "big idea" driving it. As the project manager, you must understand this idea. More importantly, you should be able to speak on it and publicise it to the individuals and groups responsible for approving project funds and resources.
This "big idea" could be a complicated new database and web frontend that takes hundreds of pages to describe. It might be as simple as upgrading the servers in the data centre. Whatever it is, as the project manager, you should be able to state concisely what the idea is and how it will benefit the organisation it's intended for.
As you move towards getting project approval, the "big idea" is the hook that will guarantee the stakeholder's interest in finding out more about the project.
As stated above, the project should have benefits for the organisation. How is this work going to make money, increase market share or improve the lives of people all over the planet. If a project cannot deliver solid benefits, then it will face many questions about why it should be considered at all.
Thus, you need to spend some time analysing the "big idea" and determining what the positive benefits are that come from that idea. In other words, you need to do your homework to define and measure those benefits.
You should know what the estimates are for the benefits and the return on investment. While you may need a straightforward story to discuss the benefits, you should also have the documentation and research available when it's needed.
With a "big idea" and some solid reasons for executing the project (including the positive benefits to the organisation), it's time to create a road map for the project. The road map doesn't have to be a detailed project plan. In fact, at this point, it should not be too detailed at all.
The road map needs to have the high level outline of what it will take to get from project approval to the project finish. This road map could include the milestones of the project plan and the related dates or date ranges. It should also include the list of major tasks during each phase of the project and the phase gates that determine how the project is progressing.
What does this look like on paper. Ultimately, the road map should provide a one-page picture of the project from start to finish.
After you've put everything together, make the pitch on the project. This might be a formal meeting with decision makers. It might be a casual discussion in someone's cubicle about the project. However the pitch goes down, if you've done the work to lay the groundwork, you're much more likely to be successful.
You've sketched out the "big idea". You've analysed and documented the benefits.
You've created the high level road map. Now, with all that groundwork to back you up, you can more easily—and more effectively—pitch the project in order to get buy-in from the appropriate people who can make decisions and dedicate resources towards the project.