in Mindset

The PM mindset

Defining your project WHY!

Have you ever struggled with delivering projects, either at work or outside?

You are not alone. Many projects get into some form of trouble during execution, despite the presence of lots of well qualified projects managers. The Standish Group produces a great report, aptly called the CHAOS report, where they identified that up to 64% of IT projects failed to deliver either the functionality expected, within the timeframe agreed or to the budget estimated. But it’s not all down to the project managers. Project management skill are required by everyone working on projects. There are a key set of principles which need to be developed first and these I refer to as the PM mindset.

I have managed small and large projects in many countries over the last 28 years. During that time, I have worked with some great project managers, experimented with new ways of working and developed a set of principles which can help anyone working to deliver projects. Based upon a wish to help people avoid the pain of troubled projects, and enjoy the benefits of delivering great projects, I have collected the key principles that make up the PM mindset.

The PM mindset is built around a FIVE stage approach to delivering projects. These five stages are:

5 stages

5 stages

Over the coming weeks I will be writing a series of five posts walking you through the five stages. It starts with developing a concept, a broad outline for the projects, defining it’s purpose.

The CONCEPT phase

Outlining your project (The 3W’s and 2 H’s)

Before investing too much time into a project, you need to make that it has a clear purpose that will keep you and your team motivated throughout the entire process of delivering the project. The concept phase is all about **OUTLINING** your project by answer 5 fundamental questions before you proceed beyond the concept stage.

  1. WHY is it essential for you to deliver this project?
  2. WHAT will be involved to make the WHY a reality?
  3. WHEN does all the work need to be done by?
  4. HOW will you go about doing the work?
  5. HOW will you fund the project?

The “you” can be just you, you and friends, your business and so on. The questions will always be the same. Take a project that you are working on (we are all working on projects all the time, some very small, so don’t say you don’t have one ;)).

Next ask yourself if you can answer all the above questions in a meaningful way? If not, then take time out after reading this post and do so.

WHY? – it all starts with WHY!

Take any project you are working on and ask yourself,

“Is it clear why this project is being executed?”

Even if you feel that the answer is yes, is it specific enough that it passes the follow test?

  1. It is Specific (answers what and when …)
  2. Is it Measurable (how much, how many, by when …)
  3. Is it Achievable (have you tested how it can be done, time, budget …)
  4. Is it Relevant (does it deliver on your goals)
  5. Is it Time-bound

You have all heard of SMART goals, but how often do your goals meet these criteria? Fix it straight after you finish this post!

WHAT needs to be done to make the WHY a reality?

To meet a big goal, you first need to break it down into ever smaller pieces until you get to actionable pieces of work. Think of this as your outline. For example, if your project was to build your dream house, then the outline might look like this:

  1. Ideal home projects
      1. Site
          1. Location
          2. Size and cost
      2. Design
          1. External
          2. Internal
          3. Sustainability
          4. Landscaping
      3. Contracts
          1. Main contractor
          2. Architect
          3. Management
      4. Build
          1. Shell
          2. Fit-out
          3. Decoration
          4. Furnishing
          5. Landscaping
      5. Move In
          1. Final clean
          2. Move furniture in
          3. Verify all utilities

You will be using this again in the next stage of your project to develop more detail. Note that while we call this an outline here, in a lot of projects, this will be called the work break-down structure (WBS).

WHEN does all this work need to be done?

Based upon when the project needs to be completed, you will need to take your project outline and start working out dates for the larger elements of work – this will give you **target milestone dates**. This is enough for now (remember, you are outlining and not in the project details yet). Below is an example of a milestone schedule for the project above:

Site selectionJanuary 2016
Design completeApril 2016
Contracts awardedJune 2016
Building startedJuly 2016
Building completeMarch 2017
Move inApril 2017


You are now getting a good feel for your project and can assess whether

  1. It meets your requirements?
  2. Is feasible?
  3. Has potential risks and what they are?
  4. and so on

All of this can then be addressed before you move on. To complete out the concept stage, you need to address how you will do the work and how much it is likely to cost.

How will it be done? How will it be funded?

Taking the question of ”How will it be done?”, think about a checklist.

  1. Who will do what?
  2. When does each element of work need to be done?
  3. How much can you/your team do and how much will be outsourced?
  4. Do you need physical offices/workshop to do the work?
  5. What equipment will be required?
  6. What principles will guide your team – quality driven?
  7. How will you measure progress, communicate and collaborate?
  8. Who is the final decision maker?

How will it be funded?

Before you spend too much time developing estimates, you need to establish how you will fund the project. Will you:

  1. Use a 200k savings pot you have with no borrowing?
  2. Raise an extra 200k from bank borrowings?
  3. Get the business to fund the capital project?
  4. Bootstrap …

The answer will have a fundamental impact on the way you design your project for execution.

You now have a high level conceptual plan for your project, which allows you to direct works and decide on the next steps such as deciding if it is feasible, high priority, needs external funding and so on. In the next post, we will take this on to the stage where we develop more detail and decide on if and when to start executing it.

I would love to hear how you are getting on with your projects. Please leave a comment below and we can get a conversation going.

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