Project Management

Three simple questions you should ask before kicking off a project

From the Easy in theory, difficult in practice Blog
My musings on project management, project portfolio management and change management. I'm a firm believer that a pragmatic approach to organizational change that addresses process & technology, but primarily, people will maximize chances for success. This blog contains articles which I've previously written and published as well as new content.

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Whether your company is operating at a low level of organizational project management maturity or is world class, one of the most critical points in the lifetime of a project is when it is initiated. Start too soon and valuable resources and time will be wasted while people are figuring out what needs to be done. Wait too late and work on the project may have already commenced in stealth mode and without involvement of key stakeholders.

Designing and rolling out a consistent project intake process helps, but good process rarely compensates for poor execution.

Here are three questions which can tell you if the project is ready to be started.

Why are we doing this now (and what are we saying “no” to)?

If there’s no one who can clearly articulate the rationale in investing in this project instead of the myriad other initiatives which could have been funded it might be best to go back to the drawing board. Beyond that, it’s important to understand why now is the right time to kick it off. Is there a committed deadline of some kind which will be missed if work doesn’t commence immediately?

Who’s backing this project (and can they afford it)?

If there’s no one who is ready to commit resources to the initiative, there’s little point in getting started. Even if there is a sponsor identified (both in the funding and executive support perspective), if they are at too low a level of political influence to be able to effectively align stakeholders, create a coalition of the willing and knock over hurdles in the path of the team, with even a moderate level of complexity, the project will likely get and stay in trouble.

Do we have everyone we need to start (and keep going)?

Even in the first few weeks of a project, a sponsor and a project manager can accomplish very little without active involvement of key stakeholders and team leads. If that critical mass of resources is unavailable, your project will burn time and money without making much progress. In some organizations, if the core team is not assembled, a project is not permitted to start. Faced with a hard completion deadline, that can help increase the sense of urgency across the organization to staff up the project rapidly.

The simplest way to avoid having a project fail is to stop it from getting into trouble from the beginning.

(Note: this article was originally published in January 2015 on

Posted on: October 31, 2018 06:59 AM | Permalink

Comments (18)

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Good points. Thanks for sharing

Good one, Kiron and thanks for sharing.

Thanks Andrew, Eduin, Rami & Anish!

All essential questions. Thanks for sharing

Very pertinent 3 questions to ask first up. Thanks Kiron.

Thanks for sharing!

I think I would add a fourth, specifically about whether the project requirements are clear and realistic. The answer to this question probably at least partially (though not completely) answers the first question. I do know that many projects, especially larger ones, fail because requirements are too ambiguous, not clear, and not well prioritized. This goes more to the point of not just why are we doing this now, but more basically why do we need to do this, and what issues are we trying to resolve.

Thanks Octavio, and I'd agree Jay that yours is really an extension of the first question. It is important, however, to recognize that it is not realistic to nail down all requirements for complex projects up front - hence the advantages of adaptive lifecycles for such projects.


Thanks Kiron. I probably should distinguish between macro-level requirements and lower level requirements, especially when Agile is becoming increasingly prevalent. I did want to emphasize that the project should have a clear focus on key goals and objectives; or what are they trying to do, even if, as you correctly point out, some requirements are added, modified, or clarified as the project progresses.

Nice article Kiran and point #3 mentioned about resources and this is one of the critical point and the pain point rather i would say as there will be two kinds first of its kind when the transition/cut over happened to offshore from onsite where in team is aware of the project and the application(s) for which based on the Application/Skill level matrix can take care of things. Second way is altogether a new kind first of its kind being handled where in there is the general Forming-Storming-Norming-Performing approach to me made religiously and followed. Yes point #3 is really the big challenge with the kind of dynamic market demands and the VUCA world requirements keep coming spontaneously and always teams need to be on their toes in embracing the changes though the ROIs are better but at the same time challenging of resource leveling and allocation which is a huge task for the project managers and that is where once interpersonal skills lies in Thanks!

Short and to the point...just the way I like it.

How about what is the ROI and the time frame of when it will come back. A look at the positioning dollars? (Capital expenditures, research and development and various projects)

Does it have low-hanging fruit? (Quick returns on the investment that do not encapsalate the whole; but can buy time.

Is there a sense of urgency? What is the Pain Point?

And always who in the organization is truly committed the the project - because it WILL fail without sufficient high level buy-in.

One other question that needs to be asked is, "Are there any other projects that currently are or will be competing in the future against this project for time/money/resources?" I have seen projects start up and then shut down later on because of this reason.

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