GREAT LEADERS

Get Any Project Off to a Great Start: 5 Tips

Looking for success? Start by getting projects off on the right foot. Here are five tips for beginning things the right way.
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For many people wishing to tackle an important project, starting is the hardest part.  If a project is big or complicated it can seem overwhelming or intimidating.  Some people get stuck in analysis paralysis while trying to figure everything out before starting. Others start without ever thinking anything through and hope things just work out along the way.

Setting up a project for success is actually fairly easy with a little forethought and structure. Below are five tips to help you get a quick and sustainable jump off the starting blocks.

1. Do some homework. I remember as a kid excitedly trying to build model airplanes without reading the instructions. Ultimately I learned that approach leads to a hollow, mediocre result. Blind ambition can drive you to smash right into a brick wall. Most worthy projects have complexity and require process. You don't have to hire grad students or spend countless nights on the web, but a little advance research can go a long way in identifying obstacles before appear. When you are ready to tackle a big opportunity, budget a few hours or even days of research with a clear deadline to begin so you don't get lost in the exploration. Then you can approach the project with confidence and the security of knowing your time and efforts will be well spent.

2. Set up a basic plan. If you don't know where you're going then any road will get you there (paraphrased from Lewis Carroll's Alice's Adventures in Wonderland) is a great approach if you are crawling through rabbit holes and running from crazy queens. But for those of you with specific purpose, you'll want to set out a clear road map to success. A good plan has action steps, with milestones tied to specific dates to check progress. Don't make it too complicated or rigid as people need to understand it and remain flexible for surprises along the way. The plan is best used as structure from which you can deviate when necessary, as you are bound to become smarter and more adept along the journey.

3. Recruit great people. Sometimes projects get started with just the people in the room. So often would-be leaders try to be inclusive for the sake of being nice, knowing full well the wrong people are on the team. Setting up a project for failure with mediocre performers helps no one. Give an important project every opportunity for success by finding and engaging the most amazing people you can afford. Recruit the best and you'll never regret the performance of true talent. Then you can share the rewards of success with both those who did the work and those who stood aside selflessly.

4. Establish clear expectations. Great talent can deliver spectacular results, but lack of clarity can send even the best people into utter chaos. Make sure everyone knows their role and the deliverables for which they are accountable. Don't leave any aspect of the project neglected. Schedule specific discussions with the team where each member can clearly present their approach and expected deliverables. Talk about obstacles and share methodology for overcoming them. If everyone starts on the same page, it will be easy to tell when something or someone goes astray so you can quickly course correct.

5. Create communication protocol. In this day and age of smartphones and social media, there are too many ways of getting a message across to assume that everyone will communicate in the same manner and timeframe. That's why you need to get everyone on the same page from the start. Establish guidelines for the use of email or texting, and collaboration tools such as Dropbox or Evernote should be chosen. Required meetings with clear agendas should be scheduled so everyone knows when and where they will report.  No communication process should be left unaddressed. You should even consider how to give people a healthy way to express their emotion and relieve frustrations so they won't damage the team focus and morale. A little discussion at the beginning will create great efficiency until the end.

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IMAGE: Getty
Last updated: Nov 4, 2013

KEVIN DAUM | Columnist

An Inc. 500 entrepreneur with a more than $1 billion sales and marketing track record, Kevin Daum is the best-selling author of Video Marketing for Dummies and the executive producer of Amilya! on 77WABC New York.

The opinions expressed here by Inc.com columnists are their own, not those of Inc.com.



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