First you get the idea or the assignment. For a moment, you and your team are excited (or maybe terrified – who are we to judge?)
Then you quickly realize that for a project to be completed, you need to start it.
Of course, common sense suggests that projects need to be started before they’re finished. But at Reach Partners we’ve seen projects fail to launch or stall because a successful start was an obstacle. Starting is harder than it looks.
Projects fail to start for all sorts of reasons: lack of vision, misunderstanding, confusion, procrastination. “Just do it” may work for athletes who love Nike, but most organizations and teams need a clear process even before the project planning starts.
Granted, as an outside vendor we bring a fresh perspective to any project. We have experience staying flexible and nimble throughout the process. Still, we focus on three stages every time we start a project: listen, investigate, and gather.
On the surface, “listen” seems straight forward: pay attention so you can hear what someone is saying. By giving someone your full attention, you understand and hear what is being said (and not just what you think someone is saying). You also build rapport and trust. Believe it or not, one of the hardest things to do in a group setting is to ask a question and then say nothing more. Silence is a powerful force – one that gives people time to think and space to talk.
This is where you dig deep to discover facts and information. It’s also known as the “ask a lot of open-ended questions” stage. Use your how, what, when, why, who language to uncover the data that will later help you determine the scope of the project. Ultimately, you are trying to determine how the project fits into the goals of the business or collaboration. No questions are off-limits, which means individuals and groups need to be willing to be honest and forthcoming. (If the project has stalled in the past, why?) Expect to prompt conversation and use follow-up questions.
This is where you create space and opportunity for all the stakeholders (co-workers, volunteers for a collaborative effort) to come together and share what they want to happen. It’s an opportunity to start listening for project expectations (goals, budget, timeline), as well as possible barriers or challenges. It’s also a chance to make sure everyone has the same background and foundation of information. As an outside vendor, we find often that what is obvious to some in a group isn’t always apparent to everyone in the room.
Have you ever had trouble starting a project? Comment below – or drop us a personal note!