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Successful Project Management: Begin with the End

Updated: Sep 24, 2020

You are nearly complete with your project and feel like you’re on track to complete your project successfully -- suddenly, it looks to have veered off the rails, in a small or big way. You’re not sure why this happened quite yet … so let’s start by asking yourself: did I begin the project with an end in mind?

The truth is, a project really begins before it even starts. When you define the project goals, you’re speaking to more than the project’s anticipated outcome(s). Project goals are often the result of successful outcomes of project. By honing in on the end goals up front, you can determine the key strategies, processes and outcomes needed, while also providing an overarching vision for team members that may be focused on one specific piece of the project.

The concept of beginning with the end in mind comes from Steven Covey’s 1990 bestseller, The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People. Covey wrote: “Begin with the End in Mind means to begin each day, task, or project with a clear vision of your desired direction and destination, and then continue by flexing your proactive muscles to make things happen.”

The business world quickly discovered that what works for an individual also works in project management. And, project managers can use this model for the both overall project view and the daily view, to keep everyone on track and the project moving smoothly to completion. (Ehem! Experienced PMs – thinking about agile yet?)

The daily view

Every day, the project manager looks for competed tasks, delivery status, communication and updates from the team working on a specific project. But this doesn’t mean that every single day the PM needs an update on every single active task! Tasks that are critical to the project, and those that may be in danger of causing the project timeline or budget to slide, do need to be watched daily. Basically, the daily view covers what’s hot right now and what’s at risk. These are the tasks that project managers and their teams need to know are being accomplished, and are still in alignment with the overall project goals.

The project view

From a project view standpoint, the end goals have already been set, reviewed and documented. They are detailed in the project plan and should be front and center in weekly reports and communications on the project and its status. At Boost Midwest, we find that having a standing weekly call (no more than 30 minutes) can be extremely helpful for this purpose. Some weeks the calls only take 10 minutes, yet during others, we hit the full meeting mark and book a few more minutes to cover the major steps we’re working on with our clients.

Remember: everything that happens on the project needs to be looked at with the project’s end goals in mind. That includes issues that arise, risks that are revealed, reviewed and hopefully addressed and, of course, any potential issues around the project scope that come up. A challenge for project managers often is maintaining that high-level view of the project’s end goals, and making sure outcomes are still aligned with the end goals, during the day-to-day management of the project.

Use a project charter to define end goals

A great way to effectively plan a project is through chartering. In traditional project management, chartering is the documentation of a project’s vision. Here, the project’s key goals and requirements are defined, and customer expectations, if appropriate to the project, are set. A project charter appoints the team members and assigns their roles defining the project’s limits and constraints.

In short, a charter defines what success means to the team. Details like resource needs and cost estimates, team members and tasks and other detailed information, are all outlined in the project charter.

To begin with the end in mind means adapting the traditional project management charter into what is called an agile charter. An agile charter allows room for flexibility in scope, purpose and end-clients’ needs and goals. While a traditional charter allows only the project manager to make decisions, while the customer waits for the finished product, an agile charter involves stakeholders in any decisions that involve trade-offs. The new charter also establishes the team’s mission and vision, along with effective release plans that are in accordance with the vision that set the goals for the project.

An agile charter should outline how the project can accomplish its goals by:

  • Starting with the present—start date, team members, issues, and the like.

  • Adding the project goals and the completed end product to the end of the charter

  • Backtracking to discuss in detail the actions needed for the project to be completed.

The team should define “now” issues and establish teams to perform the work for the “how.” By now, a strategic planning model has been created, with defined deliverables, proposed action plans, and accountability set for team members.

Summing up

To plan with the end in mind is to know where you are now in a project, identify what is going to be accomplished and, from there, determine the actions that tell you how those goals can be achieved. For a step you can take today, be sure to check out the Daily Top 6 methodology from our President’s very own toolbox at Boost Midwest.


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