By Thomas Goebel, Volunteer Content Writer for the PMI Houston Chapter

    A certain shoe-seller has insinuated itself into the public consciousness by proffering this tagline: “Just Do It!”  Indeed, why not?  When starting a project, many people are beset with an inability to grasp just where to begin. Known by its various forms – “writer’s block”, “analysis paralysis”, etc. – getting started can be the most daunting part of an undertaking for many.

    The First Step

    It’s often wise to begin at the beginning – that is, to identify the one or two steps that need to be taken before anything else can get done.  In a large project, these might be steps as innocuous as writing out the goals and objectives, creating a comprehensive list of stakeholders, or starting to identify 3rd party needs and providers.  All of these, of course, help lead to the project manager’s objectives of scoping out the project and managing cost and time.  Another first step could be to start a risk register.  Not all of the risks will be evident at the start, although some will be.  You can add to the register (and it’s important that you do!) and continually refine as the project progresses.

    Workin’ With What You Got

    It’s tempting to want to have a complete set of data and information, nicely packaged and wrapped with a bow, before embarking on a project.  In real life, though, we are often tasked with starting projects with little or no input, even from the contracting customer.  An important rule to remember is that as the project manager, you can only work with what you’ve been given.  Instead of trying to make “a silk purse out of a sow’s ear”, it is critical to avoid using biases (whether yours or the client’s) to overstep realistic boundaries.  Indeed, scheduling a “progress” meeting to illustrate just where information deficiencies exist can furnish the project manager with an excellent opportunity to present the client with hard evidence of how the client can help improve the project’s outcome by providing more and better data.

    It’s Alive!

    Earlier, I talked about the risk register as a living document.  In other words, the document as produced during inception doesn’t (and shouldn’t) resemble the one that makes it through the close of the project.  That’s because things change, and they don’t stop changing during the life of the project.  This is especially true for large projects, in which cost, schedule and scope can all take hits.  So why would you expect the start of the project to have to be perfect?  Isn’t it better to begin with the assumption that the start of the project is already a mistake, of sorts, that will need to undergo a series of corrections throughout the project’s life?  Keeping this in mind will take the heat off of the project manager, and let him or her move ahead, starting with the first steps that will require continual adaptation.


    Initiation, Finally

    The main point here is that you don’t need to have all of the pieces in place to begin, whether you’re digging a hole or building a refinery.  Go ahead.  Turn over the first spadeful of dirt.  What you turn up will tell you volumes about where to go next.