(Let’s) Get the Project Started

Steve Jacobson

Chief Executive Officer

Steve, founder of JCA, has provided systems consulting and implementation services to a number of clients, including Carnegie Hall, The Metropolitan Museum of Art, The American Museum of Natural History, New York Botanical Garden, and the National Constitution Center.
August 30, 2023

My apologies to P!nk and songwriter Linda Perry for riffing on their 2001 hit, “Get The Party Started,” but their song does capture the excitement, energy, and optimism often felt just before you start a major technology project. There’s such great anticipation, lying somewhere between “we’re going to be done with this old decrepit system” and “we’re going to change the world.” The reality is, there’s work that you need to do before launching a project of any size and complexity.

Generate Buy-In

Before you get into the meat of planning and management, you need to set your organization up for success. Oftentimes, the success of a project is contingent on getting active buy-in from senior leadership. Sure, the CEO has signed off and the CFO has allocated funds, but what I’m talking about is support that borders on evangelism. Leadership needs to be front and center, explaining to staff how important the work is, how transformational it is, and how critical it is for the success of the organization.

Beyond the pep talk, leadership needs to support the project on a tactical level, too. Leadership needs to be willing to have staff allocate time to the project, which tends to come at the expense of their day jobs. They should actively look to reassign some of the project staff’s normal responsibilities to others.

Leadership also needs to empower staff to provide feedback during the process. After all, structural change, even if it’s for a short period of time, can be a challenging adjustment. And, if that proves to be too much of a challenge, leadership should consider hiring consultants or temporary staff to back-fill roles as needed. These costs should be acknowledged before the project starts.

Hot Tip: While buy-in should start at the top, it’s also critical to engage all levels of an organization. Sometimes the most effective change management projects are developed from the bottom up, from people whose work is ingrained in the processes/technology that they are seeking to improve.

Establish Your OKR’s

Before you start, you need to establish key goals and objectives—and clear the decks of competing priorities. At JCA, we utilize OKR’s (Objectives and Key Results) to keep our organization working to “Measure What Matters.” By establishing your OKR’s on a specific project, you can effectively align your stakeholders to achieve success.

Hot Tip: Stay focused on the mission at hand and don’t take on other major projects that compete for staff resources and attention. For example, it might not be a great time to implement a payroll or HR system at the same time you’re replacing your donor CRM. You’re going to be asking for a lot from your team, so it’s important to consider bandwidth.

Build a Project Charter

At JCA, we recommend creating a Project Charter before you get started—which will include components like goals, stakeholders, staff roles, risks, and expenses, laid out in a formalized document. The detailed project plan you developed during the initial stages of the project should be used as a foundation to help set realistic expectations of timeline, budget, and staff availability. By creating a Project Charter, you formalize the project and give it the importance it deserves.

Hot Tip: Socializing your Project Charter with leadership early in the process will get them to understand the commitment needed to ensure the project’s advancement. It will also allow your team to proactively plan for potential pain points that may emerge during the process.

Kick Off the Project

Beginning a large or complex technology project can seem daunting. But with the right internal support, clearly articulated goals, and careful planning, you’ll be on your way to success!

Bring it Together with a JCA Project Manager (PM)

The majority of projects fail because internal PMs lack the knowledge, skills or capacity to keep the team on the right track. You need someone focused on moving the project forward, with the experience to anticipate and avoid hurdles. JCA can provide an expert PM to get you across the finish line with the strategies to ensure the project’s success.

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