Excitement and uncertainty are the order of the day at the start of a new project. If you manage the initial preparation for the project with good judgement, your odds of success will increase.

Don’t let others in the organization rush you through the preparation stage. It’s a key stage to ensure that the project produces value. In many cases, errors made early in the project – such as poor requirements – doom the project to failure later on.

1. Confirm Alignment To Strategy

What if you create and deliver a project on time and on budget that doesn’t connect to the company’s strategy? It’s more common than you think. Take the time to ask managers and executives how exactly this project contributes to the organization’s goals. You will need this understanding to inspire the project team and work through obstacles. If the project has no clear connection to strategy, push back to question why the project is worthwhile.

The Test: Can you describe in one sentence how your project contributes to the organization’s strategy? If not, ask the sponsor for suggestions. This “one sentence mission” concept will come in helpful as you work with new stakeholders, vendors and others on the project.

2. Discover The Customer’s Goal

“Behind every corporate goal lies a personal goal.” – Alan Weiss

In most organizations, there is a responsible or accountable executive who is on the hook for the project. That person approves the project and champions the project’s success. As the project manager, it is important to understand this person’s goal for the project. Return on investment or profit may be the goal. However, that is not always the case. For example, a chief information officer (CIO) may be more concerned with improving system reliability and security.

The Test: Have you met with the project sponsor to understand what HER goal?

3. Review The Business Case

In some organizations, you will only be assigned to a project after a business case has been approved. In that case, it is your responsibility to review the business case. In particular, focus on the high level budget, schedule and project objectives. Even if you strongly disagree with the business case’s assumptions, it is important to understand these points. Executives have a habit of remembering budget and schedule estimates from the business case as if they are Gospel. You cannot address those concerns unless you understand the business case.

The Test: Have you reviewed the project’s business case for schedule, budget and risk assumptions?

4. Meet The Project Team

Working well with the project team is a key success factor. Given that reality, spend time at the start of the project getting to know the project team. Specifically, hold a project kick off meeting where you explain the project’s goals, high level schedule and your expectations. For example, you may be authorized to approve overtime in certain conditions. If so, let your project team know about it.

If possible, bring together everyone working on the project into a single room for the kickoff meeting. This approach makes it easier to connect with the team and improves trust. During this meeting, leave plenty of time for everyone on the project team to introduce themselves and ask questions.

Tip: Look for a strong “second in command” on the project team who can provide backup and trusted advice to you about the project.

The Test: Have you held a project kick off meeting for the project team?

5. Write The Project Charter

The project charter is the document that names the project manager and explains her authority. As such, it operates as the project constitution. A well written project charter typically includes a project overview (e.g. project goals, project scope, milestones, dependences and project assumptions) and project organization (e.g. project team structure and high level roles and responsibilities). Before you start writing the document, check with your project management office (PMO) or manager to see if there are any templates or requirements that must be fulfilled for the project charter to be accepted.

The Test: Have you created a project charter in accordance with the organization’s requirements?

What are your techniques to start a project on the right note?

Wiley Project Management Review would like to introduce Part Three of Project: You, written by Bruce Harpham, PMP®. Bruce is a columnist at Projectmanagement.com, has worked on various banking projects and is the author of the upcoming book Project Managers at Work.