The 4 things you need before you can start a project

It was Monday and I was excited to start a new project. I pulled out the client emails related to the project and realized I was missing a bunch of information I needed to really get started. Three items were pretty basic, and critical:

  • I didn’t know how to log in to their site yet
  • I couldn’t get the files from their server
  • I didn’t have a list of the people that needed to be in Redbooth to manage the project

Realizing I’d failed to get this basic information, I emailed the client — a little embarrassed — and asked for it all.

Sure we still got the project done, but they were a bit annoyed since they had asked me if I needed anything else to get the project started and I had assured them I had everything I needed.

The thing is, I really thought I did have everything. Did you catch the key word there? I’ll emphasize it this time.

The thing is I really thought I did have everything.

If you don’t write it down

One of my life mottos is from the great inspirational writer, Tom Clancy. Yeah he’s not really an inspirational writer, he writes about war/fighting. He writes fictional ‘fluff’ for guys and yet there is one line I simply can’t get out of my head because it’s such a good one to live your life by.

I don’t remember which Tom Clancy book it is, but the gist of the quote goes:

If you don’t write it down it didn’t happen

When someone asks you to do something write it down. You may think you’ll remember that thing you promised to do, but you should assume something else important will come up and you’ll end up forgetting what you promised.

When you’re starting a new project you should have a checklist of items that need to be done to start the project. Use that same checklist for each project and anytime a task or detail gets missed, add it to the list.

If you just figure you’re going to remember details related to a project, be prepared to miss things for each project since you didn’t write down the details.

My client onboarding checklist

Here are the 4 broad areas that my project launch checklist covers. This checklist was developed and refined over years of working on client projects, so my hope in sharing it is to save you some time. This list does not include individual tasks — only you can create those for your business — but covers the main areas you need to ensure are covered when you build out your own list.

1. Read my successful project page.

You and your client want a successful project right? If this is the first time you’ve worked with the client, do they know how you work best?

No, of course they don’t. In fact, many clients seem to be trained by their previous work with outside contractors to work in the least efficient way possible, which means it’s up to you to train them to work well.

At SFNdesign I have a whole page dedicated to project success. The first task that goes in Redbooth for my client is to read that document. This task gets assigned at least a week before the project starts, with instructions that they need to have it read before we start.

I’ve gone so far as to NOT start a project on time (after repeated reminders to my client) because they haven’t marked that item as done yet.

Of course some clients just mark it as read and don’t actually do it. But I can tell when this happens because they’ll be working in an inefficient manner, and when that happens I ask them if they read the document I assigned.

Their answer of “no” is a good reason for me to not work with them again unless they shape up for the rest of the project.

2. Get your assets.

As a web developer working for a client, I need access to a client site and their server. If you’re not building websites, then your needs may be different.

You still likely need access to something though. Maybe it’s some internal files or access to stake holders for interviews.

This set of things may change for every project, so create a placeholder for it on your checklist, and for each project build out the specific things you need and ask for, each one by name.

You should be asking for this stuff (and verifying any login details) at least a week before the project. I ask for this information as soon as a client has signed my contract and paid the deposit. Then I check back on it a week before the project and issue reminders for anything that I don’t have yet.

3. List of people that need to be in the project management system.

Third, you need to identify anyone who needs to be around to manage the project. The best way to run this is to designate a single ‘Project Champion’ who will be your main point of contact on the project.

The rest of the people are in the PM system simply because, at times, they’ll be the best person to respond to a question. The Project Champion may know that there are brand colours, but the designer will know what they are and be able to get you that information.

Your first contact will always be the Project Champion and they’ll designate someone else if they can’t handle it.

4. First check-in meeting booked.

Finally, you need your first check-in meeting booked. I typically schedule these for the end of the first week of work and no later than the beginning of the second week of work.

It does little good to schedule this first check-in on the first day of work, since all I can say at that point is that yes, in fact, we are starting today.

A week into work there is bound to be something to discuss. Yes it’s possible that you could have just discussed it via your project management system, but face-to-face or voice contact is a crucial part to building a solid relationship with your clients.

Those are the 4 main things you need to cover to start a project. Without those (in a written checklist you can keep using) you’re starting your project off on the wrong foot and increasing the likelihood of failure.

So if you don’t already have one, create a standard checklist for your project work as soon as possible and implement it into your regular work routine.

No one wants to leave a trail of failed projects behind them.

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