Starting your first day at a new job, especially as a Project Manager, can bring feelings of helplessness and confusion. You don’t know the people, the politics, the processes or even the tools available to you. Sure, project management methodology is relatively standardized today, but organizations still have their unique quirks, process steps and bureaucratic requirements. Honestly, it takes some time to learn the ropes, meet the key players and understand the hidden agendas. There’s no denying that fact.
But there is one tool that can help shorten the learning curve…a checklist. Those of you familiar with the ground-breaking work of Atul Gawande, “The Checklist Manifesto,” know that a checklist helps professionals deal with the increasing complexity of their responsibilities. For those not familiar, Mr. Gawande is a surgeon who became frustrated with the poor outcomes of patients resulting from simple, avoidable mistakes. He discovered example after example from his medical peers showing how the routine tasks of surgeons have become so incredibly complicated that mistakes of one kind or another are virtually inevitable without following some type of checklist. His research into this area exposed him to the use of checklists and other similar process review tools used by airline pilots, risk managers, financial planners and….PROJECT MANAGERS!
The creation of a project management process and document artifact checklist isn’t really that complicated. Many of you come from organizations with well defined project management processes and methodologies. Leverage those process maps, methodologies and swimlane diagrams! I’ve provided a snapshot of the Initiation & Planning Phase checklist that I have developed in previous roles. I have similar checklists for the other three phases of the traditional project management life cycle and even have different variations of these checklists based on project type. These checklists have proven invaluable when on-boarding new employees or contract PMs.
Note that, beyond the actual project methodology steps, I also added the required meetings, approvals/sign-offs and documentation needed during the phase. The blank lines are for “special” checkpoints that may be required by a certain stakeholder or a certain project type. Believe me, when you get to the final gate review meetings, you want to make certain you’ve completed all of the requirements needed to gain approval.
Every checklist is unique. Ideally, you want your checklist to incorporate all of the important things that you need to validate before proceeding to the next step. You also want your checklist to be simple, free of jargon and easy to follow by just about anyone on the project team. This brings up an interesting point about checklists, if all you need is a checklist to manage a project, why do I need a high-priced Project Manager?
Believe me, if it were really that simple, every organization would be dropping PMs like third-period French class! Project Manager’s bring a wealth of knowledge about how to break down large work efforts into logically sequenced tasks, managing teams comprised of widely-varied subject matter experts and communicating information across the broad spectrum of project stakeholders, from technical minutia all the way up to the concise, financially focused detail required at the leadership levels. Project Managers are adept at both the science and art of managing complex work efforts. Checklists help ensure that the science is addressed, while keeping focus on the art. As an added benefit, checklists allow new Project Managers and other team members to become productive much more quickly.